So Žalgiris gets its coach fired after playing .800 ball through 20 games, Spanish powerhouses lose in Lithuania and Germany, Valencia kills Milano, Efes Pilsen stuns PAO … just another week in Euroleague 2010-11, eh? And after happenings aplenty, it sounds like time for another edition of BallinEurope’s Official Euroleague Power Rankings! Let’s go!
Tops of the table
1. (↔) Maccabi Tel Aviv (8-1 in Euroleague; 8-1 in Ligat HaAl) – Here comes that blurb again: Forget the Miami Heat, the Boston Celtics, the Los Angeles Lakers even (heresy); the best offseason was had by Maccabi Tel Aviv, which once again underwent a complete reboot, as the kids these days might say. Addendum: And now they’re adding Milan Macvan? Sheesh.
2. (↑) Montepaschi Siena (8-1; 8-1 in Serie A) – Trash-talker of the 2010-11 season? BiE’ll vote for Ferdinando Minucci, who more than once grumbled in the offseason about budget cuts and contracts expiring … only to retool with a monster on both offense and defense that’s capable of a quadruple crown season. Hell, Signore Minucci might be up for another Euroleague Executive of the Year award if it weren’t for a certain Israeli front office…
The bona fide contenders
3. (↑) Panathinaikos (6-3; 8-0 in EΣAKE)
4. (↑) Olympiacos (6-3; 8-0 in EΣAKE) – Both Greek sides are hitting a few roadbumps in Euroleague play in going 1-1 over the last two weeks, though each has the inside track to a no. 1 seed in the Top 16 round with one-game leads and tiebreaker advantages. Of all the high weirdness of the 2010-11 edition of the big league, strangest of all may be that although five ACB teams are competing and the Final Four was rescheduled to Barcelona, the EL Final Four at this point looks to be a showdown of teams from three to four countries not named Spain.
5. (↑) Union Olimpija (6-3; 7-4 in Adriatic League) – The Slovenian side looked great in defending home court against CSKA Moscow on Wednesday; even better for 23/24ths of Euroleague fandom, the Red Army’s run of eight straight EL Final Four appearances is officially over. The Olimpijians have the look of an EL championship contender, yet their highest-ranked player in index rating is Kevinn Pinkney at no. 25; their top scorer is 24th (Pinkney again); their top rebounder is 35th (Kenny Gregory); and the team itself is just 19th in total boards … Jure Zdovc for EU President!
6. (↓) Fenerbahçe Ülker (6-3; 9-0 in TBL) – Though this week’s 29-point loss at Siena was ugly in the extreme, Fenerbahçe is nearly unstoppable at home on any level, with an 8-1 record on home turf so far and the sole loss a five-point heartbreaker to FC Barcelona. While going .500 in the Top 16 round won’t get the Turkish side into the knockout stage, Fenerbahçe brings enough skilled big men to give any team troubles on any given night.
7. (↑) Real Madrid (5-4; 9-2 in ACB)
8. (↓) FC Barcelona (6-3; 8-3 in ACB) – Real Madrid is an anemic 1-4 on the road in Euroleague play, with whiffs against the likes of Spirou Charleroi and now Brose Baskets in their countries. Barça’s already dumped six games, the total number they’d dropped until the ACB finals in 2009-10 with essentially the same team albeit far fewer injury woes. Maybe the Blaugrana can blame the problems on bumps ‘n’ bruises, and both can blame parity in Spain for tired players; the truth is both teams will make the Top 16 round and both are to be considered threats for the elite eight. But the fear of Spanish ballers is gone, BiE thinks.
9. (↑) Efes Pilsen (5-4; 6-3 in TBL) – Another Turkish team that can’t lose at home, Efes Pilsen is 8-1 this year in their own comfy confines and last lost there on October 16th. Of course, this also means that the Brewers are just 3-6 away; truly top-flight Euroleague teams have got to compete against the Romas and Valencias of the association in away games.
10. (↑) Caja Laboral Baskonia (4-5; 8-3 in ACB) – Oddity #3,452 of Euroleague 2010-11: Baskonia, a team that managed a five-game losing streak in the big league will likely enter the Top 16 round as one of its hottest teams, assuming they beat Partizan in the win-for-third game next week. Oddities #3,453 and #3,454: While the Basque side was going 0-5 in the EL, they were 6-0 back home; since winning back-to-back Euroleague games in December, they’re 0-2 in the ACB.
11. (↑) Partizan Belgrade (5-4; 5-6 in Adriatic League) – Young they may be, but at least these Black-and-Whites are getting the hang of the whole Pionir mystique.
