Fearless predictions: Euroleague playoffs

BallinEurope only went 6 of 8 in picking the teams to make the post-season and one of those sides we didn’t have faith in won’t be happy with how we see the playoffs shaping up. It’s fearless prediction time.

Barcelona vs Galatasaray

Pick: Barca in 3.

So we didn’t think Galatasaray would make it this far and now we’re saying there roll a doughnut in the post-season. Harsh? Perhaps but we’re standing by it. Barcelona’s slump at the end of the Top 16 can’t disguise a 22-0 start to Euroleague this season. This team is going to Milan, the question is how many games it will require. Much as Galatasaray deserve credit for holding their nerve in the wild battle for fourth in Group F, they look to have drawn a pairing suited to exploit them. If it’s any comfort, we seem to have given Pops Mensah-Bonsu some added motivation.

Real Madrid vs Olympiacos

Pick: RMB in 4.

This was a tough call to make and not for the reason you might think. Real Madrid look to have the most complete team in Europe this season. If they weren’t utterly unbackable, I’d take RMB to walk into a 2-0 series lead without blinking. The question in my mind is whether they will be able to finish the Reds off quickly or if it will require them going back to Madrid. In the end I split the difference and called it Real in a 3-1 win.

CSKA Moscow vs Panathinaikos

Pick: CSKA in 5.

Honestly, this was the easiest call of the lot. You could slot in any opponent and I’d have trouble believing this CSKA team would take care of business the easy way. It’s just not been their style all season. If any series goes the max, this will be it. Panathinaikos still look capable of taking care of business back home but neither of the Greek giants looks like final four material this year.

EA7 Milano vs Maccabi Elektra Tel-Aviv

Pick: Milano in 4.

This is about as good a style match-up as Milano could have hoped for. They have the weapons to hurt Maccabi and to do so repeatedly. Home court in the final four isn’t something that comes around every year and that’s plenty motivation for Milano. It could have been a source of nerves but the maturity this outfit showed in the Top 16 makes me think otherwise. For the first half of that phase Milano kept stumbling, not quite doing enough to convince skeptics like me (who said they wouldn’t make the post-season) of their worth and then boom they caught fire. The Barca win is what most remember but the change had already happened. They had evolved from could-bes to probablys.

So where have I gone horribly wrong? Please vent your frustrations in the comments.


The Dish: Let’s keep this brief

It was another big week in the Top 16 of Euroleague, the Greek stars narrowly won their own All Star game, and Killester claimed the title in Ireland.

My keyboard is acting up and I hate writing on a touchscreen so this won’t be too long.

Is that breathing room I see in Milan? The biggest result of the week was unquestionably EA7 Milano pulling the upset at Olympiacos. The 86-88 final score crucially moved the Italians, who host the Final Four, to 6-3, two games clear of fifth place with five games to go. Having stayed in the playoff places throughout the opening eight rounds, Milan have looked the part but hadn’t been able to establish their credentials as a probable playoff side. Now, with Barcelona out of sight on 9-0, the Italians sit in second place with room to err before getting worried about their season falling apart. Rob Scott has a lengthy but good read on the rise of EA7 Milan over on Euroleague Adventures that you should check out.

The rest of Group E is all kinds of insanity. Unicaja hold third place on 5-4 with Panathinaikos, Olympiacos, and Fenerbahce right behind on 5-4. This isn’t going to shake out in any sensible way until Round 13 at the earliest and my money says there is still at least one place up for grabs in the final week.

Group F is really all about fourth at this stage and it’s a funny old battle. Real Madrid and CSKA Moscow, both 8-1, are likely to take the top two spots with Maccabi Elektra slotting into third. Lokomotiv Kuban have looked much, much, better than Bayern Munich during this stage but keep on giving the Germans chances. A big win for Kuban over Maccabi put them ahead of the Bavarians, who took a pounding from Partizan, but both sit on 4-5 and Galatasaray are only a game back of a playoff spot on 3-6. All logic and reason says Kuban finds a way to take fourth but this game is about wins and losses. This fight is far from a done deal.

Looking ahead to next week, Fenerbahce’s home game with Unicaja is huge for both sides. A road win for the Malaga side makes life an awful lot tougher for Fener. If Obradovic’s side is serious about making the playoffs, this is a must-win game. Milan travel to cellar dwellers Baskonia. If they hit the 7-3 mark, they can seriously start thinking about home advantage in the playoffs. Over in Group F, Kuban host Galatasaray while Bayern welcome RMB. It’s tough to see anything other than a Madrid win in the latter so Kuban, if you’re serious about making the post-season, it’s time to take care of business.

