09 October, 2018
14 April, 2019
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Expert Panel: The Final Four 2019 predictions are in

MUNICH (Germany) – As we head into EuroLeague Women Final Four 2019, our expert panel has put their heads on the block and made their predictions.

Shona Thorburn is a multi-Olympian with Canada and the veteran guard is still playing for USO Mondeville, as well as commentating for livebasketball.tv. @ShonaThorburn

Pierre Ploszajski is a EuroLeague Women addict and a co-author of the FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2017 and 2019 Media Guides. @Pierrepiotr_

Norbert Nagy is the owner of the excellent WBasket.hu which you can also find on Facebook.

Who are the 4 players you will be excited to watch?

Shona Thorburn:

Breanna Stewart (Stewie) of Dynamo Kursk is on the verge of pulling off what could be the most incredible year of basketball, as far as team and personal accomplishments go. She has been unstoppable averaging over 20 points and almost 9 boards per game. Can she add another title and MVP to her name having already been crowned WNBA Champion and MVP, World Cup Champion and MVP? Now EuroLeague Women Champion and MVP?

Alyssa Thomas of ZVVZ USK Praha is one of only four players to average a double-double this season, with 17.4 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, while dishing out just under 5 assists and shooting over 50 percent from the field. An undersized post player who makes up for it with her aggressiveness on both ends of the court, she has the ability to get a stop on defense and lead the fast break for a Prague team that loves to run. Her Achilles heal could be her free-throw shooting, where she is connecting on just under 60 percent from the line.

Kayla McBride and UMMC have so many weapons, but watch out if McBride gets hot from the outside where she actually has a higher shooting percentage from three-point range than she does from two-point range at 47.8 percent (which is enormous folks)! Her ability to score from the perimeter keeps teams honest, which opens up more opportunities for her to score from anywhere on the court. On a star-studded team like UMMC, it’s hard to stand out but McBride has been a consistent force for them all season.

Yvonne Turner is the engine that gets this Sopron team going. I love the energy and tenacity that she plays with, her ability to get to the basket while knocking down outside shots and still keeping her teammates involved (5.6 assists per game) makes her a true triple threat.

Pierre Ploszajski:

Alba Torrens of UMMC hasn't had the impact she is capable of at a Final Four since that famous 29-point Semi-Final performance in 2014, where she single-handedly brought down what is now her present team. A huge performance from the Spanish ace is a long time due at this stage of the competition.

Isabelle Harrison of ZVVZ USK Praha who was a  latecomer to the group. Facing a stacked Kursk frontcourt, Praha will need all of their bigs to step up big time and fight hard. Harrison will be key in that aspect and a solid outing from her would allow her team to keep their hopes of advancing to the Final and maybe even lifting the trophy for a second time.

Tina Jovanovic of Sopron is less talked about and known than Candice Dupree and/or Amanda Zahui, Jovanovic’s impact, based on a fearless game, should not be minimized, particularly both in defense and on the boards. She will be asked, coming off the bench, to use all of her skills to keep the defensive lock in the paint for Sopron. A role player who doesn't need the spotlight to perform, she takes the most of any opportunity coming her way on the offensive end but it's her renowned fighting spirit that will be so important for her team here.

Sonja Petrovic has had a quiet season for Dynamo Kursk, compared to what she has had us all accustomed to. An MVP candidate in waiting on any occasion, she would be inspired to remind us all, especially with all the attention Stewart draws, of her elite pedigree when stepping onto the biggest stage. Facing her former team in the Semi-Final could ignite some extra motivation and set the flow for an epic weekend. She is such a class act.

Norbert Nagy:

Candice Dupree because in terms of experience, she has brought a whole new level to Sopron. Dupree had seen almost everything in basketball, but I think she found herself in a new situation. Playing in front of fantastic fans, leading an underdog team with a bunch of young players to success would still be outstanding - even for her.

Breanna Stewart, since the Dynamo Kursk forward has had the best individual and team season of all time. She can get almost all trophies of one year in women's basketball. There's no other player in EuroLeague Women quite like her, since she's dominant right across the board and proving to be a fine finisher in the most important games.

Alyssa Thomas as we haven't seen such a EuroLeague Women debut yet. The Final Four is a bigger challenge than any other so far this season and I am looking forward to seeing how she can compete on this stage.

Kayla McBride as this year has been impressive for UMMC, but even more for McBride. She has had less mentions, however she's having one of the most balanced performances so far. Her game has got to a level where she can be a leader on a talented group like UMMC.

What does each team need to do to be successful?

Shona Thorburn:

ZVVZ USK Praha - They need to push the ball and run, since they are most dangerous when they are playing aggressive defense and forcing steals or bad shots and really getting out in transition and looking to score fast.

Dynamo Kursk - They need to believe they can win it all, with what many might consider as a quiet season for Anna Cruz and Marta Xargay. I expect them to have a break-out at the Final Four and we know Lucas Mondelo has 100 percent confidence in his Spanish guards.

Sopron Basket - They need to feed off the energy of their 'sixth man' in the amazing fans, who will provide this. It's probably a good idea to watch highlights from last year's Semi-Final win to give you goosebumps and show that anything is possible.

