Apologies for the tardiness of this column, dear readers, but the Official BallinEurope Euroleague Power Rankings are just as fun and informative on Sundays as they are on Saturdays! With four teams through into the Top 16 round and several more on the bubble, who’s cruising and who’s losing? BiE says the two dozen squads stack up this way…

Top of the Table
1. (↑) Maccabi Tel Aviv (6-1 in Euroleague; 6-1 in Ligat HaAl) – We’ll just keep running this blurb until the star-studded Yellow-and-Blue shows any signs of serious vincibility: Forget the Miami Heat, the Boston Celtics, the Los Angeles Lakers even (heresy); the best offseason was had by Maccabi Tel Aviv, which once again underwent a complete reboot, as the kids these days might say.

2. (↑) Fenerbahçe Ülker (6-1; 8-0 in TBL) – No. 1 in scoring, no. 2 in defensive rebounds, no. 3 in rebounding, no. 3 in fewest turnovers allowed … it’s tough to deny these guys the top spot, particularly in a season of oddities; wouldn’t a surprise team in the Euroleague finals like Fenerbahçe be fitting?

3. (↑) Montepaschi Siena (6-1; 6-1 in Serie A) – BiE’s glad to have gotten on this horse early (Just ignore those top two teams when you check the link, eh?) and is cheered by a positive example of a club prevailing through budget crunches.

4. (↓) Olympiacos (5-2; 6-0 in EΣAKE)
5. (↓) Panathinaikos (5-2; 6-0 in EΣAKE) – The Greek powers have cooled off a few scant degrees in the past two weeks, each losing in week six to Spanish clubs. And Panathinaikos hardly looked like a basketball machine in barely holding off a limp CSKA Moscow side last week. On the other hand, a W’s a W, both teams have a magic number of 1 to advance to the Top 16 round, and both looked primed to go deep into the Euroleague playoffs. In the meantime, European hoops fans are still waiting for the teams’ first meeting on January 8th, which will probably look something like this:

6. (↔) Union Olimpija (5-2; 6-3 in Adriatic League) – Apparently, this is the formula for success in 2009-10: Combine some castoffs from lesser leagues (Kevin Pinkney, Kenny Gregory); a bit of veteran leadership (Vlado Ilievski, Saso Ozbolt); one badass off the bench (Goran Jagodnik); an exciting young big man (Giorgi Shermandini); and plenty of players with defense-first mentality (essentially everyone else and most of the above-mentioned). The result: the Euroleague’s no. 4 stingiest defense overall and a chance to swipe top seed in the group, albeit with an extremely difficult upset in Greece to do so.

You know who’s really interested in Olimpija’s success right now? Maccabi, Montepaschi and Fenerbahçe. Should Olimpija take Group D, Panathinaikos would presumably be the no. 2 seed; since the Greens would be barred from landing in Olympiacos’ or Olimpija’s group for the Top 16 round, either Tel Aviv or the Group C winner will be coin-flipping for the “privilege” of playing Central Europe’s toughest team twice in 2011.

7. (↑) FC Barcelona (5-2; 7-2 in ACB) – While certainly not resembling the superteam of 2009-10, Barça nevertheless became one of the first four to qualify for the Top 16, as the wheat has mathematically been separated from the chaff in Group C. Not especially heartening to Barça backers are losses to Fenerbahçe Ülker, Montepaschi Siena and Caja Laboral Baskonia, essentially the only teams of any repute the Blaugrana’ve played since November began. And now Pete Mickael’s out for two months? Yikes.

Other prime contenders
8. (↑) Madrid
(4-3; 8-2 in ACB)
9. (↑) Unicaja (4-3; 6-4 in ACB) – The weirdness of 2010-11 Euroleague season is such that it’s spreading to affect domestic leagues, too! After Unicaja defended home court against Real Madrid well enough in week 7 for pundits to start describing the latter as “reeling,” Madrid went and spanked Unicaja right back last night, 88-72. After beginning the season with five ACB teams, one is now left to wonder whether any of ‘em will be around to play in the home country in the Final Four.

