The qualifying tournament for the final spot in the Euroleague regular season kicks off at 18.00 CET today in Oostende. 8 teams enter, 1 goes to the big show, the rest go to EuroCup. Here’s what you need to know.
The favourites: UNICS Kazan
This is arguably the worst tag to hold in the ELQT. Heading in as favourites rarely matters in deciding whether you actually make it into the regular season. Kazan however possess a loaded outfit with Keith Langford, Chuck Eidson, James White, Curtis Jerrells, Kostas Kaimakoglou, and D’or Fischer suiting up for the Russian team. Fundamentally it comes down to how ready they are. If they are on game and up for this, they should progress. If they’re not, there is one team they really need to worry about.
The hosts: Telenet Ostend
Hosting this tournament is a massive advantage. Remember the way Lietuvos Rytas stank for the regular season last year? They got there in the first place by hosting the ELQT and they weren’t the first relatively weak roster to turn home advantage in this competition into a big prize. Ostend have one of the least experienced rosters, in terms of Euroleague level, in this competition and it probably won’t mean squat. This is there house, anyone who comes here has to take that from them.
The prospects: Hapoel Jerusalem
For most readers of this site, Israel basketball begins and ends with Maccabi Tel Aviv. Hapoel are looking to change that perspective and competing here is a start. They have a good shot at beating CEZ Nymburk but the real story here is potential. Housed in the brand spanking new 11,600 capacity Jerusalem Arena, Hapoel have long term goals that won’t ride on how they do in Belgium. The club has fond memories of this part of the world, having won the ULEB Cup down the road in Charleroi in 2004.
The rest: Two French teams, Zielnet Gora, Nymburk, and VEF Riga
Gora have the unfortunate task of taking on Unics Kazan first on Wednesday, the winner of which faces either Nymburk or Hapoel. The other three teams however will fancy their chances. Asvel Basket face the hosts tonight while Riga and Strasbourg square off in the first game. That side of the draw avoids Kazan until the final, saving the biggest test for an ideal scenario. Win, and you’re in.
The prize: Group A
The winner of the qualifying tournament will go into Group A of the Euroleague regular season. There they will face Real Madrid, Anadolu Efes, Zalgiris Kaunas, Dinamo Sassari, and Nizhny Novgorod.
The pick: Unics Kazan
Yup I’m boring but they look deep. That should carry them.