Olympiacos are the champions

BallinEurope is officially back from his post-Euroleague Final Four vacation (hey, you can’t blame BiE for enjoying Istanbul for a couple extra days after wall-to-wall b-ball reportage)! How to prove it? Well, here’s this year’s first traditional “List of European champions.”

Below runs news on domestic and pan-European champions from across the Continent – from nearly 50 leagues in all – plus, where applicable, video clips. In cases where playoffs are underway, information on the process of each tourney is noted. Read on to find out who reigns in hallowed corners of European basketball like Iceland, Luxembourg and Albania … while wondering if any story can top Olympiacos’ amazing Euroleague run.

Euroleague: The top level in all of Europe provided one of the Continent’s top-level upsets when Olympiacos topped the highly-favored CSKA Moscow on Georgios Printezis’ runner which exploded the internet with less than two ticks remaining on the game clock. Olympiacos created an instant classic this year, nipping the Red Army, 63-61, after lagging behind for nearly the entire game – utterly subjectively speaking, the marvelous comeback kinda recalled two NBA playoff matches from way-back-when, a.k.a. 2002: this and this.

Again, congratulations to Olympiacos and thanks for the most memorable Euroleague championship title in years…

ULEB Eurocup: In mid-April, BC Khimki Moscow Region became the first unlicensed team to officially join the 2012-13 Euroleague ranks – grabbing its first-ever Eurocup title in the process – with its 77-68 championship game victory over ACB side Valencia Basket. Better yet, the Russian team capped its 14-2 Eurocup run by re-signing head coach Rimas Kurtinaitis.

FIBA Eurochallenge: After a 2011-12 campaign which saw Deron Williams, Adam Morrison, Semih Erden, Carlos Arroyo and Pops Mensah-Bonsu suit up for the club for all or part of the season, Beşiktaş Milangaz earned entry into the 2012-13 Eurocup league by topping Elan Chalon in a 91-86 shootout in the Eurochallenge championship. Now can they avoid the Eurochallenge Championship Curse?

Adriatic League: It was all Maccabi Tel Aviv in this year’s Liga ABA: David Blatt’s side finished its 26-2 run with an 87-77 victory over Cedevita Zagreb in the finals. Final Four tournament MVP was Keith Langford, “who joined Maccabi at the begining of the season from Khimki[. Langford] was the team’s second-best scorer in the semifinal, when he made 17 points, while in the final he was unstoppable with 21 points and a perfect score from free throws and three-pointers.”

Balkan League: Hapoel Gilboa Galil outlasted BC Levski in overtime, 89-84, for its first-ever European title. Unfortunately, the small-market club won’t be getting any “money prizes” for the effort, as these will be awarded to Balkan League clubs beginning in 2012-13.

Baltic League: In the all-Lithuanian final, Žalgiris Kaunas completed a BBL threepeat in beating longtime rival Lietuvos Rytas, 74-70. (This after immolating Siauliai, the third Lithuanian team in the semifinals, 117-64.)

VTB United League: CSKA Moscow won its first title of 2011-12 in the VTB United League just eight days before the Euroleague Final Four began. Fellow PBL side Unics Kazan fell to the Red Army in the championship game, 74-62. Named this tournament’s MVP was – you guessed it – Andrei Kirilenko.

Albania: SK Tirana finished what must is nearly Europe’s shortest season (take a look at Malta’s, for comparison’s sake) with a perfect 19-0 record; the three-game sweep of Basket Kamza in the finals ended with a 73-62 score line in favor of the repeat champions.

Austria: The Admiral Austrian Basketball League best-of-five final series in currently going on between Allianz Swans Gmuden and Xion Dukes Klosterneuburg. Game one was won 78-77 on the Dukes’ Damir Zeleznik’s last-minute three; the four-time champion Swans took game two, 77-68. Note: The hottest player in Europe right now could be Dan Oppland…

Belarus: BC Minsk-2006 once again destroyed the domestic competition, closing out 2011-12 with a 97-74 championship game victory over Grodno-93. Perhaps it was something of revenge for Minsk as well: Carrying a 46-0 run into the season from the last, the team extended it to 56 consecutive wins in Belarus before losing to Grodno in January. Minsk had to settle for a 33-2 mark this season (and 5-19 cumulative in Eurochallenge and VTB United play).

Belgium: The Ligue Ethias is down to a final four of Eurocup teams Telenet BC Oostende and Belfius Mons-Hainaut; Eurochallengers Antwerp Giants; and Euroleague qualifying round side/fourpeat defending champions Belgacom Spirou Basket. The best-of-three series run May 21-26 (if necessary).

Bosnia-Herzegovina: Siroki Wwin needs one more W to finish off the threepeat against 2010-11 runners-up BC Igokea. Game four of the five-game series is scheduled for Wednesday night.

Bulgaria: The best-of-five championship series between Lukoil Academik and BC Levski begins on Tuesday. Lukoil remains thoroughly dominant in Bulgaria and is looking to take its *tenth* consecutive domestic trophy. After going 36-0 overall in 2011-12, Lukoil has had to “settle” for a 29-3 mark thus far. Oh, and they swept Levski last year, too.