Outside of Euroleague, the Irish title was decided on Sunday. Killester, fresh off a road upset win over cup winners Blue Demons, needed to win two games in as many days to lock up the championship. Convincing victories over UL Eagles on Saturday and Neptune on Sunday gave the Dublin club their eighth championship. Killester, Neptune, Demons, and DCU Saints, will contest the season ending Champions Trophy next weekend.

Sunday was also the day of the Greek All  Star game with the Greek Stars edging their international counterparts 123-122.

The most entertaining geeks in European basketball over at In-the-game.org have a new podcast up. Check out their historical analysis of the 2002 Euroleague final which once again serves to remind us that someone in basketball should hire Simon Jatsch.


The dish: A nice relaxing start

Round 1 of the Top 16 was a little crowded, we’ll get to that, but by and large it was awfully relaxing basketball.

We open with the game that closed the openung round if action. Vassilis Spanoulis went nuts in the SEF as he ripped Zedijko Obradovic a new one on the coach’s first trip to the arena as Fenerbahce coach. Obradovic brought his troops to the OAKA for warm-ups earlier in the day, a nice touch we must admit, but he couldn’t get them to fix an issue that’s hit them a few times this season. Could somebody please tell Fener to show up in the first quarter? Credit to the Istanbul club, they clawed their way back into it and made it a one-possession game going into the final minutes but then V-Span went out of this world again and the home side took the W. In a shock to no-one, Spanoulis was named MVP of the round with 28 points, 9 assists, and PIR of 39. Whatever the result when Barcelona visits Istanbul next week, a far better first frame is necessary for all of us reformed doubters to keep the faith. One final note on this game, be sure to check out Raul Jimenez’s piece on mismatches inspired by this game.

Staying in Group E and there was a good spot by Rob Scott over at ELA. The difference in offensive performance by Panathinaikos with and without Dimitris Diamantidis is frightening. They took care of business on Thursday night 73-57 at home against EA7 Milan, helped by 11 dimes from DDD. Daniel Hackett may be happy to still be in Italy but he must be guessing that his European season is going to become frighteningly irrelevant soon.
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Group E: The knowns and the unknowns

The slate is clean for the Top 16. Today and tomorrow we’ll break down what we know about each team in the second phase, what we want to know, and what we think we still won’t know sfter 14 rounds of action. We start with the eight participants.

Fenerbahce Ulker
What we know: This is an Obradovic team. They’ve pulled out wins they would have lost a year ago and show a level of organisation to match their talent.
What we want to know: Can they do enough to get home advantage in the playoffs.
What we won’t know: If home advantage in the last eight will have any real impact in their Final Four hopes.

Olympiacos Piraeus
What we know: Even with heavy losses in the off-season, this is still a team that is built for one-and-done play. They waltzed through the regular season and should make the quarter finals with ease.
What we want to know: How they will manage their roster over the meat of their schedule with an eye to keeping their best players fresh down the stretch.
What we won’t know: Their ability to hold up over a Best-of-5 situation.

EA7 Milano
What we know: Coming second in an awful group has its rewards but there’s a limit given the opponents they face.
What we want to know: The ability of a relatively thin roster to handle a heavy schedule.
What we won’t know: Their chances in LegABasket, yeah they ain’t making the playoffs.

Saski Baskonia
What we know: They have the capacity to force the best out of anyone but not necessarily make the opponent pay.
What we want to know: If the long format will improve their playoff chances.
What we won’t know: If they can mount a serious threat in the playoffs…okay, we’ll know if they don’t make it.

FC Barcelona
What we know: They have scorers and can and wil use them to great effect.
What we want to know: If they can show more innovation in creating opportunties when the going gets tough.
What we won’t know: Their health.

Unicaja Malage
What we know: This remains an intelligent ball club with a veteran style against the relative upstarts of Euroleague.
What we want to know: Will they benefit from playing 9 games of 14 in Spain, significantly reducing travel (naturally applies to Barca and Baskonia too).
What we won’t know: Like Baskonia, if they make the post-season we still won’t be sure how they’ll handle a Best-of-5 situation.

Anadolu Efes
What we know: This team is not as strong as last year’s line-up but has the same functional issues.
What we want to know: If greater organisation in the Top 16 can make up for that drop in overall quality.
What we won’t know: Who they will sign next year to make up for missing out on the playoffs.

