The Euroleague Top 16 group draw was orientated, due to the guidelines, well before it started. So, while Group G and Group H were fixed, it remained to see where Maccabi Tel Aviv and Efes Pilsen Istanbul would be directed: to the Barcelona-Panathinaikos group or the Real Madrid-Montepaschi gang. The two teams went into the latter’s, making Group F the toughest of Top 16.
Welcoming Partizan Belgrade and Maroussi BC are Regal FC Barcelona and Panathinaikos – especially the Greens, because in Catalunya they’re fearless until they play like they have since the beginning of this season – who are today thanking God in helping them avoid two teams with Top 16 traditions and rosters not to be underestimated. Further, Zelimir Obradovic’s squad has the fortune of playing four home games: The team shares the OAKA venue with Maroussi BC.
Nevertheless, to Sarunas Jasikevicius and his teammates, Partizan recalls that painful elimination in the 2007-2008 Top 16, when the defending champions were beaten in the final game by the Serbians in a burning Pionir Arena. This time, with Aleks Maric in the paint for Nikola Pekovic, the date Panathinaikos must underline is March 4th, when Barça flies to Belgrade in the second week of Top 16 competition, an undoubtable advantage: The dynamics of Group E dynamics will still be in flux and the Spanish side must be focused to prevent a win they could strongly regret later.
When Montepaschi earned its first trip to the Euroleague Final Four in 2003-2004, Simone Pianigiani was assistant coach to Carlo Recalcati. Some believe Pianigiani was the coach during those years, the last just before a new era in Siena began. In that season, Montepaschi ended its regular season in fourth place with a record of 7-7, behind CSKA Moscow, Maccabi Tel Aviv, and Fortitudo Bologna. Logically, Montepaschi found Benetton Treviso, Barcelona and Panathinaikos in its Top 16 group, yet finished first in the pool and entering the Final Four by beating Panathinaikos on the road in the final game.
This year, it’s not impossible Montepaschi could win Group F, even if the competitive level is high with Maccabi and Efes on board. Maccabi and Real both find themselves in the Top 16 for the third consecutive year, and these teams’ desire to continue on is clear.
In Tel Aviv, rumours say a big man – either Miroslav Raduljica from FMP Zeleznik or Dimitrios Mavroeidis from Maroussi BC – will be added in a hurry to replace Maciej Lampe and provide more consistency to a corps with two real close-to-the-basket players (Stephane Lasme and D’Or Fischer) and a faux power forward in David Bluthenthal. Real Madrid has answered preemptively with Ante Tomic, who is more an investment for the future with a four-year contract than a move for today. Bojan Popovic from Lietuvos Rytas and possibly Jeremiah Massey are new names for Efes Pilsen, whose conflicts between Ergin Ataman and management, Ergin Ataman and the fans, Ergin Ataman and Igor Rakocevic-Bostjan Nachbar (the Slovenian is on sale) seem too huge to rise again in the Top 16 after an undeserved qualification.
Group G sounds like a joke. CSKA hopes to exploit the presence of rivals not ready for the Final Four by adding Pops Mensah-Bonsu and relying on the experience accumulated by the J.R. Holden-Trajan Langdon-Ramunas Siskauskas trio; Unicaja Malaga has just waived Taquan Dean and signed Juan Dixon, an unreasonable change, in my humble opinion, that somehow shows why they’re still searching for a leader who needs to be more than an adequate Omar Cook. Zalgiris Kaunas has a case for playing in the Top 16, and discovering Mario Delas at the elite level could mean an opportunity to stay alive for second place. For Asseco Prokom Gdynia, it all depends on Qyntel Woods…
In Group H, BC Khimki has demonstrated with the loss in Gdynia last week that they don’t have the right mentality to face every game as a final, and that’s a lack Euroleague exposes. A battle between Olympiacos and Caja Laboral for the top spot is expected, while Cibona shouldn’t win more than one game.
Taking a look at possible quarterfinal matchups, we could have Regal FC Barcelona vs. Real Madrid and Panathinaikos vs. Montepaschi or vice versa; in the other bracket, there are CSKA-Caja Laboral and Unicaja-Olympiacos matches potentially looming. This means of Regal FC Barcelona, Panathinaikos, Montepaschi Siena and Real Madrid – probably four of the top five teams in Euroleague 2009-10 – two will not be in Paris. Is this fair?
Mr. Bertomeu, it may be time to think of refreshing the format…
— written by Francesco Cappelletti