Euroleague Preview: The Final Week
Four teams duke it out for the last two spots.
by Nick Gibson / @euro_adventures
Nine weeks with 12 games apiece and we know three things: Maccabi and Montepaschi are the best, Cibona is the worst, and the other 21 have been frustratingly fickle. With 14 of 16 Top 16 spots reserved, four games in two groups capture our interest heading into the regular season’s final week. Here’s what you need to know:
Group C’s Battle: Cholet Basket (4-5) and Lietuvos Rytas (3-6)
Here’s the deal: Cholet wins and they’re in; Lietuvos Rytas needs a win and a Cholet loss to advance (Rytas owns the head-to-head tiebreaker on point differential). If they both lose, Cholet is through to the Top 16. The match-ups…
Fenerbahçe Ülker (6-3) vs. Cholet Basket (4-5)
An easy win against the EL’s doormat, Cibona, has replenished Cholet’s confidence stores, but Fenerbahçe have a similar objective as they try to get back on track heading into the Top 16. FB Ülker are losers of two straight and a third could slide them down the group’s third spot and set them up with tougher match-ups in the next round. With Roko Ukic out for Ülker, Cholet’s Vule Avdalovic gets the check in the point guard battle; Vule’s 13 assists last week—one shy of the EL record—allowed Sammy Mejia to orbit around the rock and toss it in when he got the touches. Mejia’s the anti-Kobe: his team is 3-1 when he gets up 15+ shot attempts. After leading the EL in boards during the league’s first half of play, Randal Falker has lost his flare, collecting only 2.7 per game over his last three. Fenerbahçe has the size to rebound effectively, but Gasper Vidmar was their only source of athleticism under the glass and now his leg’s torn up. Darjus Lavrinovic’s flat-footedness should have Randal Falker licking his chops.
Cibona vs. Lietuvos Rytas
The last time these two faced off, Jonas Valanciunas rocketed up draft boards with a beastly 15 points (6/7 shooting), 9 rebound, 2 block effort in just 22 minutes while Milko Bjelica snagged 10 off the glass en route to a +20 rebounding edge for the Lithuanians. Rytas shot an insane 74 percent from inside and didn’t have a single shot blocked, swatting away five themselves. One mustn’t read between the lines to recognize Cibona was simply outclassed on the interior, and here’s something that doesn’t help: Cibona will go to war without their most prolific big man, the young Leon Radosevic. In Vilnius, the Sarunas Jasikevicius pick-up is starting to look less like a symbolic gesture and more like the acquisition of a credible game changer. In last week’s must-win (as in a mathematical need to win; not the cliche tossed around by every analyst ever employed by the Worldwide Leader), Sarunas dusted off the magic wand and dished out 10 assists in 21 minutes, staving off the reigning champs and sending them back to Barcelona with a 1-point defeat. If they end up advancing, it will be on mo’ alone.
Here’s what happens: Cholet won’t be able to hand Fenerbahçe a third straight loss nor a second straight at home; beating Cibona twice is a Group C birthright, and Rytas is still owed one culminating W. Lietuvos Rytas advances.
Group D’s Battle: Power Electronics Valencia (4-5) and Armani Jeans Milano (4-5)
Here’s the deal: These two traded home losses but Valencia owns a +4 advantage in point differential. Valencia advances with a win and any Milano result; Milano needs a win and a Valencia loss to keep their season alive. If they both flop this week, Valencia gets the edge. The match-ups…
Power Electronics Valencia (4-5) vs. Union Olimpija (6-3)
In many ways, the Spaniards’ narrow shortcoming against Ljubljana in week five acted as a turning point for their season: Victor Claver proved he was ready for a starring role, Nando de Colo put together his first complete game and accepted his dual occupation as scorer and distributor, and Svetislav Pesic first donned the coaching after Manuel Hussein’s swift dismissal. Since that fearsome showing in Stozice, Pesic has witnessed his team lose only one game in the face of three wins, including two impressive triumphs on the road: a four-point victory against Panathinaikos in the frightening OAKA, and a 15-point statement against Milano, the very club praying for their failure this week in Ljubljana. A heavy dose of Rafa Martinez, who has found his rhythm in both the EL and the ACB in the last 10 days, should keep Union Olimpija off balance up top while de Colo and Omar Cook swing things around the horn, but Dusko Savanovic will need to match Goran Jagodnik shot for shot if the wily old man decides to get hot.
