Monday hangover: Power struggles in Italy, Spain; Zalgiris’ continued rise; Obama vs. the Lakers Rule

It’s never too late for the ‘Hangover (or so BiE’s telling himself). Excuses aside, following are a few Eurocentric impressions, notes, highlight clips – and the no. 1 reason why Barack Obama is thrilled the Los Angeles Lakers went down in the playoffs last season…

Power vacuum in Italy? Coming into 2012-13, most pundits in the European basketball sphere reckoned Montepaschi Siena was due for an off year after an off offseason which saw them downgrade at several positions. And while it appears that Siena won’t be giving up its stranglehold on the Italian national title easily (they’re currently at 4-1; more on this shortly), the team’s dismal Euroleague play indicates this isn’t a Montepaschi team in the mold we’ve become accustomed to.

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Euroleague Power Rankings: 2012-13 Opening Day Edition

All right, it’s that time again! With hours to go before the 2012-13 Euroleague season tips off, BallinEurope breaks out its first power ratings for the big league.

Whereas normally a disclaimer to the effect of “the following ratings are based on current trending only and are not necessarily based on the overall quality of the teams” runs here, this year BiE’s switching things up a bit. To wit: For this edition of Euroleague power rankings, the teams *will* be run based on BallinEurope’s totally subjective viewpoint. (Mainly because BiE couldn’t figure out what to do with Barcelona…)

Get your arguments ready and read on for this season’s first power rankings, with Official BallinEurope Fearless Predictions™ for the upcoming season peppered throughout. Enjoy the games!

The favorites
1. Olympiacos Piraeus. The usual reserved spot for the defending champion comes with some justification this year, as Vassilis Spanoulis & Co. show no signs of letting up on their 2011-12 season-ending 22-4 run. In the off-/preseason, Olympiacos’ foursome of Spanoulis, local hero Georgios Printezis, Kostas Papanikolaou and Evengelos Mantazaris suited up for a disappointed Team Greece – all but Mantazaris acquitted themselves nicely, with 50-of-89 (56.2%) overall shooting and Spanoulis dishing out just under six assists per game in three Olympic qualifiers.

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Coppa Italia preview: Can anyone stop Montepaschi Siena?

February will see Turin playing host to the Coppa Italia, a grueling four-day tournament featuring Italy’s top eight teams. With the matchups now determined, BallinEurope’s man in Italy, Enrico Cellini, provides a brief preview of the competition.

The first half of Serie A season is over and the table is set for a little appetizer to the final playoffs. In Turin, from February 16th to 19th, the top eight teams of the 2011-12 season’s first half will play each other in elimination games to conquer the Coppa Italia, the second-most important national trophy and litmus paper of each team’s ambitions.

The teams and matchups are as follows.

Montepaschi Siena (1) vs Banco di Sardegna Sassari (8)
EA7 Milano (4) vs Canadian Solar Bologna (5)
Scavolini Siviglia Pesaro (2) vs Umana Venezia (7)
Bennet Cantù (3) vs Sidigas Avellino (6)

Will this be an opportunity for Montepaschi Siena to reassert its dominance after a few unexpected losses or a chance for rampant new challengers to prepare for an assault on the throne?

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Iverson, Besiktas blue-chippers not enough against Efes Pilsen, 85-83 (OT)

Say what you want about the European extension of Allen Iverson’s basketball career, the man can still play. Unfortunately, an utter lack of depth ultimately killed Beşiktaş Cola Turka and Ergin Ataman’s coaching debut with the Turkish club against Euroleague side Efes Pilsen Istanbul last night, 85-83 in overtime.

Iverson played a sliver under 40 minutes, going for 17 points on 6-of-11 overall shooting plus an impressive eight assists. Beşiktaş’ other blue chips turned in good-to-excellent games, with Cevher Ozer (27 points, 11-of-18, seven rebounds) the top dog, A.J. Ogilvy (7-of-12, 18 points, 14 boards) continuing as the double-double machine in the Iverson Era; and Mire Chatman (5-of-11, 10 points, six rebounds) solid.

