With just a few hours to go before the Euroleague Final Four tipoff, BallinEurope has just enough time to mull over the matchups and publish more of those good ol’ Fearless Predictions™. (Keep in mind, though, that BiE was a pretty pitiful 1-3 in the playoff round.)
Panathinaikos vs. Montepaschi Siena. It’s extremely difficult to go against never-say-die Montepaschi Siena in this one; however, not only is the 2010-11 edition of Panathinaikos a team seemingly built to win the Euroleague with its combination of speed, size and incredible defensive schemes, but history appears to be on the Greens’ side as well. After all, a trio from the 2007 and 2009 EL champs – Dimitris Diamantidis, Mike Batiste and Kostas Tsartsaris – will be going again for PAO this time ‘round.
In yesterday’s press conference, Siena head coach Simone Pianigiani half-jokingly (BiE thinks) commented that his team can win “if Zeljko [Obradovic] is less aggressive than usual and gives us a chance.” Pianigiani was being slightly modest, of course, as in head-to-head matchups, Obradovic has topped his Italian counterpart only five times out of eight – including a 3-1 mark from the 2008-09 quarterfinals round when both were with the same clubs. On the other hand, the man has won seven Euroleague titles and has brought teams to the Final Four a whopping twelve times.
Given the Greens’ adaptability, Siena probably would have been much better off drawing either of the other two teams; they won’t quite be able to run Panathinaikos off the floor like they might against a Maccabi or Real Madrid, but BiE reckons they’ll try anyway. Here’s to thinking the Italian side will depend on Bo McCalebb to open things up as much as humanly possible: Siena’s best chance to win this thing might simply be to score 90-plus points. Against one of the better defenses in the league. Official BiE Fearless Prediction™: Panathinaikos by seven.
Real Madrid vs. Maccabi Tel Aviv. Perhaps the Euroleague’s two deepest rosters and baddest interior defenses meet here in what could be quite the chess match: Admirers of European coaching strategy will surely be watching the rotations in this one with a microscope.
From the historical perspective, neither of these teams is exactly a stranger to Euroleague Final Four play, but whoa, Maccabi has six players who’ve been to a Final Four, including five – David Blu, Tal Burstein, Lior Eliyahu, Yaniv Green and Derrick Sharp – who did it with the Israeli side.
Real Madrid actually has a nicely favorable matchup in this game against a team that plays at a similar pace, while the Madridistas bring enough height so as not to have to adapt their game plan for the monster in the middle. The most effective response to dealing with Sofoklis Schortsanitis lately has either been to accelerate the game or pray for early foul trouble, but the Whites need not concern themselves with either strategy simply because they’ve got enough big bodies – for starters, how about Mirza Begic, D’Or Fischer, Ante Tomic and even Nikola Mirotic may see some quality time in the middle – to throw at the likes of Big Sofo.
In short, figure this one to come down to a battle of the boards. Inelegant as it seems, Madrid’s best ploy may be to just “ugly things up” in hopes of grinding out a win: After all, Maccabi shot a EL-worst 66.4% from the line – and Sofoklis drew the second-most fouls in the league. (Hack-a-Baby-Shaq, anyone…?) While this plan couldn’t save Caja Laboral in the playoff round, the Baskonians still managed to win the first game and that’s all Madrid will have to do. But BiE says they won’t. Official BiE Fearless Prediction™: Maccabi Tel Aviv in overtime.
So who do you have?