Panathinaikos (6-3) vs. Armani Jeans Milano (4-5)
Half of the Denim Dozen’s wins have come on the road, so they’re clearly not fazed outside Italian borders. What’s more, the worst rebounding team in the Euroleague is getting an early Christmas present: both Aleks Maric and Mike Batiste are out with injury while their most effective post man, Oleksiy Pecherov is in his second week back from injury and should step into a larger role with the season on the line. Dimitris Diamantidis is putting up the best numbers of his EL career for Panathinaikos (13 ppg, 5.7 apg), yet the man who owns five Defensive POY trophies cannot simultaneously guard Morris Finley, Ibrahim Jaaber and David Hawkins, who along with Stefano Mancinelli make up the league’s most dangerous penetration risk. Panathinaikos’ Zeljko Obradovic is infamous for frustrating defensive schemes and he’ll surely find a way to neutralize Milano’s Villanova-esque four guard set. Ironically enough, former Wildcat and current Armanicat Mike Nardi watches his team’s small line-ups go to work from the end of the bench.
Here’s what happens: Pesic has figured out how to squeeze complete games out of this talented Valencia crew and playing at home will only amplify his efforts; Armani Jeans gets stonewashed in Athens by the grittier Panathinaikos. Valencia cracks the Top 16.
Now, for posterity, a sentence apiece for each of the 8 remaining games which only kinda-sorta-ish matter. Clubs with the little * by their names have nothing to worry about. I’ve spent this season hopscotching between adequate to mediocre and last week’s 7-4 was no exception. The overall record is 52-31 and I’d to love to hit the Top 16 with 60+ W’s.
Asseco Prokom (2-7) vs. Maccabi Electra (8-1)
Milan Macvan adds what Richard Hendrix was supposed to this season: some finesse sprinkled on top of Big Sofo’s fierce. Maccabi.
BC Khmki (3-6) vs. Zalgiris (5-4)
Rimantas Grigas put out a mind-numbingly dumb starting line-up in his first game as head coach for Zalgiris: DeJuan Collins, Arturas Milaknis, Dainius Salenga, Travis Watson, and Tadas Klimavicius. The Zalgiris bench literally featured one player at each position better than the correlating starter (Kalnietis, Delininkaitis, Pocius, Jankunas, Begic). If he keeps screwing it up that badly, he’ll face a fate similar to Sergio Scariolo, the recently fired head man of BC Khimki. Zalgiris.
Caja Laboral (4-5) vs. Partizan (5-4)
Mirza Teletovic hit an EL-record nine threes last week and Marcelinho Huertas was one assist shy of the EL record of 14. Offensive prowess is nothing new for Caja Laboral. Time to play some defense, boys. Caja Laboral.
Unicaja (5-4) vs. Brose Baskets (3-6)
Saul Blanco an All-Euroleaguer? Not as crazy as it might sound. Unicaja.
Real Madrid (5-4) vs. Spirou Basket (3-6)
Church leagues are jealous of the way Ettore Messina distributes playing time among his bigs, but I’d like to see what Ante Tomic could do with 30 minutes of PT. Real Madrid.
Olympiacos (6-3) vs. Lottomatica Roma (4-5)
At some point, the SF combo of Kostas Papanikolaou and Marko Keselj will be called upon for more. I think they’ll be ready. Olympiacos.
Regal FC Barcelona (6-3) vs. Montepaschi Siena (8-1)
First, Barca lost the EL’s best wing combo in Juan Carlos Navarro and Pete Mickael. In the next four weeks, they reloaded with a tandem that can stand up to the 23 other clubs in the potency department: Joe Ingles and now Alan Anderson. Now JC’s back and if Mickael returns in time for the playoffs, only the Phillies’ rotation stands a chance. Barcelona.
CSKA Moscow (2-7) vs. Efes Pilsen (5-4)
Efes hasn’t won outside of Turkey this season. Moscow is not in Turkey. CSKA Moscow.