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Euroleague week three talking points (part I)

How good is Bogdanovic? Discuss.

Seven Euroleague games go off tonight as the season rounds into form a bit. The marquee match tonight has got to be the Khimki-Baskonia showdown to establish early supremacy in that tough Group A; Olympiacos-Unicaja will surely be worth the viewing as well, although the way the Reds have dominated on their home floor lately will make things difficult for the Spanish side.

In preparation for the festivities, then, BallinEurope presents some talking points: facts, stats, oddities, history and video relating to the games. Enjoy!

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Highlights from Union Olimpija-Efes Pilsen 2OT thriller

The Euroleague’s game of the night last night and probably ultimately in all of week one was seen in the Union Olimipija-Efes Pilsen battle – and BallinEurope does mean battle – in Ljubljana. By the time the buzzer sounded, some 8,700 had thrilled to only the third double-overtime regular-season game in EL history, with Olimpija surviving, 95-90.

Official highlight clip and writeup follow the break.

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Interview: Ten minutes with Montepaschi Siena mastermind Ferdinando Minucci

Coming up on his 20th anniversary with Montepaschi Siena, general manager Ferdinando Minucci shows no signs of letting up – either in terms of hard work on his winning ways. Minucci’s rise through the ranks in the 1990s coincided with Montepaschi’s increase in prestige in Serie A. Achieving the lofty title of General Director and Vice President in 1999, Minucci’s hands-on approach through the 2000s has created a veritable European basketball powerhouse, with four Italian Championships (and a current three-year run), three Italian Supercups and last year’s Italian Cup titles to its credit.

As though confirmation of the excellent work done in the Montepaschi front office were necessary, Minucci has most recently been bestowed the Italian League Executive of the Year Award in 2007 and 2008, while also being named Euroleague Club Executive of the Year in 2008.

Mr. Minucci recently took ten minutes from his crazy-busy schedule to tell Ball in Europe about winning, the secrets of success, more about winning, his club’s adaptation to the current financial crisis, and his favorite thing about the job – Here’s a hint: It starts with “W”.

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Yarone’s Weekend Joints – Part I

Week 8 of the Euroleague presented some unusual numbers in the Zalgiris-Prokom game, a junior big guys battle in Athens, a Turkish delight thanks to veterans and a big tie in the Le Mans battle.

Part I will present all that before Part II, in which the games in Barcelona and Roma take center stage.

Just almost…
Prokom’s Pat Burke came very close this week to writing his name in the Euroleague history books. Burke finished the game in Kaunas with 20 rebounds and could have become just the fourth player in Euroleague history to notch a 20-20 game, but instead scored 18 and stayed off the list. The only three players who registered a 20-20 performance remain: Spencer Nelson, Antonis Fotsis and Mirsad Turkcan. The first two are only playing in the Eurocup this season. Behind them is a list of four more performances by players who reached 20 rebounds or more, but failed to connect on enough points. Turkcan is in charge of three of them, while the fourth is Dejan Milojevic’ 17-point, 20-rebound game. Burke scored his 18th point when there were still four minutes to play, and actually had a great chance to make the list with a shot under the rim in the closing seconds of an already decided game, but was blocked by … Loren Woods, which leads us right into the next joint.

Blocking tree
Philosophy still hasn’t found an answer to the question, “If a shot is rejected in the middle by Woods and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”, but Prokom felt Loren’s presence all the way. That block on Burke was only one of seven the Zalgiris center delivered on Thursday night, finishing with seven points, 14 rebounds to go with the seven blocks: Not too far from the third triple-double in Euroleague history and the first to be reached with blocks. The Euroleague record for blocks in a single game belongs to Ukrainian big man Grygorii Khizhniak, probably the best shot blocker in Euroleague’s history. Khizniak also played for Zalgiris when he put in his eight-block game back in the debut season of the Euroleague in 2000. That game, by the way, went into overtime and Khiz played over 40 minutes, so that record will carry an asterisk. Khizniak also had two additional games with 7 blocks, tying him with Woods and yet another former player of Zalgiris, Darjus Lavrinovic, who reached that figure in only 27 minutes. In total, Zalgiris holds the top five shot blocking performances in the list. Behind them are four players with six block: Fred Weis who pulled it off in 23 minutes; Maceo Baston, who notched the total in a Final Four semifinal game; another Maccabi player in Terence Morris; and Marcus Haislip in his days with Efes.

