Mere hours remain before the next level of Euroleague basketball – the expanded Top 16 round – tips off. Thus, BallinEurope has just enough to get in a round of Power Rankings for the big league. This time around, the utter subjective rankings of how the surviving sixteen teams *are currently trending* take into account performance in recent EL and other league games plus some speculation about acquisitions in gearing up for the next phase.
Enjoy the games and let the arguments begin!
Looking like semifinalists early
1 (↑). CSKA Moscow (9-1 EL; 8-1 VTB United League). In talking with Sonny Weems recently for an upcoming “Taking the Charge” podcast, the possible EL MVP candidate opined that it’s important for The Red Army to maintain a certain reputation – and that this edition of the team still hasn’t reached its true potential. With all due respect to Sonny, said reputation may already be firmly in place after taking out Barcelona in one of the finest Euroleague games BiE saw from the first round. And The Continent’s deepest bench was gifted with Theo Papaloukas on Christmas? A triple crown is in sight…
2 (↑). Olympiacos (8-2 EL; 10-0 Greek League). Though BallinEurope readers gave the Reds top-dog status going into 2013, BiE couldn’t quite pull the trigger on this one yet. On the plus side is of course the Reds’ current 14-game winning streak and that unquantifiable heart-of-a-champion mystique. Olympiacos’ major move in the brief window is at least a minor question mark: Club officials surely like the 23-year-old’s potential and crazy 2.16-meter (7’1”) height, but why add a slower-moving piece to the big league’s fourth-best rebounding (and just five rebounds short of tops overall in ORs)?
3 (↑). Žalgiris Kaunas(8-2 EL; 8-1 VTB)’ mark of 6-1 against Top 16 teams is tops among all teams. BiE can’t decide which is most notable: The way in which injuries and playing-time issues continue to be covered with trademark enviable depth; Joan Plaza’s masterful handling of said issues; or the fact that the Greens are standing pat going into round two.
4 (↔). Maccabi Tel Aviv (8-2 EL; 9-1 Ligat Ha’Al). A nice switch here, as Maccabi dispatched Shermadini while taking in current Adriatic League high-scorer Darko Planinic – and locked him in through 2015. The absence of Nik Caner-Medley for the first three Euroleague games might hurt a bit, but this side’s got a deep enough roster to handle it.
5 (↑). Real Madrid (7-3 EL; Liga Endesa 14-0). The speed bump of an odd dispirited loss to Cantù in week eight was shown to be in the past as Los Blancos cranked up their high-flying offense against Union Olimpija to close the EL regular season. Real starts the second phase with an eminently winnable game at Alba Berlin, but the real big game may be Sunday against rivals Barcelona: A W there would really send the Blaugrana reeling…
6 (↓). FC Barcelona (9-1 in Euroleague play; 7-7 in Liga Endesa). Who can explain Barça’s limp play in Liga Endesa ball? How much can be blamed on the disappearing Erazem Lorbek? (BiE would say that the big guy should get a proportionate share of blame for the week 10 loss.)
On the bubble
T7 (↔). Panathinaikos (6-4 EL; 8-2 Greek League). The shorthanded PAO took a tough loss to close out the Euroleague regular season at Khimki. No matter: The standings board is reset and BiE can’t help believing that the Greens – already the top rebounding team in the ‘League – shafted Unicaja in the momentous trade that was completed in time to cover for some of Sofoklis Schortsanitis’ upcoming downtime. Jason Kapano is also an attractive signing.
T7 (↑). Unicaja Malaga (8-2 EL; 8-6 Liga Endesa). When is a dark horse not a dark horse? Unicaja’s 8-2 mark in the first round was ascribed (fairly enough) by most to benefiting from a weak group. Nevertheless, this Spanish side handled Maccabi in week six well enough and delivered another dagger to Barcelona last weekend. One of the hotter teams in Europe in the recent short-term.
Facing a fight to advance
9 (↑). Caja Laboral Baskonia (4-6 EL; 11-3 Liga Endesa). If any European team could play the “Nobody believed in us!” card, it’s these guys.
10 (↔). BC Khimki Moscow region (5-4 EL; 7-2 VTB). Another enigma; this team ran with a different starting lineup in each of the 10 Euroleague games – and still managed a 4-2 mark against Top 16 teams. BiE does wonder why no signings during the transfer window were made to this often makeshift active roster…
Winners of must-wins
11 (↑). Fenerbahçe Ülker (5-5 EL; 11-1 TBL). Against Cantù in week 10, Fenerbahçe easily won the battle of the boards but were hampered enough by poor jump-shooting to keep the much weaker side in the game. Second quarter excepted, the lack of communication is well evident while poor ol’ playmaking Bo McCalebb looks lost for options out of his formerly deadly slash-and-kick moves. Nice to see Uros Tripkovic’ll be back in the ‘League: Perhaps he’ll prove a viable complement for Bo.
12 (↑). Brose Baskets Bamberg (5-5 EL; 12-2 BBL) chased up the must-lose-by-five-or-fewer game with a cliffhanger of a win against Partizan to squeak into the Top 16. Going forward, Bamberg backers are still playing “Waiting For Oglivy,” but even a full-strength A.J. probably won’t be enough – not to mention not extremely likely in the short term.
13 (↑). Beşiktaş JK (5-5 EL; 7-5 TBL) added an immediate contributor in Daniel Ewing, closed out the EL regular-season with a win (albeit barely), and just added Cemal Nalga. Some nice roster moves with the TBL season in mind, but shouldn’t guys like this have been aboard in October?
Stumbling into the 16
14 (↔). Anadolu Efes (5-5 EL; 10-2 TBL). Advancement into the Top 16 may only prolong a painful demise to Anadolu’s Euroleague campaign. Odd to think that going into week five, the team with the New Jersey backcourt was 3-1 and looking as good as advertised. Since then, they’ve gone 1-4 against Top 16 teams with the sole win at Beşiktaş in TBL play last week. They’re backing into this round with two emphatic losses and face a one-two start at CSKA and versus PAO. One-time favorites for the Final Four round, Anadolu Efes in 2012-13 might end up being an argument against the extended format.
15 (↓). Montepaschi Siena (5-5 EL; 10-2 Serie A). For a while there, it looked like the feel-good story of the season: Traditional powerhouse scales back with ragtag team led by perceived selfish superstar who finds the magic of teamwork to carry the underdogs far beyond expectations. Unfortunately, as much as Bobby Brown has held up his part of the Hollywood story with a career year, the rest of the team is … what it is.
16 (↓). Alba Berlin (4-6 EL; 10-4 BBL). This year’s just happy-to-be-here team.