Yes, yes, it’s waaaaaaaaaay too early to be making serious predictions about specific games in the 2009-10 Euroleague regular season, but a leisurely look at the newly-released schedule reveals some clear highlights that’ll have Euroleague fanatics marking their calendars early. BallinEurope will be watching the following, for sure.
• October 15th: Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv vs. Union Olimpija Ljubljana. As the 2009-10 season opener, of course this makes the list by dint of that reason alone. But after a disappointing campaign last year and a not-so-hot off-season thus far – essentially a switch from Lior Eliyahu to Maciej Lampe – Maccabi is surely going to be looking to make a statement early.
• October 21/22: Partizan Belgrade vs. Unicaja. The year’s first Euroleague home game for Partizan. ‘Nuff said.
• October 21/22: Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius vs. Efes Pilsen Istanbul. Welcome back to the Euroleague, Lietuvos Rytas, and welcome back to Vilnius, Efes Pilsen SK! Efes Pilsen last came to Siemens Arena in 2007 during EuroCup play, while Lietuvos last played Euroleague baskeball in 2007-08, when all they did was go 11-3 for the best record ever by a Lithuanian team in Euroleague play. Basketball-mad Vilnians will pack the 11,000-seat house for this one, to be sure, creating an awesome environment for Lietuvos Rytas’ reentry. You may begin pitying Efes Pilsen now.
• October 28/29*: ALBA Berlin vs. CSKA Moscow. This one depends on Berlin surviving the qualifiers, of course, but O2 Arena proved to be quite the swell venue during the Final Four last year, and its first Euroleague home game of the year will probably be well worth the watching for atmosphere alone. Having perennial powerhouses CSKA as guests will help to ensure that all eyes are watching.
• November 4/5: Real Madrid vs. Panathinaikos Athens. Twin towers meet to define the Group D race early.
• December 16/17: Panathinaikos Athens vs. Real Madrid. Twin towers meet to define the Group D race – and the playoff matchups – late.
• January 13/14: Qualifying team vs. Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv; Virtus Roma vs. Union Olimpija Ljubljana; CSKA Moscow vs. Tau Ceramica. Sorry, just can’t help it. I’m obsessed with Group C. Yes, American sportswriters love to overuse the expression “Group of Death” in international pool-play competitions, but 2009-10 Euroleague Group C lives up to the name.
This week in January will see the wrap-up of 30 bruising, demanding games between some truly excellent Euroleague squads. One could easily imagine four of these teams tied atop the table at 5-4 going into this final week, and that CSKA Moscow/Tau Ceramica game could very well send a great team home beaten and disappointed … but hey, somebody has to lose, right?