Pass last Logan
Still along the line of Zalgiris blocks, more or less, here’s the story of Prokom’s David Logan in Kaunas wherein he finished the game with no fewer  than 21 attempts from the field: not a figure you see every week in the Euroleague. The bad news was that he connected on only five of those shots on the way to a terrible 23.8% night. Logan actually scored his last field goal in the final minute of the third quarter, cutting the difference to 57-54 and reaching a not-so-fun-in-the-first-place 5-for-13 on field goals. The problem was that in the last quarter he missed all of his eight shots, and dropped to the terrible numbers above. During that run of missed shots, Logan was blocked three times and reached a total of four received blocks in the games. If it’s any comfort, he wasn’t the only one to suffer so this week.

Chris too
After the terrible performance last week against Maccabi it was time for Chris Warren of Avellino to wake up. He provided 16 points and 6 rebounds as his team once again gave Unicaja a hard time but, like Logan, Warren was blocked four times. For Chris, it happened in a span of 18 minutes and each block was made by a different opposing player. Not an easy experience.

Bluth and D. Spen are tied
Two more games to go in the season and this race will be decided only on the last game. David Bluthenthal and Dewarick Spencer are now tied 4-4 in the weekly race for “Who took more field goal shots for Le Mans?” Bluth won 12-10 this week, an expected score, since he played against his former club Maccabi.

Where We Stand, Group A
So now it’s final and official. The four teams to qualify to the Top 16 are: Olympiacos, Unicaja, Cibona and Maccabi. Le Mans will host Avellino next week to try and avoid a winless season before flying to Greece. Right after the break, get ready for a big show when Olympiacos comes to Tel Aviv to meet former coach Pini Gershon. All is open among the four as they still have to play one another. Maccabi will travel to Malaga in the last week, so they are in charge of their own destiny, but a 19-point loss in Greece and a 7-point home loss to Unicaja makes make the task difficult. The next round of games will decide if it’s a Olympiacos-Unicaja battle on top and a Maccabi-Cibona fight for 3rd place or just a free-for-all.

True survivors
Efes Pilsen had to win in Athens to avoid an uncomfortable situation, considering their last two games are against CSKA and at Real. Efes lost to Panionios in the first leg, 78-69, and replied with a close result but five points better for them, 78-74. Coach Ergin Ataman decided to bet on his veterans and it paid off big time: 31-year-old Bootsy Thornton had started in all of Efes’ Euroleague games this season, but for 32-year-old Greek forward Michalis Kakiouzis, it was the first time. Neither wasted time in making a statement: The Turks took a 11-4 lead after five minutes, while Kakiouzis had seven points and two assists in the run – nothing but perfection. After a Peker dunk, it was Bootsy’s time. He scored seven points in a row for Efes and saw Kakiouzis reappear with another assist as Efes took a 22-6 lead they never relinquished. Both veterans provided their season highs just in time. Bootsy had 18 points on 5-for-7 from the field, 6-for-6 from the line, three rebounds and four assists to reach an index rating of 25. Kakiouzis returned with 15 points, 5-for-8 from the field, 4-for-4 from the line and five rebounds on the way to an index rating of 22.

Where we stand, Group B
It’s very unlikely Barcelona won’t finish first after their performance in the last two weeks, so the big is on the 2nd spot and it will take place right after the break in Siena. Montepaschi will host Pao with both teams tied at 6-2. Pao won by five in the first leg, so anything but a five-point win by the Italians will give Pao second place. Things are wide open at the bottom, as Zalgiris can still escape from a terrible 0-7 start to gain a spot in the Top 16. Right after the break, they  host SLUC Nancy; a 15-point win, not an unreachable goal considering their shape in the last two games, would give them the first place in the tiebreaker with the French and Prokom. If no huge upsets happen, that win would be enough for Zalgiris to qualify. A Lithuanian win of less than 15 will push Prokom into the next stage. A French win would punch Nancy a shocking Top 16 ticket.

