One big reason

Yes, yes, BallinEurope realizes that U.S. basketball fandom is currently enraptured with the NBA Championship, if only to determine just which team y’all hate more. But still: A true roundball supporter wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to tune into some top-level ball, would you? As Pete Mickeal once put it, “Hey, there’s a world outside the NBA!”

Ten reasons for you to consider what those in-the-know already know: namely, that Spanish League basketball is great stuff. And no matter how this series goes, the ACB final of FC Barcelona and Caja Laboral should be one for the ages.

10. The level of play is better than you thought. Back in 2007, much-esteemed European coach Ettore Messina defined European basketball as “something in between U.S. college basketball and [the] NBA. In Europe … we play team basketball similar to college basketball.” Messina may be right, but just as the gap is closing in international play between Team USA and the world, so too is the ACB packed with top-level talent and teams these days: Spanish clubs taking the Eurocup and Euroleague titles should further this proof a bit.

9. Two words: DEEEE! FENSE! One disturbing snide (and factually incorrect) remark BiE has gotten twice or thrice in ESPN’s Daily Dime live chats goes something like this: “I heard that in Europe they don’t play defense.” Well, here’s your chance to check it out firsthand and decide for yourself.

Right, now, to folks schooled only in the American game, defenses are going to look a little different. With far fewer huge big men clogging up the middle, the inside-out game of Europe demands a lot more isolation defense as well as substantially more transition D.

And it says here that 2009-10 FC Barcelona is one of the best defensive teams the ACB has ever seen, if not all of Europe. Barça gave up a scanty 64.76 points per 40-minute game (this would be 77.7 points allowed per 48 minutes). To put this into proper perspective, the average ACB team on an average night goes for 76.11 ppg. Also the league’s no. 2 defense, Cajasol’s, gave up 68.65 per, while no. 3 Real Madrid gave up over seven points more per game than Barcelona at 71.82.

And Baskonia is none too shabby on defense, either, having nudged Barça for the top defensive rebounding team honors (24.24 per game vs. 24.12). Combine this with the presence of two of the best defenders in Europe in Baskonia’s Tiago Splitter and Barcelona’s Pete Mickael, and this series could be one for D-lovers – despite all the hype about a couple of guys’ offensive skills, namely…

8. Tiago Splitter and

7. Ricky Rubio. The former will be the international player making the most impact in the NBA, should he decide to finally get with the San Antonio Spurs. (BiE fearless prediction: He will.) As for the latter, well, those who doubt the young man haven’t seen him play; you make take this opportunity. (BiE fearless prediction: In two to three years, the debate over best point guard in the world will come down to Rondo vs. Rubio.)

6. It’s conveniently scheduled. All the games tip off at either noon or 2.30pm EST so as to create as little conflict as possible with either NBA action or any interesting ESPN programming at all on weekdays at that time, really. What’s that? You have to go into the office? How 20th century! No problem, because…

5. Live broadcasts and full-game replays are free online. You can even add a corollary reason here: This series will give Americans an excuse to check out ACB.com and its excellent companion video site ACB 360. Together with the Euroleague.net, we can now say that European basketball league websites have closed the gap with America’s.

4. You can practice your Spanish. Spanish is one of only two languages that has more native speakers than English and with nearly 80 million native speakers in the U.S., the presence of Español is greater-felt than ever. Here’s one to get you started: “¡Navarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrro!” translates roughly as “He’s on fire!

3. It’s a 2010 FIBA World Championship preview. Between the Baskonia and Barcelona lineups, a number of team-leading players in the Turkey tournament can be previewed here in Juan Carlos Navarro (Spain), Ricky Rubio (Spain), Erazem Lorbek (Slovenia) and Tiago Splitter (Brazil). Stanko Barac (Croatia) and maybe even Walter Hermann (Argentina) are possibilities to play in the Worlds as well.

2. Barcelona is history in the making here. The Blaugrana are now at an incredible 61-5 overall in 2009-10; a sweep would give them a winning percentage of .928, the equivalent of a 76-6 season. They’ve won the Euroleague title, the ACB regular-season title, the Supercopa de España, and the Copa del Rey. Their sole bad game this season – and BiE watched a lot of Barcelona this year, let me tell you – and their only double-digit defeat was in April to Lagun Aro GBC.

BiE speculated in December that this Barcelona could go down as one of the top European teams of the past 10 years. They’re deep into that discussion now, with perhaps only the Mikhail Prokhorov-crafted CSKA Moscow teams of 2005-2008 left to compare to. Catch ‘em while you can; this could be a sweep.

And the number one reason Americans should watch the ACB championship series is … What else are you gonna watch when Lakers-Celtics isn’t on? This?

Game one of the ACB championship series with Caja Laboral Baskonia at FC Barcelona tips off tomorrow, June 10, at 8.30pm CET.

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