With another week to kill before the Euroleague Top 16 round begins, BallinEurope is marking up the calendar to note must-see teevee for January to March, getting out the red pens and awaiting the following matchups.
January 19: Real Madrid vs. Partizan Belgrade
January 19: Efes Pilsen Istanbul vs. Montepaschi Siena. Wow, Group G is awesome. Seeded with perhaps the best from each position – no. 1 seed MPS, currently BiE’s top team in Europe; no. 2 Read Madrid, from whom we still haven’t seen the best work in 2010-11; no. 3 Efes Pilsen, inconsistent but talented enough to have taken out Union Olimpija plus Panathinaikos in Greece; and fourth-seed Partizan Belgrade (!), always a tough play in half the games. These opening-day games will already put pressure for the losers, and just imagine how tight this group instantly gets if both away teams win…
January 20: FC Barcelona vs. Maccabi Tel Aviv. Of all the sweet matchups in Top 16 week one, the league has chosen this as “Game of the Week” – and why not? Playing shorthanded for most of the 2010-11 season (they’ll still be without BiE fave Pete Mickael in this game, too, dammit), Barça is nevertheless 19-6 in ACB and Euroleague play after the Saturday win over fellow Euroleaguers Unicaja Malaga. (Video below.)
Maccabi? That’s BiE’s personal no. 1 team in Europe right now. Yes, Ligat HaAl games are hardly a challenge the great majority of the time, but the Israeli side whupped Euroleague challengers to the tune of +99 point differential, matched only by PAO and bettered only by Montepaschi. These guys appear to have no apparent weakness, with quality all the way down the bench. They can play at any tempo, running up 86 points with Doron Perkins repeatedly going through Richard Hendrix and Lior Eliyahu, shut down a smaller Partizan with Sofoklis Schortsanitis and Perkins, or both against Asseco Prokom. And BiE didn’t even mention the human ICBM Chuck Eidson.
Should be a good one.
January 26: Zalgiris Kaunas vs. Olympiacos. BiE’s been told by his contact over there that the current line in Lithuania is that any coach hired by Vladimir Romanov has four losses before termination becomes inevitable. With three Ls already to his “credit” and assuming the Greens get past Power Electronics Valencia in Top 16 week one (hardly guaranteed), this game could represent the end of the Second Grigas Era in Kaunas.
February 2: Caja Laboral Baskonia vs. Panathinaikos Athens. Most observers have PAO moving into the elimination round easily, but even from the distance of three weeks out, this one looks like a classic trap game that hand the group lead to Baskonia
February 3: Unicaja vs. Lietuvos Rytas. From a Brad Newley blog entry at the Euroleague’s official site:
“As for Unicaja, well, they’ve got a Scottish guy in Robert Archibald and an English guy in Joel Freeland, and even though I am not sure I have ever played against them, this will be a bit a revenge match for me. You see, I am huge into cricket, like everyone where I am from. I played as a kid and still follow it a lot. So if I say that England took The Ashes from us, a lot of you Europeans won’t know what I am talking about, but it means a lot Down Under. England and Australia have been playing for a cricket cup called The Ashes since the 1800s. When they have possession of it, we want it, and vice-versa. England has The Ashes right now and that hurts. That’s a rivalry all its own, but I will be thinking of it when I play against them, that’s for sure, as if the wickets were set up behind the basket! For me, the games against Unicaja will be like a Mini-Ashes. Now that’s what I call motivation!”
Hey, in this stumbling bumbling season, Lietuvos Rytas can use the inspiration anywhere they find it.
(BiE digs cricket. Cricket is cool.)
February 23: Montepaschi Siena vs. Efes Pilsen Istanbul
February 24: Partizan Belgrade vs. Real Madrid. In the bookend to Group G’s week one matchups, the penultimate week has these two matchups which BiE is fully expected to muck up the playoff picture rather than clarify it.
February 24: Caja Laboral Baskonia vs. Unicaja. How crazy is Euroleague 2010-11? Not only did five ACB teams qualify for the season, all five managed to advance into the Top 16 – and only one of them higher than a no. 3 seed for the regrouping. This game marks not only another extra intra-Spain matchup, but will most likely determine the nature of the final spot out of Group E.
March: PE Valencia vs. Fenerbahçe Ülker, a week six game probably for the last spot in the elite eight … date unannounced by Euroleague at present.
Finally, Official BallinEurope Fearless Predictions™ for the Euroleague elite eight: Caja Laboral Baskonia; Panathinaikos; Maccabi Tel Aviv; FC Barcelona; Montepaschi Siena; Real Madrid; Olympiacos and PE Valencia.