The future!
OK, there was one more thing to follow in that game if you’re a diehard youth basketball fan. In fact, if you’re a scoutk then this game is a must-see, as 1989-born Georgian center Giorgi Shermadini, who was recently signed by Pao on a long-term contract, took the court for the first time and played more than 10 minutes in which he felt the big difference between dominating European youth championships and the real world of basketball. On the other end waited the 214-cm, 1988-born big man from Niger, Amadou Aboubakar Zaki who spent a season-high 20 minutes on court. The kids combined for one point, and if you are curious how they did on court, well, there are other places on the web to hunt for that type of information.

Yarone’s late Friday’s joints

Globalization – The player with the highest VAL on Zalgiris of Lithuania was US center Loren Woods. The players with the best VAL for Italian Montepaschi were Rimantas Kaukenas and Ksistof Lavrinovic from … Lithuania. In fact, the latter two combined for a VAL of 45 while all Lithuanian players on the Lithuanian team combined for a VAL of … 40. Neither Kaukenas nor Lavrinovic, by the way, ever played for Zalgiris.

New tunes – How many African big men can you think of who topped the “Best FT%” category in any league? Joventut’s Pops Mensah-Bonsu hit 4 of 4 last week, while yesterday proving he can make it even better by making 11 of 12 from the charity stripe in the loss at Roma. Can you believe this guy averaged 66.7% in the ULEB Cup and 54.6% in LEGA the past season, and that these numbers were considered decent for him?

Career low – In his long, long Euroleague career Nikola Vujcic had finished just one single game with a negative index rating: That was in last year’s semifinals, when Maccabi upset Montepaschi and Nikola had a -2 VAL. This was before his last Euroleague game with Maccabi. After the first game with Olympiacos, Vujcic set a new personal record with a VAL of -3.

Historical moment – If that’s not enough, the game against Unicaja will go down in history books as the first game ever that Nikola Vujcic finished with zero points in a Euroleague game. Vujcic had posted several games with two points, but always somehow found the way to get that ball through the rim. Last night, he missed one shot from close range, another behind the arc, and two shot attempts from the charity stripe. Nikola will surely contribute to Olympiacos down the road when the money is on the line and as long as his team won, he’s happy, but this game won’t be colored with happy shades in the boxscore archives of the Vujcic family.

Zero – Believe it or not but Le Mans, a team with two of the best shooters in Europe – David Bluthenthal and Dewarick Spencer – finished their first home game of the season with zero three pointers made of 12 attempts taken. The duo was responsible for eight of these attempts.

Just across the street – Not too far from there stood Cibona Zagreb. The days Croatian teams were considered great shooting teams are sadly long gone now, but they were just a tiny bit better than Le Mans. A long-range shooting night of 2-for-14 on Cibona’s side shone only next to Le Mans’ performance.

Happy thoughts for Pao – Obviously the biggest result of this week was the big knock out Pao got in Barcelona. The final difference was 24 after Barca were all over the game from tipoff. If you’re a Panathinaikos fan that might even be good news. On 21 March 2007, the last day of the Top 16, Pao traveled to Barcelona only to return to Athens with a very disturbing 21 point defeat. At the end of that season, Pao won their first Euroleague title since 2002.

No guards – Pao scored only 14 field goals inside the arc in the big defeat. Coach Zeljko used 10 players in his rotation, but only four were able to connect from two-point range. Three of them were big guys Fotsis, Batiste and Pekovic. The only saint in the backcourt was … Sarunas Jasikevicius, who knows the nets in Palau Blaugrana pretty well, but still won’t remember this “homecoming game” fondly.

