Euroleague Weekly Preview
A world without ping pong balls.
by Nick Gibson
What would it be like if the NBA could just put the Nets out of their misery? What if we didn’t have to watch the Mavs beat the Knicks by 50, watch the Timberwolves lose seven straight, or stand idly by as the Wizards duel with the Pistons for the right to fewer ping pong balls? It would look a hell of a lot like the Euroleague, where 24 teams have already been chopped down to 16—a dwindling that does not occur here until April 15. Now whether it’s better, more/less fair, confusing, bad for marketing—I’ll leave that discussion for another time and place. But there’s something respectable about making you earn your keep every week, and something appropriate about rewarding advancement with a clean slate.
Unlike the teams I write about, my slate is still sprinkled with 32 failures from the regular season (to go along with 76 non-failures) after an 8-4 Week 10. With the league’s doormats relegated to their couches, I’m stuck with an 8-pack of games that could all go either way. I don’t like my chances. Guess I’ll try anyway.
Regal Barcelona vs. Maroussi BC – Juan Carlos Navarro is the league’s reigning MVP, and Pete Mickael is in the running this year. Ricky Rubio is Europe’s (the world’s?) most promising young point guard, and All-Euroleague big man Erazem Lorbek has hardly broken a sweat. Ten games. Ten wins. It’s not “making it look easy” when winning just isn’t that hard. Barcelona.
Panathinaikos vs. Partizan – Panathinaikos will start the Top 16—presumably for a week or two—without superstar big man Mike Batiste. To even things out, Aleks Maric will be sidelined for a similar period of time for the Boys from Belgrade. And though Partizan added the young and usually solid Stevan Milosevic, Panathinaikos did them one better by signing Marcus Haislip, who should be well rested after spending the season on San Antonio’s bench. Panathinaikos.
Real Madrid vs. Efes Pilsen – Were it not for a stunning Lietuvos Rytas loss in Week 10, Efes would be watching the Top 16 from the comfort of their own homes. Well if you can’t beat ‘em, give ‘em your starting point guard. At least that’s what Rytas did by letting October MVP Bojan Popovic sign with Efes Pilsen. Efes fans (and certain people who picked them to go to the Final Four) should rejoice, as Popovic is the playmaker they have sorely lacked all season. The Efes scorers—Igor Rakocevic and Preston Sumpert in particular—will be thrilled to square up and stroke while leaving the dribbling duties with Bojan. Efes Pilsen.
Montepaschi Siena vs. Maccabi Electra – Group F features four of the six top scoring teams in the league. Ranked sixth is Maccabi at 79.3 ppg, but a deeper look into the numbers reveals the potential this offense has for greatness. The problem is that they shoot only 50 percent (four of the five higher-scoring teams shoot 57 percent or better), but by limiting second chances (2nd in team rebounding) and getting out on the break, they create open threes for Alan Anderson in transition and bunnies for D’Or Fischer and Stephane Lasme, both of whom run the floor as well as any bigs you’ll find. It might not be this week against a stingy Siena defense, but this offense will groove by the third week of the Top 16 at the latest. Maccabi Electra.
CSKA Moscow vs. Unicaja – Pops Mensah-Bonsu has once again turned down NBA garbage time in favor of bending European rims. This time, those rims will be Russian, and the team he’ll be joining has won seven straight without him. Unicaja’s carousel of American guards continues to whirl; Pooh Jeter was the first casualty, then Shammond Williams, now Taquan Dean has left the mix, leaving only Omar Cook and the newly acquired Zabian Dowdell to run the show. It’s a bit of a mess in Malaga right now, and CSKA won’t give them any sympathy. CSKA Moscow.
Asseco Prokom vs. Zalgiris – Asseco isn’t playing the prettiest basketball they ever have, but that’s actually a good thing. They’ve traded the pursuit of style points for some floor burns and the result is a tougher group with a noticeable drive. Zalgiris has played with the same spunk, but picking up consecutive road wins might be difficult without Travis Watson. Asseco Prokom.
Caja Laboral vs. Olympiacos – Remember that part about Taquan Dean leaving Unicaja? Well, he didn’t even make it out of Spain before Caja Laboral came calling. Even though their backcourt hasn’t exactly struggled this year, good things happen when you surround Tiago Splitter with sharpshooters. Olympiacos figured they were fine with their existing troops, and I can’t say I blame them. I still think they—along with a healthy Panathinaikos—are the only ones that can stand in Barcelona’s way. Olympiacos.
BC Khimki vs. Cibona Zagreb –If Khimki wants a legitimate shot at advancing to the playoffs, they need to beat Cibona both times out. Neither Caja nor Olympiacos will be easy opponents, so Khimki best capitalize while they can. BC Khimki.
Nick Gibson is the co-creator and producer of Slam and Freaknick’s Euroleague Adventures, which features a blog, podcast, prospect watch and a closer look at Americans playing overseas. Gibson is a broadcast journalism student at Syracuse University and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.