This week will start the (once again) newly-created qualification rounds for the two European Cups just under the Euroleague: the EuroCup and the EuroChallenge. Here we go with the preview on these qualification rounds.
Let’s start with the EuroChallenge, formerly known as the FIBA Europe Cup. Qualifying round one again features teams that I’d never heard of, such as the Svendborg Rabbits or BC Sumyhimprom, just to name two. Additionally, one game has already been played; last week, BC Liège beat the Bakken Bears by 12 points. The biggest name in this first round is probably Deutsche Bank Skyliners Frankfurt, a former Euroleague team. The German semifinalist will play tomorrow against the Ukrainian team of MBC Nikolaev (It should be noted that this is the FIBA Europe or Russian name, as the Ukrainian name of the city is Mykolaiv), which features one of the most promising sharp shooters in Europe, 1989-born Sergiy Gladyr.
Another interesting story is that two teams competing in this first round are only announced by the name “Spartak.” You have to dig deeper into the FIBA Europe website to see that one is Spartak Pleven from Bulgaria and the other is Spartak Saint Petersbourg from Russia. The Russian Spartak version can be considered way stronger than the Bulgarian team, however, as it features such interesting players as Joe Blair, Andrew Wisniewski, Milovan Rakovic and Niktia Kurbanov: In fact, this looks like the most impressive team in this first round in general. A two-point loss against the big team of Khimky in the season opener shows the potential of coach Evgeniy Pashutin’s team.
For Utah Jazz fans, it may be interesting to follow the games of KK Zagreb, as the team features Jazz draftee Ante Tomic, while the most exotic matchup may be the games between Energy Invest Rustavi from Georgia (a team that features former NBA hopeful Paul McPherson) and BC Sumykhimprom from the beautiful Ukrainian city of Sumy.
When we come to the EuroCup, the exotics are fewer and the level of play is of course much higher. The most impressive teams in this first qualifying round for the former ULEB Cup are naturally the rosters from Russia. Unics Kazan features a multitude of national team players from different European countries and should be the heavy favorites in the duel against Slupsk from Poland. The game between Triumph Lyubertsy and Ostende may be a little opener at first sight, but the roster of the Moscow region team is so deep that the Belgians have probably no chance to even come close to one victory. For some, it seems like Russia is still close to the Evil Empire but in basketball, the teams from Putin’s country have the most incredible rosters of all competitions.
While FMP Zeleznik (against Amsterdam) and Tartu Rock (against Basket Swans Gmunden) should qualify for the next round, all the other matchups look pretty open. The Lithuanian Siauliai team will have a tough setup against Galatasaray from Istanbul, as scorers Milan Gurovic and Dejan Milojevic will probably be hard to stop. Panellinions against Telekom Baskets Bonn looks very open, as the German finalists have already shown a very good playing level early in the season, and the games between ASK Riga and Cholet Basket could turn in favor of the Baltic team.