Euroleague Preview, Week 2
Khalid El-Amin tumbles into Lithuania.
Brose Baskets (0-1) vs. Olympiacos (1-0)
When Vassilis Spanoulis jumped across town from Panathinaikos to Olympiacos this offseason, several eyebrows were raised. Those belonging to Greek fans—especially those loyal to Panathinaikos—were raised for the same reason Packers fans took offense to Brett Favre in Vikings garb. Even his own teammate Milenko Tepic said that he would never consider switching from one to the other. Beyond the fact that roadflares and coins might find him more attractive in their Greek League clashes, I wondered how the ball dominant Spanoulis would co-exist with the reigning EL MVP and notorious chucker, Milos Teodosic. Their combined 31 points and 14 assists—7 apiece—in the opener vs. Madrid have allowed me to stow my worries for the time being. Olympiacos.
Spirou Charleroi (0-1) vs. Virtus Roma (1-0)
Not to sound condescending or anything, but I’m about to sound condescending: Spirou Charleroi should pat themselves on the back for hanging with Unicaja on the road last week. The Belgian qualifiers turned it over 19 times and allowed Unicaja some easy looks from in close which resulted in 59 percent shooting on two-pointers; yet they still only lost by 11, so it’s no real mystery as to where those extra points came from.
As much success as our Whippersnapper Vladimir Dasic has been enjoying inside for Roma, Matteo Boniciolli must be slightly concerned with the ineffectiveness of Roma’s major off-season acquisition Ali Traore. Despite Ali’s failure to substantially exist thus far, the play from Roma’s point guards Darius Washington and veteran Jacopo Giachetti have to be encouraging. If those two control the tempo as well as they did last week against Brose Baskets, Roma should move to 2-0. Virtus Roma.
Real Madrid (0-1) vs. Unicaja (1-0)
If Sergio Rodriguez doesn’t get his act together, there might not be a job for him on either continent. With Pablo Prigioni out with a hand injury, Rodriguez has been thrust into a heavier role and has struggled mightily, averaging just 6.5 points and 2.5 assists in his first four ACB contests. But ACB Sergio makes Euroleague Sergio looks like Kenny Anderson: 6 points on 3/14 shooting, 1 assist, 2 turnovers and 4 fouls in 27 minutes last week against Olympiacos. What gives me hope is that most of his shots were good looks and he wasn’t forcing any ugliness from outside, so maybe he’ll bounce out of this funk. But since Sergio Llull only passes the ball to the back of the rim, Rodriguez better make sure there are enough shots to go around.
Unicaja has one of the more aggressive frontcourts in the EL with Giorgos Printezis, Robert Archibald and 2006 Portland first rounder Joel Freeland, but if Guillem Rubio (no relation) keeps up this sort of scoring (22 points in week one) then Unicaja could be scary. With All-Everything point guard Terrell McIntyre in town to replace Omar Cook, the boys from Malaga will make plenty of noise in both the EL and ACB this season. After Madrid’s Carlos Suarez comes out and proves that he’s still the hardest hustler on the court, that is. Real Madrid.
Cholet (0-1) vs. Regal Barcelona (1-0)
Cholet ‘s 44 point effort—if you can even call it an ‘effort’—should be as much a reason to chide Cholet’s offense as it is to extol Montepaschi’s famed defensive schemes. Don’t plan on Sammy Mejia finishing below 10 points too many more times this season, but Fabien Causeur needs to realize that though he’s still growing as a point guard, this team isn’t packed with enough scorers to simply swing the ball and hope for the best. He needs to kick it up even more this week against Ricky Rubio’s long-armed, frustrating style of defense. Speaking of the young might-one-day-be-a Timberwolf, Ricky rebounded from a miserable showing at the World Championships to put up a 25 index rating in Barca’s EL debut against Cibona (14 points, 6 boards, 3 assists and 3 steals). With plenty of help outside of Rubio, Barca casually took home a 14-point win in week one and showed the depth and universal willingness to defer that won them a title last season. No worries here, even on the road. Regal Barcelona.
