Whoa, the Final Four starts in two days? Almost unbelievable. But enough digression! Yesterday, BallinEurope presented a brief position-by-position rundown of Friday’s FC Barcelona-CSKA Moscow game. Today, a consideration of the late game, Partizan Belgrade vs. Olympiacos.
Similarly to the early game, Partizan-Olympiacos also features a matchup between classic plucky underdog versus season-starting prohibitive favorite. Just like CSKA, Partizan wasn’t even “supposed” to be in Paris for the Final Four this year but don’t tell them; this one will be all about guile vs. slick weaponry.
The head-to-head matchups look something like the following.
Point guards: Bo McCalebb vs. Milos Teodosic. Nothing like starting with an easy one, eh? McCalebb and Teodosic were not only spearheads for their squads and chief among the reasons why their teams have gotten this far in 2009-10, but are both nice examples of the top-notch point guards Euroleague boasted this season. As for choosing between them, hell, BiE still hasn’t decided which of these guys should be All-Euroleague First Team and which Second. Advantage: Even.
Shooters: Jan Vesely and Dusan Kecman vs. Linas Kleiza, Josh Childress and Scoonie Penn. As swell a combination the 20-year-old Vesely and the 33-year-old Kecman became this season for Partizan (and how happy are Black-and-White fans that their young Czech isn’t going NBA after all?), in this positional battle it’ll be the money that matters.
Looking back now, it’s hard to believe that Kleiza went essentially unwanted on last year’s NBA free agent market: At this point, he’s still BallinEurope’s choice for Euroleague MVP with a cumulative line in the big league of 17.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. And combined with Childress (15.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg), well, often the impression is that life just ain’t fair.
Scoonie, meanwhile, was a mid-season pickup who seems to be there solely for the D and intangibles while the All-Euroleague threesome of Teodosic, Kleiza and Childress take care of all the flashy stuff.
And while Partizan can take solace in the fact that the top shooter of the entire 1990-born generation will be back in Belgrade next year, the rest of the league can shudder in fear at the sound of the Angelopoulos Brothers’ wallets opening again this off-season. Advantage: Olympiacos.
Big men: Lawrence Roberts and Slavko Vranes vs. Sofoklis Schortsanitis. After a lackluster first half to the season, Sofoklis has come on for the Reds in 2010, scoring in double-figures in five of his last 10 Euroleague appearances and playing some scary defense; who knew a dude this big could move like that?
Sofoklis, in tandem with the nice cleaning up work habitually performed by the Kleiza/Childress pair, made Olympiacos a top-four Euroleague team in rebounding and fouls received; the speedster sharpshooters, meanwhile, put the Reds at no. 1 in the big league in steals and field goal percentage.
But. Number one on that team-rebounding list was none other than Partizan, buoyed by the board monster Lawrence Roberts and Slavko “The Tallest Player Ever to Reach the Euroleague Final Four” Vranes. The towers have averaged over eight rebounds a game in cumulative Euroleague play … *on defense only.* That number’s 11.65 per game overall and, combined with Vesely’s nearly five per game, one wonders how anyone ever rebounds against Partizan without the assistance of a vintage Dennis Rodman.
In tandem with the lack of stamina exhibited by the Olympiacos bigs (they’ve gotten fewer than 28 minutes per game out of Sofo and Nikola Vujcic combined this Euroleague season), this is the one area wherein Partizan clearly holds the advantage; and with Dusko Vujosevic doing the exploiting of this relative weakness, well, Reds fans’ confidence has got to be a bit shaken, if not stirred up. Advantage: Partizan.
Benches. The main forces lending an assist of the pine for Belgrade will be the Aleksandars: Maric and Rasic. Maric provides the Black-and-Whites with yet another big body to throw at Baby Shaq and generally wear down the Partizan backcourt; Rasic meanwhile can be the proverbial shot-in-the-arm in leading the offensive charge, but his shooting has been dismal this season.
On the other side, Olympiacos brings a couple of heavy hitters off the bench in Nikola Vujcic and Ioannis Bourousis. The former went for eight points, three boards and a sliver under two assists per EL game; hometown fave Bourousis contributed 8.7 ppg and 4.7 apg. BiE calls these guys the X-factor, after Vujosevic attempts to have his Black-and-Whites sink Schortsanitis in foul trouble early.
*And* they’ve got 54% shooting supervet Theo Papaloukas coming off the pine, too? Yeesh. Advantage (big advantage): Olympiacos.
Coaches: Dusko Vujosevic vs. Panagiotis Giannakis. Most everybody is attributing the bulk of Oly’s success this season to the club’s budget (hey, BallinEurope is also guilty as charged). Well, why not? Giannakis had had a career winning percentage in the ESAKE regular season of .629 before going 33-2 with the Reds over the last two years. 2007-08 and 2008-09 represented the first two seasons in which Giannakis’ teams managed a winning record in the playoffs, aside from a brief 4-3 run with Maroussi in 2004.
Opposing him is Vujosevic, of whose miracle-working not enough can be said. After surprising Euroleague devotees by taking the association’s youngest team to the final eight. This year, after shedding the likes of Stefan Lasme, Milenko Tepic, Novica Velickovic and Uros Tripkovic, Vujosevic and company reloaded with gems like Vesely and the incredible Bo. This year’s game plan is a total makeover of 2008-09’s, with a new emphasis on defensive aggression and drives to the hoop as opposed to a jumpshooting barrage. If only for coaching the best game against Barcelona anyone’s done this season, Vujosevic is once again proven to be a master. Advantage: Partizan.
Fearless prediction. Again, BiE ain’t getting off the horse i’ve been riding since Euroleague Opening Day. Here’s to thinking Partizan keeps it close throughout, but ultimately Kleiza and Childress overwhelm: Olympiacos 88, Partizan 84.