Euroleague Final Four head-to-head matchups: CSKA Moscow vs. FC Barcelona

With the Euroleague Final Four mere days away, the giddiness increases at the prospect of figuring that, yes, without hyperbole, basketball fans could well be getting a complete slate of four classic games. While FC Barcelona and Olympiacos are the heavy favorites (and, ahem,’s teams predicted to make the finals at the beginning of the 2009-10 Euroleague season), the prospective top dogs will have no easy way with it.

Case in point: Barcelona. While the Blaugrana continue to look unstoppable, coming off the decisive best-of-five Euroleague series win over Real Madrid and a historic 73-54 blowout perpetrated at Murcia in ACB play, CSKA Moscow is precisely the team they don’t want to face: The Red Army certainly has the potential to give the Barça frontcourt fits, in particular.

BiE’s informal area-by-area briefing on the first Euroleague Final Four game – together with patented BallinEurope Fearless Prediction, naturally – goes something like this.

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The Frank Euroleague Roundup: Top 16, week five

Scariolo: No, really, i can explain everything...

Scariolo: No, really, i can explain everything...

With one more week of Euroleague play to go before the field of viable contenders officially shrinks again, Ball in Europe contributor Francesco Cappelletti wraps the round that was in the big league. In this week’s roundup, Signor C. laments Montepaschi Siena’s fate, Sergio Scariolo’s precarious position and the reason Olympiacos might yet give Barca a workout before all is said and done (Hint: It starts with “Linas” and ends with “Kleiza”).

Group F focus
Oddly, the group which could have been in doubt until the buzzer of Week 6 suddenly has two qualified teams after five weeks: These are Real Madrid and Maccabi Tel Aviv, teams which will meet next Thursday at Palacio Vistalegre to define a first place currently in possession of the Israeli side for their 81-76 victory of February 4.

Montepaschi Siena was shocked by a 43-point fourth quarter scored by Alan Anderson and teammates. OK, take out the final (meaningless) 10 points, and 33 remain on the back of the Italian champions. How was this possible? MPS had recovered during the third period thanks to big hearted Terrell McIntyre and bad offensive decisions from previously unstoppable Doron Perkins, but, I mean, if you play with six men (seven minutes of nothing for Nikos Zisis in crisis, Ksistof Lavrinovic plagued by back spasms), and you enter the final fraction with a 3-point advantage at Yad Eliyahu, well, you know your destiny.

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Euroleague: CSKA Moscow, Russia

As last year, I had to go for one preview too. So I had the chance to talk about CSKA Moscow, the reigning Euroleague Champion. Nothing easier than that I thought but a team renewed at half is not the lucky pick this time.

Overall record prediction: 8-2

But even some things never change, Ettore Messina is still at the head of the most powerful basketball team in Europe. Being announced all around the globe nearly every year, this summer, it was only the position of French or Italian NT head coach that was seriously discussed for the best coach-blogger in Europe.

The biggest change at a first look has of course been in the guard area. The legendary Theo Papaloukas returned to Greece and CSKA was imputed of their brain coming from the bench. The addition of Zoran Planinic is very interesting as the Croatian guard has a very similar profile to Papaloukas, both being close to 2m tall. However, Planinic has not the aura (yet) of the most famous mullet of the Euroleague. Planinic will get some support in the back-court by the veteran JR Holden, Nikos Zisis and the Alaskan Assassin Trajan Langdon but also some newly added talent in Victor Keyru. The surprise of the team can however be Alexey Shved who saw some minutes with the team during the first games of the Russian Championship.

The wing positions are still held by Ramunas Siskauskas and Victor Khryapa. The Lithuanian SF will go for another season of doing it all and the loss of Papaloukas will even put more pressure on his shoulders as the potential go-to-guy. Khryapa needs to step up and go for more than fouls and switch into the Eurobasket 2007 modus if he wants to live up to his potential. Andrey Vorontsevich should get some minutes in the future in order to help these two to get some rests but the young Russian forward is currently injured.

The biggest question mark I have however will be the inside sector. With the absence of Matjaz Smodis, CSKA had some trouble to find the necessary inside presence in the Russian League. Hopefully, the Slovenian forward has no severe problems. Neither Erazem Lorbek nor Terrence Morris showed the necessary rebounding so far in order to go for the starting job. And there are even rumors about Morris going to leave the team. The addition of Sasha Kaun may be interesting for the future but his role will probably very limited for his Euroleague rookie season.

Still, CSKA Moscow looks like a heavy favorite to join the Euroleague Final Four. In a group with only Efes Pilsen and Real Madrid as real powerhouses, a first place is possible, even if that’s not the goal of the team. And squads like the CSKA one will go for some losses in the beginning of the season as the automatism need some weeks to work. When the time of the Top16 is approaching, you won’t see that many problems anymore. And the possibility to defend the title in Berlin is really there.

Final Four participants: CSKA, Olympiacos, Montepaschi Siena, Panathinaikos

Euroleague winner: Panathinaikos


After the Olympics: What’s the future of Russia?

Russia, the surprising Eurobasket winner of 2007 (yes, we can now say that it was a surprise) comes from a disappointing performance during the Beijing Olympics. An official 9th place was far below the expectations for a country with one of the strongest leagues in Europe.

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