Lietuvos Rytas (0-1) vs. Montepaschi Siena (1-0)
With potential starter Jerry Johnson out for 6-8 weeks, it was evident Lietuvos Rytas was missing a firestarter against Fenerbahçe Ülker. Igor Milosevic was forced into starter’s duty a season after confirming he was entirely too slow to scare a defense on this level, and it didn’t take long for the offense to crumble around him. Now everyone’s favorite husky Huskie Khalid El-Amin has been called in for damage control. Too bad he’ll be guarding Bo McCalebb without much help up top. Montepaschi Siena.
Cibona (0-1) vs. Fenerbahçe Ülker (1-0)
With Istanbul still riding the high of its FIBA glory, Fenerbahçe showed up and blasted Lietuvos Rytas behind an appropriately terrific outing from Gasper Vidmar, the young man from Slovenia who was one of World Championship’s most pleasant surprises. It might give Marko Tomas a strange feeling to drop 16 to 20 on his former club, but I wouldn’t bet on anything less. Fenerbahçe Ülker.
Panathinaikos (1-0) vs. CSKA Moscow (0-1)
A season after leading Partizan’s Bad News Belgraders to the Final Four in Paris, Dusko Vujosevic has inherited one of Europe’s most storied and presently talented clubs in CSKA Moscow. Two of those talented fellas were Sasha Kaun and reigning Defensive POY, Viktor Khryapa, both of whom were missing with injuries. Dmitry Sokolov did his darnedest to fill the holes offensively, but the hulking Russian isn’t much for lateral movement. Not even former All-Euroleaguer Matjaz Smodis, a year after serous back trouble, could keep his man out of the paint, help weakside or invade AJ Milano’s passing lanes. Ibby Jaaber, Oleksiy Pecherov and Co. had their way, got their shots, and the Vujosevic era started off with a 15-point loss in front of the homecrowd.
Panathinaikos is a different story. Same coach in Zelijko Obradovic. New starters in Aleks Maric and Romain Sato. Memories of a disastrous 2010 EL campaign still fresh on the OAKA floors beneath their sneakers. I guarantee they will put it all behind them, and they’re off to an auspicious start with a 16-point road win against Valencia. After letting Spanoulis walk in the offseason, however, the club wasn’t exactly scrambling for a replacement; this led me to believe that Milenko Tepic and/or Nick Calathes could see an inflated role in the backcourt, yet neither saw 10 minutes or looked ready in the first contest. If they want to reach the championship caliber I believe they’re capable of, somebody has to help Dimitris Diamantidis shoulder the load. My money’s on Calathes. Panathinaikos.
AJ Milano (1-0) vs. Union Olimpija (1-0)
In what will undoubtedly go down as one of the best games of the season, Union Olimpija needed two overtimes and the lungs of thousands of passionate Slovenians to bring down Efes Pilsen in week one. With 10 new players and plenty of concerns entering the season, the team from Ljubljana christened their brand spankin’ new Stozice Arena with its first Euroleague win. Goran Jagodnik’s elixir kicked in and made him play like the young man he once was and Kevinn Pinkney hit some ice cold clutch threes late to extend the game and eventually seal it.
Oleksiy Pecherov debuted with Milano to the tune of 23 points and Morris Finley had 15 as the Italians poured in 88 on the road against CSKA. Now it appears as though Pecherov might miss some time after suffering a leg injury in the Italian League. But with the Olimpija fans a safe distance away from the bleachers and Milano loaded with scorers, I think Milano will move to the head of the group. AJ Milano.
Efes Pilsen (0-1) vs. Valencia (0-1)
It’s tough to imagine either of these teams heading into week three still winless, yet that’s the situation we’ve got before us. For Valencia, it’s simply an issue of timing and chemistry as these guys haven’t played too much ball together yet. Omar Cook and Rafa Martinez is the ball handling duo I have in mind, because if they can’t iron out the kinks before Nando de Colo returns from injury they’ll have all sorts of trouble.
Efes just needs to forget about last week’s loss, chalk it up to occasion and atmosphere and work on defending their homecourt the way crosstown rivals Fenerbahçe did. Signed earlier this week, Nikola Vujcic should help keep the ball moving to shooters such as Igor Rakocevic and Bostjan Nachbar, both of whom already look far more comfortable than they did at any point of the season. Efes Pilsen.