What we know: They took the thin part of their name by its English meaning this year a large part of the regular season and decided to play fast and loose with their progress.
What we want to know: If they are, in simple terms, the team that started the regular season, the team that finished, or a better version of both.
What we won’t know: What they can do if DDD isn’t there to save them. For the time being at least, he makes them a threat in any situation.

Fearless prediction: To me there are three teams fighting for the top two and three more for the last spot. I’m going Olympiacos and Barcelona in that order with Fener third but it goes to the final game. Panathinaikos to take fourth and, this is the fearless bit, in far more comfortable fashion than anyone expects.


Strange sounds as Olympiacos top Panathinaikos

Tuesday’s Greek A1 League opening round game between Olympiacos and Panathinaikos was also going to be strange. Two of the biggest sides in Europe weren’t just playing early in the season, they were doing so in an empty house due to past crowd trouble. The derby of eternal enemies may not have had any fans in attendance but the SEF still had ample noise due to the PA. Watch the highlights and you’ll hear what I mean.

In a way it makes sense. The players are used to the PA blaring out their names whenever they score and music playing at the usual points in action. It just seems like the PA is talking to nobody, due to the whole empty arena. Normally the various tunes and rowdy calls from the announcer are done so with the fans in mind but with none there, he roared away anyway. Olympiacos won 55-45.


Game Tape: Breaking down key plays from the Intercontinental Cup Final

In a new feature on BiE we use game highlights and Coachnote software to break down some key plays from big games. First up it’s Olympiacos and Pinheiros as the Euroleague champions secured an 86-69 victory in the second leg of the Intercontinental Cup final.

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Olympiacos lift Intercontinental Cup with dominant 86-69 win over Pinheiros

Olympiacos-Pinheros-Intercontinental-CupOlympiacos completed a comfortable victory in the Intercontinental Cup as they stormed past Pinheiros to lift the title in Brazil. Having held an 81-70 lead from the first leg, the European champions took Sunday’s second leg 86-69 to win by an aggregate score of 167-139.

The Pinheiros defence early was way too loose and Olympiacos took advantage. The Brazilians were so determined to shut down the inside that they left the Euroleague champions with multiple options from three-point range. Olympiacos took full advantage to burst into an early lead. Pinheiros got their rotations right as the quarter progressed and the Reds were forced to be far smarter with their shots. The Brazilians didn’t over-commit to one area and Olympiacos struggled to score through the middle of the quarter but took a narrow lead into the second frame.

Mirza Begic’s off-ball movement in the second quarter impressed. The big man saw the gaps in defence and moved to exploit them. Olympiacos worked the ball to Begic but his ability to capitalise on the late D was lacking. Early in the quarter he was fed by Spanoulis on the right block but he stuttered, giving the defence time to close him down but a smart pass out to Georgios Printezis set up a three. A similar move later in the quarter should have resulted in a score for the big man. Begic again snuck into space but hesitated when he had options to either drive to the hoop or step back for the short jumper. For all his vision off the ball, Begic needed to do more with his movement to punish Pinheiros.

The difference in class become clear in the third quarter as Olympiacos showed a different level of ball movement to their opponents. The Greeks mixed up their offence to keep Pinheiros guessing and the holes opened up everywhere. It didn’t hurt that Olympiacos were utterly dominant on the boards, getting second-chance opportunities to push home their advantage. The small traveling contingent of Red fans were treated to some dominant play and the lead moved to 16 points with 2 minutes to go in the quarter. Any question of whether the trophy would be returning to Athens had been put to bed. The only matter of note from the final quarter was the great confidence on display from Begic around the bucket.

This completes a solid pre-season for the back-to-back Euroleague champions who will face plenty of questions in 2013-14. Having lost several key pieces from their success over the last two seasons, the new pieces on the Reds roster know the real work is only just beginning.

Keep an eye out this coming week for a new feature on BiE which will break down this game in greater detail.


Real games are back so spare me the ‘world’ champion debate

Olympiacos and Pinheiros will shortly play the second leg of the Intercontinental Cup. Emmet Ryan explains that while it’s great to see such an event take place, it brings with it the most moronic of debates.

I blame America. Well no, that’s unfair. I’m blame marketing and these marketers happen to be based in America. Well even that’s not entirely accurate as the marketers worth blaming are all very dead. Dust in the wind now. Organised sports as we know it are little over a century old. When professional sports started growing in the United States, those pushing them needed to go beyond national champions as that phrase was associated with college teams. Seeing as no-one else really played basketball, American football, or baseball at the time, it made sense to crown the kings as world champions.


