With just one more week to go in first-round play, Francesco Cappelletti touches on some issues regarding those teams positioning themselves for the Euroleague Top 16. Also examined frankly: Ergin Ataman’s tenuous position in Turkey, Zoran Planinic and Nikos Zisis embracing their positions on potential Final Four clubs; and bucking for position on Real Madrid.
Only a week remains to this Euroleague first stage, but the situations in many groups are still complicated. In Group A, Regal FC Barcelona lies in waits for Montepaschi with a +19 taken in Siena, testifying to the shape of Xavi Pascual’s players. This should be an interesting game, maybe balanced for nearly 40 minutes, but hardly vincible for the Italians. About the same men that last year started the game with a 25-3 first-quarter run for David Andersen and teammates … the final two positions have no owner.
Next week, a devastated Fenerbahce Ulker (unified against Bogdan Tanjevic: that’s the problem) hosts Zalgiris Kaunas, apparently better under new coach Ramunas Butautas; Asvel meanwhile goes to Zagreb to play a high-pressure game in which defenses are going to take control. Fenerbahce and Asvel (3-6) have one more win than Zalgiris and Cibona, but the feeling is they are not favourites to reach the Top 16.
Group B shows three teams just qualified and two in trouble. Much depends on Unicaja Malaga, which will meet Lietuvos Rytas in Vilnius: if Unicaja loses, Olympiacos finishes first, the Lithuanians are in the Top 16, and Efes Pilsen Istanbul is out. Partizan Belgrade is in, assured of third place, but Efes must win in Orleans and hope to see Malaga win (difficult, since coach Aito gave 13 minutes to Rafa Freire, 15 to Augusto Lima, and 13 to Guillem Rubio in a surprising 88-72 home loss against Entente Orleanaise). Should the Turkish team be eliminated after the first stage, it would probably cost Ergin Ataman his post.
In Group C, Lottomatica Roma has lost a sixth consecutive game in its strange Euroleague season begun with successes over Baskonia and Moscow; Roma must now trust in Maccabi Tel Aviv (guaranteed third place in the group) to win its meaningless undertaking at Athens. If Maroussi BC upends Tel Aviv, however, the team would take the first Top 16 bid in its history. As for the race for first place, there’s the big collision in Moscow between CSKA and Caja Laboral to determine the group’s top dog.
Real Madrid could regret its poor stop in Poland. With Marko Jaric in the roster, Ettore Messina is goes to his native country for what is a sort of tiebreaker for AJ Milano. Milano must only defeat Madrid to reach the Top 16. In fact Asseco Prokom, at 3-6, holds an eight-point deficit to Milano and must beat already-qualified BC Khimki. So these two teams will tune in to hear to each other’s results. Real, on the other side, can’t lose, because Panathinaikos has an easy training match scheduled for next Wednesday in Oldenburg, and could gain the no. 1 position instead of two resonant lessons brought by Messina to Zelimir Obradovic.
Backup point guards
Milos Teodosic should have been the starter at the beginning of the season, leaving minutes and responsibilities to Theodoros Papaloukas when the ball is hot. Instead, Teodosic has mantained the maturity demonstrated at Eurobasket 2009, where he lead Serbia to the silver medal. He plays 26 minutes per game, scoring 11.6 points and dishing 3.8 assists: numbers heavily better than those of Papaloukas (5.7 and 7.6) and Yotam Halperin (8.3 and 1.6 in 18 mpg), with the Israeli now used as shooting guard just to free up space for Teodosic. The 22-year-old seems not to be suffering from their presence – over to Patrick Beverley, another candidate for the role – and Teodosic’s last exhibition in Istanbul, when he proved decisive in a panic game ending in overtime, showed that he is now a solid Euroleague point guard. And not even the recent acquisition of a veteran Scoonie Penn has shaken him.
In Belgrade, they are great at shipping in talented new US point guards year after year; the last example comes in the form of Bo McCalebb, now with nine double-digit scoring bids in nine Euroleague games. Against Lietuvos Rytas, McCalebb racked up five fouls in 19 minutes, leading coach Dusko Vujosevic to gives the keys to Aleksandar Rasic. Rasic answered with a personal season-high of 26 points and some smart direction. When Rasic played with Efes Pilsen Istanbul (March 2007), Dynamo Moscow and Alba Berlin (2007-08) he was one of the best prospects at his position due to his scoring ability, his height (he’s 195 cm tall) and youth (born in 1984). He didn’t find minutes elsewhere and so returned to Partizan. A good choice: Rasic is the ideal sixth man on a team which depends heavily on its bench. His other big game arrived with Olympiacos (25 points in 30 minutes), another blowout for the team. He deserves attention, even if he thinks twice about accepting an offer outside Serbia again.
The stats of Zoran Planinic (eight points and 1.4 assists in 21 minutes) and Nikos Zisis (6.2 and 2.4 in 18) don’t say a lot, but these guys are the reason why CSKA and Montepaschi could reach the Final Four. Behind two champions – albeit aged ones – like J.R. Holden (going on 34) and Terrell McIntyre (going on 33), they have a crucial role by getting the starters rest in their national leagues and in further supporting them during the Euroleague Top 16 games. Some positive signals have arrived from Planinic and Zisis, as they know the starting roles will be theirs from next season, when Holden and McIntyre should be leaving Moscow and Siena. A needed step ahead for Planinic and Zisis means seasons of exceeding expectations for the respective clubs.
Without Sergio Llull, it’s easier for Messina to divide minutes among Marko Jaric (who played 25), Pablo Prigioni (in the starting five alongside Jaric), Louis Bullock (15 points in 20 minutes off the bench). This time, Real Madrid played EWE Baskets, so what happens the opponents is tougher and all these guys plus Llull demand minutes? … When (and if) Efes Pilsen is eliminated, Ataman will have to explain the treatment reserved for Bostjan Nachbar, used just 19 minutes per game, and only 11 minutes each against Unicaja and Olympiacos in the last two … Union Olimpija Ljubljana has said goodbye to Tivoli Arena with a loss; from next season, they’ll play in the new Stozice Arena (12,500 seating capacity) … Someone should tell the Italian teams that games end at the last second of fourth quarter: at Khimki Moscow, Armani Jeans Milano closed the first 24 minutes down 39-38, only to suffer a 40-25 second half. Lottomatica Roma was 35-35 at Tel-Aviv in the first, then went a terrible 44-24 over the season … A knee injury befell Aleks Maric: He’s out one or two weeks…