One of the most important competitions in European basketball is about to start this Thursday in Vitoria. I speak of the Copa del Rey, the Spanish King’s Cup. Here is a short preview of the 8 participating teams.
Tau Ceramica, the host of this year’s edition, is actually having a 14-6 record in the ACB. The team of coach Neven Spahija is probably one of the favorites of this year’s edition, but not only because of their home court advantage. Igor Rakocevic is still one of the best scorers of the continent and the inside double force of Mirza Teletovic and Tiago Splitter is impressive. Additionally, you have the tall guard Zoran Planinic that can come up with some good plays and sharpshooter Simas Jasaitis can always be hot. So a place in the Finals is very possible.
The team from Vitoria will face in the first quarterfinal on Thursday Unicaja Malaga. Sergio Scariolo’s squad faced some ups and downs this season but they are still led by the tough Carlos Cabezas on the point. Marcus Haislip has no equal on the athletic level in the paint and should be a key factor in rebounding and block shots. With Daniel Santiago and Jiri Welsch, two former NBA players, you have some rotation to use and even some underrated players like German Gabriel or youngsters like Michal Chylinski or Paulao Prestes can come up with some numbers. However, this one should go to the home team Vitoria.
The second quarter final will be the matchup between the surprising Bilbao team and the eternal FC Barcelona. Nobody predicted the great season so far of Bilbao. The team that is built around some younger talent like Marko Banic or Drago Pasalic together with the experience of Fred Weis or Quincy Lewis had an impressive start into the season. The Brazilian Marcelinho is still present with his amazing shooting talent while Paco Vasquez looks like the dad of some of the players concerning maturity. Still, it will be difficult for the team to hold its initial level and I would bet here more easily on a Barcelona win.
Because AXA FCB has however the better individual talent. Let alone their inside force is impressive compared to the fragile but hard fighting Weis on the Bilbao side. Fran Vazquez, Jordi Trias, or even Albert Moncasi will team up with the veteran Denis Marconato to establish a reign in the paint. When the shots fall for Jaka Lakovic or Gianluca Basile, the team of Dusko Ivanovic will be hard to stop. Additionally, Pepe Sanchez is somebody that loves this kind of competitions and he is actually playing brilliant on the PG. Should be a sure win for Barcelona in my opinion.
The next quarterfinal will be the game between DKV Joventut and Pamesa Valencia. There is not much to say anymore about R&R, Ricky and Rudy. So what is the rest of the talented squad from the suburbs of the Catalonian capital. First of all, you have to mention Demond Mallet who is playing some kind of father role for Ricky and learns him the last tricks on the guard play. In addition, you have a dynamic inside duo with Jan-Hendrik Jagla and Jerome Moiso who is always present with his still stellar athletic abilities. And then of course, you have veterans like Petar Popovic or Ferran Lavina who still do their job.
Coming to Valencia, you have to take a look at Stanko Barac if you want to see some of the future greats at the center spot. More about today, the team is led by Ruben Douglas and Shammond Williams, the dynamic backcourt duo that has already lots of European experience. Albert Miralles, who got once drafted by the Toronto Raptors is playing a good season while former Euroleague top scorer Dejan Milojevic is doing the dirty work down low. Victor Claver is actually not living up the big hype that was around him last year, however, he is still present with hustle plays and hard work.
The last matchup may be the easiest on to guess. Real Madrid, the actual leader of the ACB against the 8th seeded Akasvayu Girona. The Royals from the Capital are actually playing on a very high level, which they showed in their overtime win against Panathinaikos last week. Even if LAzaros Papadopoulos is out because of an injury, their frontcourt is still impressive. And when the guards start to hit the long range bombs, then the team from Joan Plaza is nearly unstoppable. Should be an easy win for them.
Girona has nothing to lose in their quarterfinal. The team is nearly all about Marc Gasol. The big little brother of Pau is playing an extraordinary season and shows that hard work is paying off one day. He is supported by the surprising Fernando San Emeterio who is averaging double figures. The team also features the probably oldest basketball blogger in the person of Darryl Middleton. So what comes up for them is all bonus.
Ballineurope will not be present in Vitoria but I hope to catch at least some of the games during the long weekend. On the other hand, for the lucky ones that can go to Vitoria, I can recommend the nice Travel advisory pages of Solobasket. They even have a guide to explain you what to do during the Basque nights and where to eat. Some competition for Lonely Planet ahead?
UPDATE: Actually, I just heard from very reliable sources that we may have a surprise to announce by Wednesday afternoon for all the people that want to follow the Copa del Rey LIVE.