While the latter two are still dominated almost exclusively on a professional level by the United States, the sheer weight of basketball leagues across the world leads to the NBA champion being called the ‘world’ champions a little awkward. Yes, the Miami Heat are the best basketball team in the world outside of national teams. It’s hard to argue that a single team from outside of the 30 NBA franchises would crack the 30 best rosters in the game but believe me there are those that will make the case. That’s fine the problem is the haters. Whenever anyone tries to push Euroleague beyond its own fine merits in our comments section, there is always someone there basically out to bully them for having an opinion. I have a piece of advice for those on both sides.

Let. It. Go.

There is one thing to be grateful for with the Intercontinental Cup. We get to see a Euroleague team play a Liga SudAmericana team twice. Superb. That’s all I really want, it’s great to see some crossover. Just remember what this weekend is actually about. It’s the weekend the bulk of Europe’s leagues return. I don’t care if they aren’t the best in the world, you don’t have to be the best to entertain and engage. There is no line where if you are not the best it means you suck. If that were the case I wouldn’t have spent my formative years going to watch UCD’s soccer team, who by elite definitions are a team that sucks in a league that sucks. I wouldn’t have got up early on the Sunday of the Euroleague Final Four back in May to watch the NIJT final because who wants to watch a bunch of kids if I had that attitude.

So feel free to call Olympiacos world champions after today or not. It doesn’t really matter. The ABA is back. The LKL is back. The Bundesliga is back. I’m happy. Basketball is back. Enjoy the games.


Ugly turnovers, dumb fouls, but hey some drama in pre-season

Olympiacos-Besiktas-Rixos-CupThe Rixos Cup final was exactly what one would expect from a pre-season tournament. The play was sloppy, the rosters weren’t complete, but at least Besiktas and Olympiacos provided some excitement in Istanbul.

We don’t expect much when the main focus for teams is to get warmed up and stay healthy but there were enough outbreaks of basketball to entertain viewers in the Rixos Cup Final. The pre-season tournament at the Besiktas Integral Arena saw the home team face Euroleague champions Olympiacos Piraeus in the final. After a 7-0 run going into the final minute, it looked like Besiktas would take the honours but a buzzer beating lay-up by Cedric Simmons forced overtime.

OT wasn’t France vs Spain bad but it was still pretty bad. After a solid minute and a half of scoreless ball, Hakan Guler put the home side in front. Simmons went 1 of 2 from the line at the other end before Chris Lofton delivered a moment of genius with a steal at mid-court before racing in unchallenged for the lay-up. Besiktas led by 3 and in a period where neither side looked like scoring freely, it seemed to be enough.

As time wound down both sides went into foul mode and Besiktas appeared to have played it smart, leading 86-85 with 12 seconds to play and possession at mid-court. Olympiacos pressed hard however and with the home side failing to get the ball in-bounds, the Greeks had one more shot at victory. Matt Lojeski proved the hero, well as much as there can be one in September, with the bucket to win the game 87-86.

The post-game festivities in what had quickly become and empty gym were a tad over-done. Sponsors must be pleased but there were five trophies handed out before they even got to giving Besiktas their gong as runners-up of the six team tournament. At least Georgios Printezis had the grace to stand quietly with the winner’s trophy rather than raise it aloft in triumph. Such moments should be saved for the games that really matter.

Earlier in the day Anadolu Efes took third place with a 94-65 win over Zalgiris Kaunas while Budivelnik Kiev topped Fenerbahce 86-78 to finish in fifth.


Olympiacos and Panathinaikos to meet behind closed doors in first round of A1 League

Euroleague champions Olympiacos will meet Greek champions Panathinaikos in the first round of the Greek League.

It’s going to be quiet in the SEF when the two biggest rivals in Greece square off in week 1.

The game will be played on 12 October before an empty house. Olympiacos is carrying a penalty that is forcing them to open the 2013/14 season by playing games behind closed doors following crowd trouble last season. In Game 3 of the Greek League Finals last season the match was abandoned with 1.27 left and eventually awarded to Panathinaikos 20-0. This gave the Greens a 3-0 sweep of the series. The return game in the OAKA will be played on 18 January.

Here’s the full list of fixtures for Round 1 of the 2013/14 Greek League:
KAOD vs Aris
Aries Trikala vs AE Nea Kifisia
Panelefsiniakos vs Panionios
Olympiacos vs Panathinaikos
Apollon Patras vs Ilisiakos
Rethymno Aegean vs Ikaros Chalkidas
PAOK vs Kolossos Rodou