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?
Looking at the low end of the brackets first, Scavolini Siviglia Pesaro and Bennet Cantù look like the best-equipped teams to make it to the final, with a slight advantage for Cantù. Since the unpleasant episode of the pig’s head, Pesaro has won four consecutive games and looks like the team in the best physical and mental shape.
Cantù recently added the undersized-but-energetic center Greg Brunner and has a long and experienced rotation to oppose to the talented-yet-inconsistent Avellino firstly and then the energetic young Pesaro team.
Siena presumably won’t have too many problems in getting rid of the Cinderella team Sassari but will certainly face a hard nut to crack in the semifinal against the winner of the most balanced matchup of the cup, EA7 Milan vs Canadian Solar Bologna.
After Terrell McIntyre’s abrupt retirement due to chronic hip problems, Bologna point guard Giuseppe Poeta stepped up together with big man Angelo Gigli, quickly becoming the best pick-and-roll duo of the league. Milan, on the other hand, is still struggling to find a fluid game and consistency in results, despite the recent tab of the best Italian prospect Alessandro Gentile. If Coach Scariolo doesn’t fix things before mid-February, Bologna will get the ticket to the semifinal.
Anyway, even though both teams defeated Siena on their home courts this season, Montepaschi’s solid and experienced system makes the club appear more of a more reliable bet.
So, nothing but history repeating? A rerun of last year’s Siena vs Cantù final and a fourth consecutive Coppa Italia for Coach Pianigiani? Lame, yeah. But likely.
Siena has a number of inflammable players who can easily get in the zone and win a game pretty much on their own, like former Euroleague scoring-champ Igor Rakocevic; Bo McCalebb, the most dominant point guard; and young gun Pietro Aradori. In addition to this, Pianigiani can count on a solid core of experienced veterans (Shaun Stonerook above all, but also newcomers like David Andersen and Bootsy Thornton) able to provide the extra killer instinct needed on special occasions.
With such an uneven combination of talent and experience compared to their opponents, it’s hard to bet against Montepaschi in Coppa Italia’s Final 8. However, in America as well as in Europe, the golden rule in elimination-game events is always “Never underestimate the hunger of an underdog.”
And compared to Siena, any team in this tournament is an underdog.
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.