Indeed, a Levski upset would probably be the only event on the calendar to best Bulgaria’s top moment of this season, i.e. Dennis Rodman’s visit on all-star weekend.

Croatia: Cibona Zagreb will return to the Croatian league’s title series after going 16-0 in the regular season and taking out last year’s champs KK Zagreb in two games. The longtime local powerhouse will face either Cedevita Zagreb or KK Split, to be determined on Wednesday.

Cyprus: Once again, InterCollege Etha Engomis managed upsets in the tournament bracket to defend its Cypriot national championship. After coming from the no. 4 spot in last year’s eight-team tournament, Etha ranked third after a 12-4 regular season (plus 3-5 in Eurocup qualifiers/Eurochallenge play) but upended top dogs Keravnos in the finals. Sharp-eyed observers/NBA addicts may have caught well-traveled Etha leader Darryl Finesse Hawkins – he’s played in Lebanon and China in addition to Cyprus and small towns in the ‘States – getting in a few games with the New Orleans Hornets at the tail end of the season.

Czech Republic: The finals in the Czech Republic have come down to Eurocup/VTB United League team CEZ Nymburk and BK Prostejov. Nymburk yesterday took game one, 75-66, and game two will be played tonight. Last year saw the same finals matchup, with Nymburk winning four games to two.

Denmark: The Bakken Bears defended their Ligaen title, again defeating the Svendborg Rabbits in the final series, 4-2. Bakken’s Joshua Alexander, formerly of Stephen F. Austin, was named tournament MVP and regular-season MVP.

Estonia: VTB United/Baltic League team Kalev/Cramo made it back-to-back national titles, again sweeping Tartu University/Rock in the best-of-seven championship series.

Finland: A new champion was named in Finland, as the Nilan Bisons (or LoKoKo) won the Koriisliga title over Joensuun Kataja with a solid 83-66 victory in the final game. The Bisons were buoyed by Martin Zeno’s all-around line of 22 points, six assists, five rebounds and three steals. Kataja was also the Finnish runner-up in 2011-12.

France: The looooong LNB playoff tournament begins tomorrow night. Play begins with the top eight teams (from a league of 16, mind you), namely Gravelines-Dunkerque, Chalon/Saône, Orléans, Le Mans, SLUC Nancy, Paris-Levallois, Chorale Roanne and Cholet Basket.

Germany: In recent years becoming known as one of the wackier tournaments in Europe, the Bundesliga tourney had produced relatively sane results except for the bouncing of the huge-market Alba Berlin by s.Oliver Baskets. No. 1 Brose Baskets Bamberg, no. 2 Ratiopharm Ulm and no. 4 seeds Artland Dragons all advanced out of the quarterfinals, the lattermost barely surviving their five-game set with FC Bayern München. Bamberg and Ulm are currently each up on Artland and s.Oliver, respectively, one game to zero in the semis.

Greece: That’s right, it’s almost time once again … the Greek League finals will naturally pit Olympiacos vs. Panathinaikos. With a stunning Euroleague victory under their belts, can the Reds finally win the seemingly even more elusive domestic title over the hated Greens? It would snap a legendary nine-year run – including last season’s, earned by upending Olympics 3-1 in the finals after the Reds’d gone 36-0 in the league.

Until Saturday, then, let’s consider the February thriller between the clubs…

Holland: Eiffel Towers Den Bosch needs just one more game to complete the four-game sweep of defending champs ZZ Lieden; that’ll be on Thursday.

Hungary: Szolnoki Olajbanyasz, fourth-place finishers in 2011-12 Eurochallenge, have a 1-0 lead over Falco-Szova Szombathely.

Iceland: In what must be Europe’s smallest leagues, Grindavik are the kings, taking the Icelandic title three games to one over Thor Thorl. Former Cleveland State University Viking (and former New York Jets signee!) J’Nathan Bullock contributed a massive 36-point, eight-rebound performance in the 78-72 game four victory.

Ireland: After stumbling through an 11-10 regular season, the UL Eagles took the Irish championship with a 70-56 victory over Dublin’s DCU Saints.

Israel: Balkan League champs and no. 2 seed Galil Gilboa have already been bounced from the Ligat HaAl tournament, thereby ending just about all suspense that Maccabi Tel Aviv takes this trophy again. The other three teams making up the final four round include Hapoel Holon, Maccabi Ashdod and Maccabi Rishon; the round begins tomorrow.

Italy: In another drawn-out tournament, the top-four seeds – Montepaschi Siena, Armani Milano, Bennet Cantu and Banco di Sardegna Sassari – all have 2-0 advantages in their quarterfinal series. With Virtus Bologna and the Los Angeles Lakers both on the brink of elimination, is Claudio Sabbatini desperately trying to get in touch with Kobe Bryant? You know, just to play one game…

Latvia: VEF Riga repeated as champions in Latvia, once again taking out Eurochallenge team Ventspils with a convincing 100-70 win in game five of the league’s final series.

