The conversations BallinEurope has with peers in the European basketball blogosphere lately tend to drift toward one team: Žalgiris Kaunas, the hardest luck team in Euroleague basketball.
No, wait, strike that. Let’s start over.
The conversations BallinEurope has with peers in the European basketball blogosphere lately tend to drift toward one team: Žalgiris Kaunas, a team that, in spite of a roster chockfull of experienced talent, simply cannot close out games and fall apart in the clutch.
It’s one of the two, anyway. Or maybe not: Perhaps we can lay the blame at Joan Plaza’s feet (though expectations going into the season were long) or on the subpar refereeing (which might be stretching things a bit considering the sum total of questionable calls in game seven of the Euroleague Top 16 round worked out in the Greens’ favor).
Maybe the front-office issues and lack of payment to players have been overwhelmingly distracting (as Marko Popovic told heinnews and BiE in a recent Taking the Charge podcast interview, “We made a deal at the beginning of the season that this team would stay together until the end of the season, no matter what happens. Hopefully people are going to recognize the way that we play for this club, the way that we show on the court and hopefully the financial status is going to change. We are just focused on the court. Of course we hear the rumors going on around the club but we are trying to be focused, which is not easy, I gotta be honest…”
Maybe it’s none of the above, some of the above, or all of the above. But with Žalgiris now looking at a 4-6 record after another heartbreaker to Real Madrid last week, Lithuania’s remaining representative may have already bad-lucked itself out of a Euroleague playoff spot after starting out at a strong 8-2 clip. An examination of crucial moments may give some insight into the Bizarro equivalent of last season’s Olympiacos squad. Or perhaps not. Continue Reading…
Damn, BallinEurope watched a lotta sports this past 72 years: Euroleague games, highlights, quarters here and there, a VTB United game, three hours of late-Sunday night NFL football, two sports-related films for upcoming Taking The Charge podcasts … life is ball games … and especially basketball, but unfortunately BiE watches almost nothing live and compresses most viewing into the weekend.
So no further ado: Three quasi-brief impressions from the bigger games, done up bullet-style.
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.
And here’s a second question: Shall composition of the requiem for Lietuva’s 2012 Olympic bid begin now? Sadly, it doesn’t look good for our heroes with Team USA on the slate tomorrow and a first-round date with presumably Spain or (BiE’s pick) Russia in the knockout stage – and this in the 20th anniversary year of the country’s greatest-ever Olympic performance.
But first things first. Jonas Valančiūnas. Let’s just get right to the stat lines. Continue Reading…
The 2012 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Men tips off in Venezuela today at 11am local time (11.30am EST, 5.30pm CET) with the Russia-South Korea match. Of the 12 national teams competing, four are European. The last of BallinEurope’s previews of these qualifiers features an assessment of Lithuania.
Roster: Tomas Delininkaitis, Paulius Jankūnas, Mantas Kalnietis (Žalgiris Kaunas); Deividas Dulkys (Florida State University); Simas Jasaitis (Lokomotiv Kuban); Šarūnas Jasikevičius (Panathinaikos); Adas Juškevičius (BC Rūdupis); Rimantas Kaukėnas, Jonas Mačiulis (Montepaschi Siena); Antanas Kavaliauskas (VEF Rīga); Linas Kleiza (Toronto Raptors); Martynas Pocius (Real Madrid); Darius Songaila (CB Valladolid); Jonas Valančiūnas (Lietuvos Rytas); head coach Kęstutis Kemzūra (Team Lithuania)
How they got here: As hosts of Eurobasket 2011, expectations in hoops-mad Lithuania were high for the home side. Right from the pre-tournament friendlies, however, the roster appeared weird at best and utterly out of sync at worst.
With the Euroleague quarterfinals tournament beginning later this month, many are penciling in either CSKA Moscow or FC Barcelona as 2011-12 title holders. (Indeed, the odds at a representative sportsbook have the former at 4/5 and the latter at 5/2.) Meanwhile, relative dark horse Montepaschi Siena (running, with shortest odds, at 11/1) may be under the most pressure to finally win this ever-elusive championship.
BallinEurope’s man in Italy, Enrico Cellini, tells us of the overwhelming importance of this year’s tournament for the dominant Serie A club – and why you shouldn’t go to sleep on these guys despite the presence of monster teams in the final four round…
It must have happened to everyone, regardless of the sport you’ve played in your life. You were once a player or part of a team that was way better than anyone else in your school, league or even playground. After winning it all at home, you get a pass to the next level and have the chance to compete on faraway stages.
The first thing you realize as soon as you leave your habitat is that there are far too many guys who are taller, bigger and, ultimately, better than any opponent you’ve been used to.
Yeah, kicking ass at your old playground is still cool, but you now have some bigger butts to aim at. You can’t really call yourself satisfied as long as you get out-bullied by someone every time you move away from home.
