With four games down in the ten-game FIBA Euroleague Women 2009-10 first round, the playoff picture is taking early shape and more than a few surprises – pleasant and otherwise – have graced play thus far. In the “disappointing” column can definitely be entered Mizo Pécs 2010, early considered one of the favorites to be playing in this league’s Final Four, is a limp 1-3 and has dug itself quite the hole behind Beretta Famila Schio, Halcon Avenida Salamanca and Wisla Can-Pack Krakow. (In fact, as the very pride of Hungary in international team sport, the Hungarian women’s basketball teams have combined for a depressing 3-7 in Euroleague play.)
Krakow may be considered this edition’s Cinderella story; thanks to the CSKA Moscow club’s financial difficulties, the ladies’ Red Army team had to drop out of the 2009-10 season just before it began. Enter Krakow, originally slated for Eurocup Women play and consequently deemed to be “top ranking team not involved in the tournament” when CSKA bailed. All the Krakovians have done thus far is go 4-0 while averaging just under 82 points per game in the last three; Janell Burse is running up one heck of a statistical season for Krakow, with 14.8 points and a league-leading 12.5 rebounds per game.
Completely unsurprising is the season Diana Taurasi is putting together with Spartak Moscow region; leading the league in scoring at 23.0 ppg, the perpetual Team USA representative is in the top ten in seven Euroleague Women statistical categories. As a result, Spartak has won three of three with a 21-point average margin of victory – imagine Taurasi’s numbers if she’d been kept on the court for more than 10 minutes per game.
Tonight, the sole offering to close out game four matches up Szeviép Szeged and Fenerbahce, currently the cellar-dwellers in Group D. (For those interested, Ball in Europe sponsor Bet 365 has Fenerbahce as a 6.5-point favorite with 1/3 money-line odds and an over/under of 142.5 is posted for the game.)
At 1-2, Fenerbahce saw its bid for 2-1 fall short last week against Taurasi’s ladies. Leading going into the fourth quarter, the Turkish team couldn’t survive a Spartak onslaught of an 11-0 run and took a sinking loss instead. Through three Euroleague Women games, Fenerbahce is establishing itself as one of the stronger defensive teams in the competition; Bersel Vardarli and Nicole Powell (resembling a return to her 2005 form, Powell’s averaging 17.7 ppg in Euroleague play) alone are good for a combined six steals per game alone.
Trying to avoid the turnovers and notch its first win is Szeged, clearly Euroleague Women’s hard-luck case thus far. On opening day, the Hungarian ladies nearly stole a win in visiting current Serie A leaders Tarbes GB, coming back from 14 points down late only to lose, 81-80. In week three against Lotos Gdynia, Szeged managed to limit Erin Phillips to just nine points and two assists, but was torched on the boards anyway, 39-25. Because of the game two cancellation due to the death of Spartak Moscow owner Shabtai von Kalmanovic, Szeged gets to host its first home game in the competition with nearly one calendar month gone since season tipoff.
It’s a bit difficult to tell with so little testing, but the acquisition of Lithuania’s Vaida Sipaviciute appears to be paying off for Szeged, which boasts just three non-Hungarians on the roster. Sipaviciute has averaged 18 points and 7.5 rebounds through two games, including a nice line of 22 (on 9-of-13 shooting) and nine in the Tarbes game. If only she and her teammates can keep from getting their pockets picked (Sipaviciute is giving up four turnovers per game, the team 15), Szeged might be able to fight its way back up a group in which these ladies should be more competitive than fortune would have it thus far.