UMMC Ekaterinburg - They need to get the ball into their frontcourt and '’m really not sure who can stop Brittney Griner (maybe just herself), while Emma Meesseman continues to be one of the smartest and most skilled players I have ever seen play.

Pierre Ploszajski:

Dynamo Kursk need other players than Stewart to step up and contribute. Besides her 20 points per game, only two players average double digits this season, including Petrovic with 12 points per outing and Natasha Howard, who arrived late in the season, with 13 points per game. Petrovic, Xargay, Cruz and even Epiphanny Prince have been less impactful than in the past, explaining partly the struggle for Kursk to post statement wins in the competition. Though Geno Auriemna's statement "we have Diana and you don't" applies to Stewie now, Kursk will want to avoid depending excessively on the effort of one player and will be inspired to engage multiple players on the offensive end in case of foul trouble or a rare off night from Stewart. Nevertheless, Kursk showed resilience and certainly proved they know how to win close games, even if it wasn't always pretty. Isn't it what champions do ?

In terms of UMMC, they must first of all, deal with the home crowd in their Semi-Final, which for sure will be a huge factor of the game. Besides this aspect, they must make sure they dominate on the glass, since in their only loss this season, as well as in the couple of tight games they had, they either got out-rebounded and/or struggled to dominate under the hoop. Maximizing their effort on the offensive boards should be a priority. If they manage this, which they're clearly capable of, they will be hard to stop with so much talent at every position to count on.

With less depth than their opponents, Sopron Basket must bring their 'A game' from beginning to end, particularly in defense. Anything less than perfect execution will not be enough. They will hope they can stay in the games as long as possible, in order to get the home crowd going. If they manage that, the added energy their fans could constitute the biggest 'X-Factor' of the weekend. If they can challenge UMMC on the boards and limit their second-chance point opportunities, they could hang on and set another huge upset after last year's Semi-Final win.

Coming in as underdogs will be the biggest asset to ZVVZ USK Praha. They have nothing to lose and everything to win, which could allow their starters, all mostly Final Four first-timers, to express themselves freely and show why they are the only team to have beaten UMMC this season. Like Sopron, they're less deep than Kursk or UMMC, so it will be vital for their starters to stay out of foul trouble, since their bench might not be able to keep up with the required level of action.

Norbert Nagy:

UMMC Ekaterinburg have all the pieces of the puzzle. If injuries are avoided and no unforeseen circumstances occur, it is hard to imagine that UMMC are not going to get the trophy again.

Dynamo Kursk have a lineup with the potential for a similar run as in 2017. For me, they really proved something a few weeks ago, when they won a Russian regular season game in Ekaterinburg. Plus, these two names of course, Breanna Stewart and Lucas Mondelo.

ZVVZ USK Praha are are a team that know how to play well together at both ends of the floor. If all their starters do reach their potential, they may be able to compete with their rivals.

Sopron Basket showed that dreams can come true last year in the Semi-Final when they turned the home court and the loud fans into their favor. In addition, there is Roberto Iniguez, who is a master of this competition.

Who will win it all and who will be MVP?

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Shona Thorburn:

UMMC Ekaterinburg will repeat as champions. I think they just have so many weapons. If you are able to shut down their frontcourt (Griner, Meesseman, Maria Vadeeva, Raisa Musina) they have McBride, Torrens, Courtney Vandersloot (one of the best trio in the game) who are all capable of taking over and winning games.

McBride will take home MVP honors. Teams will need to focus on how to stop the inside game of UMMC and with a smart point guard like Vandersloot, she knows who to get the ball to. And, that will be McBride who will be ready to knock down shots from the outside.

Pierre Ploszajski:

UMMC will be champions again as they had the most dominant Regular Season in a long time. Like every year it is their title to lose. It looks like their Semi-Final spell is finally behind them and what everybody anticipated year in and year out for over a decade is about to happen - UMMC are on their way to set a dynasty. Winning a third title in four years would be a strong statement of that.

Meanwhile Torrens will be MVP. As mentioned earlier, the Spanish wing hasn't shone at this stage of the competition for some time and like an active sleeping volcano, eruption time is never far away. And, when it happens, much damage always comes along. 'Venga Alba'.

Norbert Nagy:

UMMC Ekaterinburg will win it. We had a crazy Regular Season with a lot of surprises, but in general, the Final Four always shows us the real power of the teams. There's no other team with such a deep roster and so many talents. They have really fast perimeter players and unique bigs, who can shoot and they're phenomenally talented offensively. They have the biggest scoring threats and have so many different lineups that they can use. Their new signings, like McBride and Vandersloot are hungry for success. In addition, Vadeeva and Musina have continued to develop and grow as players and teammates.

I'd like to say Thomas of Praha would be MVP. So far, we have seen a lot of brilliant performances this season, but I think she added the most to her team's game. She came, she saw and she (has already) conquered this season. She has a creative offensive mind. She is quick and crafty enough to get to the places, where she needs to be. She rarely turns the ball over. She is unselfish and she's had a stellar 4+ assists per game on average. For me, she is the true MVP of this season, whatever the result of the Final Four.