This is exactly how Montepaschi Siena feels right now: For the Siena organization, status as a juggernaut at home makes any Euroleague failures even harder to digest.
In the last five years, head coach Simone Pianigiani’s team has won pretty much everything winnable in Italy (five national championships, four national cups, five national super cups) while never giving any other team a real chance to disturb the dominance.
When it comes to the Euroleague though, Siena has historically missed that little something to step up and make it to the highest spot on the podium, settling for third place in 2011 and 2008, and consecutive fourth-place finishes when Pianigiani was assistant coaching in 2003 and 2004..
Year after year, Siena has added new guns to a solid core of reliable veterans, accumulating experience as well as distress at the lack of results. The lingering fear is that Montepaschi is becoming a Maccabiesque team, namely an undisputed monopolist of a declining national league – notwithstanding, the Italian league remains more challenging than the Ligat Ha’Al –that strives to compete with the other European elite teams.
But how could you possibly improve more than Siena has season after season? What else can you bring to the table with the budget of a small and young reality? Siena president/general director Ferdinando Minucci has won on lots of gambles (e.g. Terrell McIntyre, Romain Sato, Bo McCalebb) and never resisted efforts every year to improve a team dominating the national league on a regular basis.
Now, Siena has the depth and consistency to beat Olympiacos in a best-of-five showdown and is equipped with a number of high-inflammable talented scorers (McCalebb, Igor Rakocevic, Pietro Aradori, Ksistof Lavrinovic) who can make the difference in no-tomorrow games in the Istanbul Final Four.
The feeling is that Siena is already set to win the Euroleague and just needs that extra sparkle, that unnamed little something, to finally ignite the last momentum. There is little time left to wait: Should the title not arrive in Istanbul, it may become necessary to revolutionize the current team and start a new project.
Courtesy of a group of players led by Sarunas Jasikievicius at the peak of his career, Maccabi Tel Aviv finally broke the European spell and brought home a couple of Euroleague titles back in 2004 and 2005. After the back-to-back wins, Saras crossed the ocean and sought fortune in the NBA.
Enrico Cellini is lifelong basketball fanatic and a long-time sportswriter with a focus on Italy and Spain. He was born among European hoops, was raised watching the NBA, and thinks choosing between American and European basketball is like choosing between one’s mother and father. You can follow him on Twitter or check out his Italian-language blog Hoop Addicted.
Congratulations go out from BallinEurope today to a quartet of national Cup holders in Real Madrid, Beşiktaş Milangaz, Chalon-sur-Saone and Montepaschi Siena. The former three victories are set to be particularly noted in club annals: Real ended a 19-year drought while Beşiktaş and Chalon both bagged their first-ever championships in their respective national cup tournaments after each were runners-up in 2011. Below run game wraps and highlight clips.
In Spain, Madrid won their first Spanish Cup since Arvydas Sabonis was on the team with a convincing 92-74 victory over FC Barcelona on the Blaugrana home court. Twenty-three was the magic number for Los Blancos, as Madrid took its 23rd such title behind 23 points from tournament MVP Sergio Llull. An extrapolation from the Liga Endesa’s official site goes something like the following.
To wit: Yesterday, the Lietuvos Rytas website ran a report stating that Milovan Rakovic could be heading back from loan to his contracted club Montepaschi Siena in January. Siena would naturally like to bolster up in the middle for a deep run into the Euroleague playoffs in lieu of the injured Ksistof Lavrinovic.
Žalgiris’ prospects for advancement aren’t exactly dim, but they’re currently mired at the bottom of Group B, in a three-way tie with Brose Baskets Bamberg and KK Zagreb at 2-5. Losses vs. Panathinaikos tonight and Bamberg next week would certainly doom the Greens to elimination; even a 2-1 finish by the Lithuanian side might not be enough.
With two Euroleague games in the books for each team and something of an overall picture developing, BallinEurope unleashes the November edition of its ever-“popular” power rankings for the two dozen squads. For reference, edification and jollies, the preseason edition of the ‘rankings may be seen here.
Once again, advisories in effect: These ratings are formulated from once source (namely yours truly) and are based on the way teams are trending at present, i.e. Bennet Cantu is not necessarily *better* per se than Fenerbahçe Ülker, et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum. While play in other leagues was considered, emphasis was put on performance in each team’s pair of EL games thus far, i.e. BiE knows Union Olimpija is 5-0 in the Adriatic League.
Without further ado, then, let’s get to the rankings! (Žalgiris fans, you may want to consider before clicking “Read More.”)
A pair of unsurprising results came in last night, with Euroleague superpowers FC Barcelona and Montepaschi Siena taking national cups.
In the Liga Endesa Supercopa, Barcelona handled Caja Laboral Baskonia, 82-73, for its third consecutive title and its seventh in the past eight years. Stop BiE if you’ve heard this before, but Juan Carlos Navarro was named MVP of the tournament after going for 24 points in the final game; Boniface N’dong contributed a double-double in the final match.