February 14, 2008 – On that day Davor Kus missed his last Euroleague free throw shot until last night in France… Then, at Barcelona, he was only 1-for-3. Then followed a streak of 10 consecutive shots to finish the season, another 6-for-6 last week against Maccabi, and last night one of the best free throw shooters in the Euroleague was stopped. Literally. He finished the game 0-for-7 from the field and a VAL of -8, but when he went to the line in the closing seconds to secure the triumph with Cibona up by three, Kus connected just one. Enough for the win. Goodbye to the streak.

Spencer ties – The weekly followup on the battle between Dewarick Spencer and David Bluthenthal continues, and this week we saw the first tie at 1-1 in their competition “who took more shots?” Spencer contributed 14 shots and Bluth lagged behind with only 11. In between them crept JP Batista with 13. Altogether, the trio provided a little less than 2/3 of Le Mans’ shots.

Few of a kind, part I – Now check out this unique stat line made by Terence Morris. He registered a VAL of 23 but that was the only category in which he totaled double-digits: 9 points, 9 rebounds, 5 blocks, 2 assists and only four field goal attempts. Very, very few players in Europe can reach such a high index rating by doing a little bit of everything.

Stay away! – Some of those fantasy fanatics out there believe that it’s good to take the best players of the weak teams figuring that “well, at least one guy needs to have a decent game.” Panionios, in their home defeat to CSKA, proved this theory wrong. Panionios set a new season low with a team index of 28, while the top individual high on the team was no more than … 7. Several players scored a better individual VAL this week than the entire Greek team.

Few of a kind – part II – So there are very few players like Morris in Europe, and that’s why he’s in CSKA making the big bucks; but his successor in Maccabi, D’or Fischer, showed this week he can produce the same numbers. Fischer crossed the double-digit mark in scoring 11, but added 7 rebounds, 2 blocks and four drawn fouls to reach a VAL of 21.

Foul him! – Daniel Ewing finished this week as the top scorer with 32 points on a great shooting night when Prokom smashed SLUC Nancy 91-62. He hit 7 of 9 from close range, 6 of 8 in the distance and well, no shots from the foul line. Why? Because in the entire game, Ewing was fouled just once by the French defense. Ewing was hot, all right, but when you foul a player in a zone just once in a game it says a lot about the lack of aggressiveness in Nancy’s defense.

Nevertheless more than perfect – Real’s Sergio Llull, the 21-year-old guard, is one of the funnest players to follow in the Euroleague. He’s quick and athletic but most of all plays with no fear. With Real having Raul Lopez and Pepe Sanchez on the roster, Llull probably didn’t expect to see a lot of playing this year before the season tipped off, but now he’s leaving the duo veterans behind. At Partizan, Llull had a perfect game: 19 points, 7-for-7 on two-pointers, 1-for-2 from three, 2-for-2 from the line, one rebound, one assist, one steal, zero turnovers with three personal fouls and two drawn. OK, so it’s not 100% perfect, but if you followed the game you know Llull’s only missed shot and two of his fouls came in the last seconds in attempt to save his team from a loss. On paper, he’s close to perfection. For us watching, he was more than perfect.

Close to perfection on the dark side – So Llull was huge, but take a look at Pepe Sanchez’s stat line from the loss in Beograd: 22 minutes on court, 0 points, 0-of-0 on two-pointers, 0-of-0 on threes, 0-of-0 FT, zero defensive rebounds, zero offensive rebounds, one assist, one steal, two turnovers, 0 bl-f, 0 bl-a, 0 fouls-c, 0 fouls-d and the poetic justice of 0 VAL.

Italian mafia – Efes Pilsen collected a key road win in Milano, and the ones who made the difference were Charles Smith, Milos Vujanic, Michalis Kakiouzis and Bootsy Thornton. What they have in common? All played in LEGA at some point in their career.


Euroleague transfer analysis: Group D

The last of the four groups in the 2008-2009 edition of the Euroleague features some high-quality teams, including defending champion CSKA Moscow and Spain’s biggest name in Real Madrid.

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