The key word in week three of the 2011-12 Euroleague Top 16 round: Blowout. The closest game was decided by eight points (Bennet Cantù 82, Maccabi Tel Aviv 74) and the average match showed a 16-point differential as certain teams (CSKA Moscow, FC Barcelona, Montepaschi Siena) asserted their superiority, a couple of sleeping giants (Olympiacos, Panathinaikos) stirred, and two (Unicaja Malaga, Emporio Armani Milano) firmly established themselves as this stage’s busts.
Going into tonight’s games four, nothing has changed within the elite, though mid-pack much jostling for position may be seen. With the group leaders all in excellent position to at least solidify a strong hold on a semifinals berth, this could prove to be a make-or-break week for no fewer than those nine sides in the scrum.
The key word for week four, then, in BallinEurope’s estimation: Injuries. The ‘bug is truly hunkering down amid some Euroleague teams, and one could build a pretty decent roster from those who are out, questionable or hampered this week. Potential difference-makers who will be sitting include, among others, Viktor Khryapa (CSKA); Ante Tomic (Real Madrid); Omer Onan, Marko Tomas (Milano); Kerem Gonlum, Ermal Kuqo (Anadolu Efes); Steven Smith (PAO); and Shawn James (Maccabi Tel Aviv).
Below run another edition of the BiE power rankings as we enter this decisive week. Once again, please note that these rankings are an indicator of how teams are trending, with some consideration given to play in other leagues and heavy emphasis on Euroleague results.
Without further ado, then, onto the rankings! Go ahead, you can guess the first four, surely…
1. (↔) CSKA Moscow (13-0 in Euroleague play overall; 10-1 in VTB United League, 8-1 in PBL)
2. (↔) FC Barcelona (12-1 EL; 16-3 ACB)
3. (↔) Montepaschi Siena (11-2 EL; 14-5 Serie A) – Will anything change among the top four straight through to Istanbul? Barça and Siena are red-hot while, Viktor Khyrapa or no, CSKA is deep enough to have the luxury of choosing which two players to bench at upset-minded Galatasaray. No one could fault any of these team’s fans for looking into lodging in Istanbul in May.
4. (↔) Unics Kazan (10-3 EL; 10-1 VTB; 4-4 PBL) – Kazan took a loss in Russia on Sunday at Triumph Lyubertsy, 71-61, and uglied things up in last week’s 56-44 win versus Milano. Luckily, at this juncture when EL teams must avoid shooting cold, the Russian side gets to beat up on the Armanis again tonight.
On the cusp
5. (↑) Panathinaikos (9-4 EL; 14-1 Greek League) – They’re baaaaaaaaack! The only question is, is it for good this time? The team’s 77-56 immolation of Fenerbahce Ulker last week put PAO back in the driver’s seat for at least one of those two Group G seeds for the quarterfinals; this week, all the Greens must do is overcome that same Ulker team sans Omer Onan. And in Athens.
6. (↔) Real Madrid (10-3 EL; 15-4 ACB) – How concerned should Los Blancos be after losing to Gescrap Bilbao at home on Sunday? A bit, perhaps; how do you lose while shooting 58.33% overall, including 10-of-19 on threes? Not only does the loss knock Real back into second place on the ACB table, they enter tomorrow night’s match against Bilbao at 1-2 in head-to-head play and with Ante Tomic not 100%. (And that’s the sound of a few thousand Madridistas biting fingernails.)
7. (↑) Bennet Cantu (7-6 EL; 11-8 Serie A) – An impressive 82-74 win over Maccabi plus the addition of Doron Perkins equals this year’s Euroleague Cinderella story.
8. (↓) Maccabi Tel Aviv (8-5 EL; 18-1 ABA; 12-2 Ligat Ha’al) – BiE will quote his own answer to Euro-Step’s question, “Which team has underperformed the most?”: “Not even close: Maccabi Tel Aviv. Supposed to be a F4 contender and killing in the ABA … what is happening with these guys in EL?”
9 (tie). (↓) Galatasaray Medical Park (5-8 EL; 13-3 TBL)
9 (tie). (↑) Olympiacos (7-6 EL; 15-1 Greek League) – Blowouts as equalizer: The Reds may have put in their best Euroleague performance of the 2011-12 season with their emphatic 83-65 win over Fenerbahce Ulker, while Galatasaray simply could not hang with CSKA. BiE has the teams deadlocked because at present the Turkish side holds the tiebreaker in Group E.
The most excellent news for Olympiacos from the Ulker game was the excellent distribution in scoring. BiE reckoned the Reds need to find production from someone other than Vassilis Spanoulis, and last week they found lots of someones – Kostas Sloukas, Richard Dorsey, Kostas Papanikolaou … this is the kind of balanced attack Oly needs to bring for the rest of the EL race.
11. (↑) Gescrap Bilbao Basket (6-7 EL; 10-9 ACB) – Bilbao readied for its third match against Real Madrid in a week by topping the former ACB table-toppers on Sunday, though the Gescrappers can hardly count on the lights-out shooting they found then. This week, the storyline promises the upstarts homecourt advantage and the Euroleague-activated Mamadou Samb.
Struggling, crashing, and/or burning
12 (tie). (↔) Fenerbahce Ulker (7-6 EL; 11-5 TBL)
12 (tie). (↓) Anadolu Efes Pilsen (6-7 EL; 14-2 TBL) – Not such a great year for Istanbul to host the Euroleague Final Four tournament after all, perhaps. The three Turkish franchises remaining are a disappointing 5-10 in the past five weeks of EL play.
14. (↔) Zalgiris Kaunas (4-9 EL; 5-6 VTB; 12-0 LKL) – Hey, have you heard that Sonny Weems was the top vote-getter for the LKL All-Star Game? No, it doesn’t have much to do with the Euroleague, but it *is* good news.
15. (↔) Unicaja (4-9 EL; 12-7 ACB) – Now 2-7 in 2012, Unicaja’s recent 0-4 run has seen them lose by an average of 16 points. Of course, the offense could be worse. It could be like that of…
16. (↔) Emporio Armani Milano (5-8 EL; 12-7 Serie A) – Seriously? 44 points? That was in one half, right?