In its third season in the competition, Zenit goes from the hunter to the hunted. That’s what last season’s Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Playoff appearance will do to the club. Apart from the overall expectations being higher, playing the third consecutive season in the competition also allows certain new rivalries to start to take shape. Here is a look at five Zenit games to keep an eye on this season.

Round 3: Challenging CSKA

Some of the clashes between Zenit and CSKA Moscow have turned into the greatest Russian derbies. And while domestically Zenit had its share of success against CSKA, the Muscovites have dominated their EuroLeague encounters: four games and as many wins by an average margin of 13.8 points with each win by at least 8 points. Zenit cannot wait to get another crack at CSKA.

Round 5: A playoff rematch

Zenit and Barcelona played a fantastic five-game playoff series in May with Zenit becoming the first No. eight seed to force a deciding Game 5. The two teams also split regular-season wins and it all led to a bit of a long-distance rivalry developing. And don’t forget that Zenit head coach Xavi Pascual coached Barcelona from 2008 until 2016. In those seven-plus seasons, he guided the club to 19 trophies, including the 2010 EuroLeague title.

Round 8: Giving champs another fight

Last season Zenit was tied for the second-best road record in the EuroLeague with 10 wins in 17 regular-season away games. That included a 69-73 win over Anadolu Efes Istanbul in the season opener. It was a part of Zenit’s season sweep against the eventual EuroLeague champs. A year earlier at Sinan Erdem Dome, Zenit rallied before Efes pulled out a 90-88 decision. Coach Xavi Pascual’s team obviously like splaying against Efes and facing the reigning champs will make this trip extra intriguing.

Round 18: Loyd’s Belgrade homecoming

Jordan Loyd left quite a mark on the Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade record books last season when he set a club record with an average of 17.3 points per game. He will now return for the first time to play his former club. He should be able to get plenty of advice about how to deal with the emotions from teammate Billy Baron, who spent two seasons with Zvezda and had 7 points last season when Zenit pulled out a thrilling 75-76 road win. Loyd missed the potential game-winner for Zvezda that night.

Round 32: Emerging rivalry

Playoff newcomers last season, both Zenit and FC Bayern Munich want to prove they are contenders for good. In their first playoff appearances, both took their respective series to the maximum five games, but were eventually ousted. The two clubs are very familiar with each other as their rivalry dates back to their 7DAYS EuroCup days. They have faced off eight times since 2016 and both feel they have something to prove in this game. Last season both games were decided by 4 points or less. This one, coming so late in the season, could have major playoff implications.

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