10. (↓) Žalgiris Kaunas (4-3; 4-0 in VTB United League) – The wind is out of the Lithuanian sails in Euroleague play, perhaps, but you’d be forgiven if you’d consider losses to Partizan in Pionir and to the Continent’s top team to be something of a blip in a great season thus far: They’re 12-0 in non-EL games, and the loss in Serbia represents the sole defeat of Žalgiris in 2010-11 by any team not named “Maccabi Tel Aviv.”

11. (↓) Efes Pilsen (4-3; 6-1 in TBL) – Yes, but can they win on the road?

12. (↑) BC Khimki Moscow region (3-4; 3-1 in VTB)
13. (↑) Partizan Belgrade (4-3; 4-5 in Adriatic) – While it seems contradictory to list a sub-.500 club above a winning one, well, the scoreboard last week read “BC Khimki 92, Partizan Belgrade 65” as the Belgrade side left Russia tails between legs. Khimki now has the tiebreaker advantage over the Black-and-Whites for the Group A no. 3 seed, while seriously youthful Partizan still has away games in Tel Aviv and Baskonia to handle; the stats show that Khimki is 50 points better than Partizan, and non-Euroleague records would seem to indicate that Khimki’s run in 2010-11 is hardly over.

14. (↑) Virtus Roma
(4-3; 2-5 in Serie A) – On the surface of it, Roma’s hot. But the Italians’ back-to-back wins have come against Brose Baskets Bamberg and Spirou Charleroi. From The Who’d Thought Department: Imagine a Euroleague team advancing to the Top 16 round essentially based on a one-point win in Germany. First team bounced, anyone…?

15. (↑) Power Electronics Valencia (3-4; 3-6 in ACB)
16. (↔) AJ Milano (3-4; 6-1 in Serie A)
17. (↑) Cholet Basket (3-4; 6-2 in LNB) – While Cholet seems primed to back into a no. 4 seed out of Group C (certainly a fair enough consolation prize for surviving six games against teams in BiE’s top seven), PE Valencia and AJ Milano will have to fight it out on December 16. Of this trio, BiE right now likes Eurocup champ Valencia the best, coming off two of the most important wins in franchise history with Euroleague victories at Panathinaikos and against Efes Pilsen.

The rest
18. (↑) Asseco Prokom
(2-5; 2-3 in VTB) – The bad news: The Polish side is now 2-7 against Euroleague teams in the 2010-11 regular season. The good news: Those two wins have been in the last two games, with Asseco victories versus Khimki and at Baskonia. The realistic news: These guys have dug themselves such a hole that they’ll have to win out (vs. Žalgiris, at Partizan, vs. Maccabi – yeah, surrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrre) to advance to the Top 16.

19. (↓) Caja Laboral Baskonia (2-5; 8-1 in ACB) – When you build a team specifically to win the ACB, you can’t complain about your status in Euroleague.

20. (↓) Brose Baskets Bamberg (2-5; 11-0 in BBL)
21. (↓) Spirou Charleroi (2-5; 4-1 in BLB) – Doesn’t anyone love Belgian ball? Or the French LNB? Anyone? Hello…?

22. (↓) CSKA Moscow
(1-6; 4-0 in VTB)
23. (↓) Lietuvos Rytas (1-6; 2-2 in VTB) – Analyzing the fates of these two traditional superpowers in 2010-11 will be left to sports archaeology. While CSKA may simply have to rebuild (and without Mikhail Prokhorov’s cash ‘n’ guidance this time, too), one wonders how deeply the problems lie with Lietuvos Rytas. While the Greens are 6-1 in LKL play (yawn), they’re just 1-8 against Euroleague clubs this season … what gives, Lithuania?

24. (↓) Cibona Zagreb (0-7; 5-5 in Adriatic) – BiE is now officially recognizing the Dusan Kecman Curse. Sure, they took the Croatian league title in 2010, but in 2010-11, Cibona is off to an unbelievable 5-12 start overall and a 1-7 record against EL teams (having recorded a three-point win over Olimpija in Croatia in Adriatic League week four): marks comparable only to L.Rytas, another of Europe’s biggest disappointments this season – and this with the amazing Euroleague scoring leader Bojan Bogdanović!

BiE today is primarily worried that Zagreb’s poor season is symptomatic of greater problems; what of the future of one of Europe’s most celebrated franchises…?

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