Lithuania: Perhaps Lietuvos Rytas never psychologically recovered after the close shave with Siauliai in the semifinal round. In the one-and-one format, L.Rytas actually managed to drop the first leg at home by nine points. While the Eurocuppers managed to survive game two, they were ultimately swept by rivals Žalgiris Kaunas in the finals, three games to none.

Luxembourg: After rolling through the Luxembourg league in 2011-12, defending champions T71 Dudelange and Sparta meet in the finals. Sparta has the lead after winning game one, 100-84. No clips of the match appear to be readily available, but there is of course this.

Malta: After 16 games total, Athleta bagged its ninth Maltese title in its back-to-back championship campaign.

Norway: Froya Basket, the youngest BLNO entry having gotten promotion to the top division for 2009-10, won over the excellently-named Asker Aliens, 80-78, in the one-game championship there. Speaking of great monikers, Froya’s Miilah Kombat took the Final Four MVP award.

Poland: Asseco Prokom looks to make it eight straight PLK titles in meeting Trefl Sopot in tonight’s new one-game championship format.

Portugal: In a repeat of last year’s championship series, Porto Ferpinta and Benfico are knotted up at two games apiece; the final game will be played on Wednesday.

Romania: Another domestic championship that could be over on Wednesday is that of Romania’s, with Ploiesti now up two games to none on Timisoara. Ploiesti’s recent run of six Romanian titles was broken last season by Cluj-Napoca.

Russia: CSKA Moscow rallied from its Euroleague disappointment to do what the club does best, i.e. take the PBL title – 2011-12 marks the 10th straight season as top dogs for the Red Army.
Reported the English-language Russia Times: “The Army Men beat Khimki 90-75 to wrap up their best-of-five series, 3-0.

“As happened twice before in the series, CSKA were always in control of the game and were 14 points up in the first. That was cut by Khimki to five in the closing quarter, but CSKA put on another surge in the final minutes to run out winners.

“With their iconic front-man Andrey Kirilenko sidelined with an injury, there was a whole bunch of other stars in the Army Men’s squad to make sure his absence would not cost dearly. The likes of Aleksey Shved, Viktor Khryapa, Nenad Krstic, Milos Teodosic and Jamon Gordon finished the game with double digits on their account.

“The pains of Vitaly Fridzon (20 points) and Kresimir Loncar (17) were far not enough for the reigning Eurocup holders to bite into the series.

“So CSKA claimed an incredible 19th title in 21 seasons and sugared the end of a season in which, Kirilenko believes, the team had its strongest squad in the recent years.

“’This year the squad was exceptional. There were at least three players in each position who could become leaders in every Russian team,’ he noted after the final game.”

“Asked about his future plans AK-47 said there are two options for him – staying in the Russian team or to moving back to the NBA, with each of the possibilities regarded as 50-50.”

Serbia: With the big boys of the Superleague, e.g. Partizan Belgrade, Crvena Zvezda, etc., having begun play in January, the second round is still going on in Serbia.

Slovakia: Prievidza took its first national title in 17 years in Slovakia, winning over Komarno>; both teams had gone 22-10 and were tied atop the regular-season standings.

Slovenia: It’s the Euroleague’s Union Olimpija versus the Eurocup’s KK Krka for all the marbles in Slovenia. The series is currently tied at one game apiece with game three set for tomorrow night.

Spain: What we do know thus far about traditionally the last league to finish play in Europe: FC Barcelona, Real Madrid and Caja Laboral Baskonia have all advanced to the semifinals with 2-0 series sweeps; Baskonia knocked off no. 6 Gescrap Bilbao Basket to end that club’s miracle 2011-12. Valencia hosts Lagun Aro GBC to determine the last of the final four teams tomorrow night.

Sweden: The top two teams played for the Basketligan crown in April, with Norrkoping Dolphins taking out Sodertalje Kings, four games to two.

Switzerland: And another threepeat! Lugano Tigers again won the LNA championship with a 92-81 victory over the Geneve Lions in the decisive game five of the title series there.

Turkey: In what is rapidly becoming BiE’s favorite domestic league in Europe, Besiktas are looking like the team to watch in the Eagles’ highly successful 2011-12 campaign. Gelling at the right time after dealing with a revolving-door roster, the Eurochallenge winners have already eliminated reigning two-time champs Fenerbahçe Ülker and are up 2-1 in the semifinal round against last season’s runners-up Galatasaray. In the other bracket, Eurocup’s Banvit BK has deadlocked Anadolu Efes at 1-1. It’s now one game a night for the next three days in this round…

Ukraine: The Ukrainian Cup Trophy (hey, that’s what they call it) was won by Aviastar, who topped Musson 88-86 in the championship match as Vitaly Boyko led all scorers with 23 points>.

United Kingdom: Finally, BallinEurope sends (belated) congratulations out to the Newcastle Eagles. The Eagles bested Leicester Riders in the final match, 71-62, to complete the clean sweep of BBL titles and buoy hopes that perhaps Newcastle will be joining a pan-European competition in 2012-13.

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