BallinEurope’s man in Italy, Francesco Cappelletti, wraps up the wrap week of the 2009-10 Euroleague regular season in discussing — among other subjects — how justice was done in the Top 16 accession, why Ricky Rubio deserves our admiration, and how the next four groups look.
Who deserves the Top 16 and who doesn’t
In the last week of the Euroleague’s first stage, many teams played not for pride, but to qualify for the next step. Strangely enough, all the verdicts are right. In Group A, Fenerbahce Istanbul closed a disastrous European season with a home loss against Zalgiris Kaunas, depleted without Travis Watson (basic against a frontline full of 6’10”-6’11” men) and with Mario Delas just landed, while forced to rely on a confused Aleksander Capin staying 22 minutes on the floor with nearly no knowledge of playbook or teammates. Anyway, the injury of Lynn Greer didn’t help Bogdan Tanjevic, whose game passed on pursuing Zalgiris, and Roko Ukic was the unexpected master of a squad wandering in search of itself.
In Zagreb, Cibona dominated early before allowing Asvel to come back; but in the end, the dynamic duo composed of one of the best stealers in Euroleague (Jamont Gordon) and long-awaited Croatian national team shooting guard Marko Tomas closed the game.
Group B showed us why Lietuvos Rytas is an intriguing team for tomorrow and not yet an elite team at the highest European level. Bojan Popovic played a regular season as one of the top three point guards in the league only to fail in *the* game while youngsters Milko Bjelica and Martynas Gecevicius shouldered the entire load and were betrayed by more experienced Vidas Ginevicius, who asked for the possible game-winning shot but didn’t get it off in time.
Lottomatica Roma didn’t deserve a Top 16 spot, and it’s fair that Maroussi BC reached this stage for the first time in its history. Maccabi Tel Aviv tried to play a potentially meaningful game (depending on the CSKA Moscow-Caja Laboral result), but the Greeks were simply too focused and tough to be beaten.
In Moscow, Baskonia had a nine-point lead in the first half, then suffered a 15-0 run inspired by Ramunas Siskauskas, and collapsed in the shootaround tournament put on in the last quarter, when Trajan Langdon (4-for-8 from distance) and J.R. Holden (3-for-6) showed Pau Ribas and Carl English why they’re still a Euroleague benchmark.
Group D had less drama for its final outcomes. Armani Jeans Milano couldn’t demand more from a team whose talent is very little, compared to Real Madrid’s, and even less so with Morris Finley and Alex Acker sidelined. In answering the question, Asseco Prokom deserved qualification to the Top 16, if only for its wins against Real Madrid and BC Khimki this week.
Now what’s up?
Two guidelines for the Top 16. First: “Teams from the same regular season group may not coincide in the same Top 16 group.” Second: “A maximum of two teams from the same country may coincide in the same Top 16 group.
In a few words, that’s the most believable hypothesis for the Top 16 composition: Regal FC Barcelona (top seed in Group A), Panathinaikos, Maccabi, Efes Pilsen; Olympiacos (top in Group B), Caja Laboral, BC Khimki, Cibona; CSKA (top in Group C), Unicaja, Zalgiris, Prokom; Real Madrid (top in Group D), Montepaschi Siena, Partizan Belgrade, Maroussi BC.
It’s easy to say that Barcelona and Panathinaikos colliding in the same group could represent an escape for those initially terrified by a quarterfinal that plays more in Catalunya and Athens than in one’s own home. In the same way, grouping together CSKA and Unicaja, two clubs which have the desire to reach the Final Four but not the obligation, could mean a possible head-to-head or … an underdog in Paris. On the other hand, the opportunity given by the playoff format includes every scenario.
We will never forget you, Ricky
The line: 14 points in 25 minutes, 2-for-4 from the floor, 9-for-10 from the line, 10 assists, four steals, nine fouls drawn, and a 33 index rating. What’s more, the clear sensation that he can dominate any game he wants to in Europe, at the age of 19. Thank you, Ricky Rubio.
Rubio has demonstrated that he’s ready for the NBA all season long, but the two times he faced Terrell McIntyre, well, he clowned him. Yesterday to start the game, Rubio notched two steals, a no-look behind-the-back pass and a foul drawn with less that 1:30 gone since the teams took the court. After the demolition of T-Mc, it’s now time for Sarunas Jasikevicius (if Barça and PAO in fact meet in the Top 16) to be tested: a kind of passing of the baton between the best point guards European fans have seen in the last 15 years.
CSKA won for the seventh consecutive time due to a 14-for-25 rate from beyond the arc, answering to the 12-for-24 from Baskonia … Unicaja Malaga inked Juan Dixon, who averaged 14.3 points per game with Aris Thessaloniki in Eurocup; he’s the ideal shooting guard for Aito, who has at his disposal only Taquan Dean, hardly devastating in his first Euroleague season … Martynas Pocius got his season highs against Fenerbahce with 19 points in Kaunas and 18 in Istanbul … Jasikevicius was terrible during his 14 minutes at Oldenburg, then he remembered he’s still a champion and decided the game with the floater at the end … The 10-0 record collected by Regal FC Barcelona is the same result obtained in the qualifying round by Panathinaikos in 1998-99 and CSKA Moscow in 2004-2005 … The next big Greek thing is Dimitrios Mavroeidis, really the most surprinsing player of the first stage. Per minute, he’s third in index rating (0.82), tenth in points (0.55), fourth in rebounds (0.30), and second in fouls drawn (0.24) …. Lietuvos Rytas is not in the Top 16 for the first time in three Euroleague bids … I wonder if Travis Hansen is the sacrificed guard in the rotations of Ettore Messina, with seven minutes of play in Milano, four fewer than Llull’s eleven …
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