Euroleague Preview, Week 5
Sarunas Jasikevicius to the rescue?
by Nick Gibson / @euro_adventures
Once you’ve come down from your college basketball high, take a moment and peer into those Division I athletes’ possible futures: European basketball. With over 1,000 alums—or at least one-time attendees—getting pay for play, European squads collectively represent one of the most likely employers for college ballers who can’t cut it in the NBA or don’t have the stomach for the D-League. One of those guys is a man named Sarunas Jasikevicius who played for Gary Williams at Maryland before returning to Europe and making himself a legend. Now at age 34, he has an opportunity to return to his original team, Lietuvos Rytas of Vilnius, Lithuania, and turn their season around.
Last week I continued my streak of 8-4 finishes, so let’s see if I can finally bump up to double digits as we approach the halfway mark of the regular season.
Partizan (2-2) vs. Caja Laboral (2-2)
Either Partizan loses a second home game in three weeks or Caja Laboral runs its losing streak to three. Both sound equally far fetched, but one of them will have come true by week’s end. Caja’s missing Tiago Splitter more than they might let on, but their -22 rebounding margin last week against Zalgiris leaves them no more room to hide behind those lies. James Gist, Nathan Jawai and the Partizan front court might have a field day against Caja’s porous interior, but Vitoria will prevail in Pionir for the same reasons Maccabi succeed a couple of weeks ago: superior playmaking and shotmaking ability. Caja Laboral.
Zalgiris Kaunas (3-1) vs. BC Khimki (2-2)
Mirza Begic is leading the league in blocks, Paulius Jankunas is second in rebounding and Martynas Pocius is living at the free throw line (8 FTAs per game is the highest in the EL). Zalgiris has out rebounded all four of their opponents and are coming off one of the season’s least likely upsets, a win at Caja Laboral. Khimki can challenge Zalgiris for depth and are surely more consistent, but they’ll need to be scrappily spectacular to come out of Kaunas with a win. Zalgiris.
Maccabi Electra (3-1) vs. Asseco Prokom (0-4)
By letting Partizan waltz on in and steal a road win against them, Asseco Prokom dug a grave nearly seven feet deep. The only guys who can still see over the ridge are bigs Ronnie Burrell and Jan Jagla, not coincidentally the culprits of Prokom’s slow start. It will be up to those two and Ratko Varda to give Prokom’s potent backcourt some help inside, but I just don’t see them busting out against Sofoklis Schortsanitis and Richard Hendrix. Maccabi Electra.
Virtus Roma (2-2) vs. Olympiacos (3-1)
Not that any descent from 2-0 to 2-2 is pleasing to the eye, but it’s tough to dream up an uglier fall from grace than Virtus Roma’s, which featured losses of 18 and then 21 en route to .a 500 record. Vladimir Dasic and Nihad Djedovic have done their best to make up for Charles Smith’s season-long free fall (8 total points in three games since scoring 16 in his Roma debut). Meanwhile in Piraeus, Vassilis Spanoulis and Milos Teodosic are numbers one and two on EL’s assist leaderboard, so clearly the two offensive-minded guards haven’t had much trouble sharing the ball with one another or feeding their teammates’ hungry hands. Olympiacos.
Spirou Charleroi (0-4) vs. Real Madrid (3-1)
Madrid is lucky to have gotten out of last week with a home win over Brose Baskets. If they shoot 3-16 from downtown again in Belgium then this could be one of those ‘trap’ games you hear about. The positive here for Madrid is that Spirou is, well, they’re not very good. Real Madrid.
Brose Baskets (2-2) vs. Unicaja (2-2)
With Terrell McIntyre still out and Rafa Freire incapable of running the team (for now), Unicaja turns to Roderick Blakney, the 34-year-old former South Carolina Stater who’s spent a majority of his overseas career in Greece. His job, aside from creating some offense on his own, will be to give it to Joel Freeland, who has continued his ascension toward elite status, averaging 13.3 points and 6.5 rebounds so far this season. Brose is still in the process of figuring themselves out, but the alliance has been much more effective at home with wins over Olympiacos ad Spirou. If I had any confidence at all that Unicaja could even come close to last week’s 104-point performance, I’d pick them to win it; but consistency just isn’t their cup of tea. Brose Baskets.
Lietuvos Rytas (0-4) vs. Cibona (0-4)
In response to their winless start, Lietuvos Rytas has sought the services of the legendary Sarunas Jasikevicius, who hasn’t played since parting ways with Panathinaikos after a forgettable ‘09-10 season. The signing might not be enough for Rytas to rally their way to the Top 16, but it’s a chance for Saras to put up stats for the club that gave him his first professional contract, and a chance for Rytas to get that elusive first win. Lietuvos Rytas.
Montepaschi Siena (3-1) vs. Regal Barcelona (3-1)
Joe Ingles would start for Siena. Hell, Joe Ingles would start for almost all 24 EL teams. But for Barcelona, he’s just another interchangeable gear in their basketball machine, recently acquired from CB Granada to replace the injured Gianluca Basile. How do you compete with that sort of depth? I’m not sure Siena can. Barcelona.
Cholet (2-2) vs. Fenerbahçe Ülker (4-0)
Cholet has won two straight thanks to heady guard play from Fabein Causeur and Vule Avdalovic and forceful rebounding by EL boards leader Randal Falker. Luckily for Fenerbahçe, there’s not a point guard in the league playing better than Roko Ukic (13 assists and only one turnover so far), and Fenerbahçe hasn’t once been bested on the glass. The springy Slovenian Gasper Vidmar has gone down with an ACL injury but Mirsad Turkcan dipped back into his mid-2000s repertoire to pull out a 13 and 10 outing in Fenerbahçe’s unhinging of the until-then perfect Siena in week four. Fenerbahçe Ülker.
Union Olimpija (3-1) vs. Valencia (1-3)
Valencia enters this week with Svetislav Pesic at the helm after Manuel Hussein’s stint as head coach was cut short earlier this week. Pesic is still remembered for the magical 8-month stretch in which he led Yugoslavia to the 2002 World Championships and Barcelona to the 2003 Euroleague title, but turning this team around in 40 rowdy minutes in Ljubljana’s Stozice Arena might be just as impressive. Union Olimpija.
AJ Milano (2-2) vs. Panathinaikos (3-1)
AJ Milano finally did something about their lack of size, signing the massive Tomas Van den Spiegel to a two-month deal to hold them over at least until Oleksiy Pecherov gets back into playing shape. I hope TVDS is ready to go immediately though, because if Stefano Mancinelli is Milano’s leading rebounder against Panathinaikos, Mike Batiste and Aleks Maric will rip the Denim Dozen to threads (That is, if Obradovic decides to play Aleks Maric more than 11 minutes, a statistical oddity which has only occurred once in the three games he’s ‘played’). Panathinaikos.
Efes Pilsen (2-2) vs. CSKA Moscow (1-3)
Few teams have been tougher to beat at home than Efes Pilsen the past couple years, but nobody has been able to keep CSKA Moscow out of the Final Four for a ridiculous eight-straight seasons. At 1-3, a loss here wouldn’t just damage their chances to get to Barcelona, it might leave them at home come the Top 16. Jamont Gordon has taken over as one of the EL’s premier playmakers and Andrey Vorontsevich is learning how to create for himself on offense; all the while, Trajan Langdon must be itching to get hot after starting the year 4-14 from behind the arc. If Efes Pilsen wants to win, Lawrence Roberts needs to incorporate himself into the offense and take advantage of CSKA’s weakness, interior defense. CSKA Moscow.