12. (↑) Lottomatica Roma (5-4; 3-6 in Serie A) – Roma’s taken three of the last four, but guessing they’ll back into the Top 16 as a no. 4 seed after losing to Olympiacos, they’ll be regrouped with either Maccabi Tel Aviv or Panathinaikos/Union Olimpija. So, um, don’t get too optimistic, Roma fans.
13. (↓) Unicaja Malaga (5-4; 6-5 in ACB) – Is it the 3s? Unicaja’s jacked up an even 200, more than any team except like-totalled PAO: And they’re hitting a solid 35%, too.
14. (↓) Žalgiris Kaunas (5-4; 4-1 in VTB United League) – One interesting Christmas tradition in Hungary, Austria, parts of Germany, and probably throughout the former Austro-Hungarian Empire involves St. Nicholas Day. As it is throughout Europe, good little boys and girls receive chocolates and fruit in boots left by the window. However, in these parts, a demonic figure named Krampus (or Krampusz in Magyar) accompanies happy Father Christmas. This devilish dude is the guy who dispenses – surely with relish – switches to naughty children, all the better to spank little bottoms with; in more Germanic cultures he also gets to do socially acceptable lascivious things in public with comely lasses.
And despite the fact that the Žalgiris twelve have certainly been exemplarily good boys, their club is unfortunately inextricably tied in with the Lithuanian Krampusz himself, a.k.a. Vladimir Romanov, a.k.a. Mad Vlad.
Seriously, here were the Greens cruising along at 16-2 overall. On December 11, Žalgiris dropped its first VTB United League game, losing at unheralded Azovmash. On December 15, Žalgiris lost at home in overtime to Baskonia. Romanov again proved himself a harsh supplier of another kind of switch, as a two-game losing streak is more than enough justification to earn no more than a lump of coal for head coach Aco Petrovic – not to mention Žalgiris fans.
Predictably, Žalgiris dumped its first Euroleague game in the Second Rimantis Grigas Era and more than one punter is probably lining up as we speak to cover longshot Kaunas today against their Euroleague city-mates. And with Žalgiris just three points ahead of Lietuvos Rytas (not to mention zero up on Rudupis), conspiracy theorists/Balkan realists will surely find Romanov’s latest Steinbrenneresque move … suspicious to say the least.
Sure, sure, the team will probably right the asylum in spite of the inmate running things: earlier in the season, Žalgiris played cohesively and tightly enough to resemble a Euroleague elite eight team. To make things interesting, ol’ (Krampusz) Romanov set things up to potentially dump his boys into a no. 3 seed for the draw.
Marcus Brown had better be getting his CV ready, ‘cause here’s to thinking his service may yet be deployed again.
Fighting for survival
15. (↔) Power Electronics Valencia (4-5; 5-6 in ACB) – Valencia has looked terrible at times this season, not least of all in a limp effort against CSKA Moscow two EL games ago, but in a must-win against Lottomatica Roma, the Electronics suddenly look ready to advance.
16. (↑) Cholet Basket (4-5; 8-2 in LNB)
17. (↑) Lietuvos Rytas (3-6; 3-2 in VTB) – Both teams are coming off relatively impressive wins (Cholet toyed with hapless Cibona while L.Rytas escaped a depleted Barça in Lithuania), but whichever of these sides represents the Group C no. 4 seed is certain to go winless in Top 16 play.
18. (↓) AJ Milano (4-5; 7-2 in Serie A) – Welllllllllllllllllllllll, Milano’s not eliminated mathematically, but they did choke hard against Valencia. And they do have to win at Panathinaikos next week…
Wait ‘til next year
19. (↑) Brose Baskets Bamberg (3-6; 13-0 in Bundesliga)
20. (↓) BC Khimki (3-6; 4-1 in VTB)
21. (↔) Spirou Charleroi (3-6; 6-1 in BLB) – This trio was outclassed in Euroleague 2010-11 but with the way all are playing in domestic leagues (Khimki is 4-1 and holds second place in the Russian Superleague), we haven’t heard the last of ‘em.
22. (↔) CSKA Moscow (2-7; 5-0 in VTB) – It’s the end of era … yet few are really broken up about it.
23. (↓) Asseco Prokom (2-7; 2-3 in VTB) – Perhaps BiE’s not quite ready to label these guys a European basketball superpower just yet.
24. (↔) Cibona Zagreb (0-9; 5-6 in Adriatic League) – Is this the only team in all of sports having a worse 2010 than the Minnesota Vikings?