With four more tickets punched to the Euroleague 2009-10 Top 16, Francesco Cappelletti takes a look at what lies ahead for the top league’s remaining contenders.
Top 16 coming up
Four teams have just qualified for the Top 16: Regal FC Barcelona and Montepaschi Siena in Group A, CSKA Moscow in Group C, and Panathinaikos in Group D. It’s hilarious that a struggling CSKA could be the first to do so from among a group full of ambitious teams and in whom Lottomatica Roma simply killed itself by losing four consecutive matches, including a terrible show in Ljubljana. No surprises from Group B, whereas an announced balance between Efes Pilsen Istanbul, Unicaja Malaga, Olympiacos, has been made harder by strong – and maybe unexpected – performances by Partizan Belgrade and Lietuvos Rytas. Let’s take a look at other teams’ possibilities of reaching the next Euroleague step.
Group A. Barcelona and Siena are sure of qualification, all that remains is the question of who ends up first. But Xavi Pascual has a +19 point differential earned at Simone Pianigiani’s home, which is more than a guarantee. Behind them, Asvel Basket is established as third force, due to its five-point advantage on Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul, the other team at 3-4. At 1-6, Zalgiris Kaunas and Cibona Zagreb are too distant to dream of qualification. Maths hasn’t condemned them just yet, and anyway we have to give a little bit of credit to Bogdan Tanjevic and his presumed bulldozer-like squad.
Group B. Before the Euroleague 2009-10 season started, few of us thought Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius would be able to make a go at the Top 16. Same goes for Partizan Belgrade, another club that, like the Lithuanians, had demobilized much of what it had won in the last, glorious, season. Instead, Partizan have registered themselves at the top, between a disappointing Efes Pilsen Istanbul and an intermittent Olympiacos. Partizan (4-3) can count on an easier schedule, with Entente Orleannaise and Olympiacos on the road, then over to the shootout against Popovic and teammates, who are going to start with a 22-point margin earned in Vilnius one month ago. So Efes Pilsen risks taking advantage of that, because the schedule reserves them two home games (vs. Unicaja and almost-qualified Olympiacos) and a road match in France.
Group C. Caja Laboral still could claim first place; they have a 2-0 edge on Maccabi Tel-Aviv and have a final thrilling last match in Moscow, to whom the Spaniards will arrive after two easy games in Vitoria against Maroussi BC and Union Olimpija, while CSKA gets a not-so-yielding Maccabi next Thursday. Lottomatica Roma can only reach an unsatisfactory fourth place, in itself now in doubt due to the internal situation (Is coach Gentile in the twilight of his career there?), more than for a ranking that sees Maroussi BC one win behind and with a 12-point gap to overturn in Rome.
Group D. Since the beginning, it’s seemed Panathinaikos has toyed with its rivals, apart from the stop suffered in Madrid. The Greens have qualified, Real Madrid is close enough to the Top 16 that a win at Palacio Vistalegre against EWE Baskets Oldenburg will be enough. BC Khimki has third place in its sights, while Armani Jeans Milano must survive a win-and-stay game next week aginst Asseco Prokom, which has risen again thanks to the success in Madrid. The 88-83 win in Gdynia on November 4 could be crucial, and Piero Bucchi could regret that game as a badly wasted opportunity. However, for a club like Milano, a Top 16 obtained by three poor wins, two against EWE Baskets, one over the Polish, could sound cheeky.
Rawle Marshall is worthy of an elite European team; you have see him in action. Unfortunately, his mind doesn’t follow the body: We still remember that crazy boxing fight with Cibona Zagreb’s jersey. But as it stands, Asvel has made a blowout by carrying this forward to France.
In a group with two leaders and a boring balance back to them, Marshall is a real factor and is the reason why Asvel is set to reach the Top 16. He had 20 points and a 25 ranking against Zalgiris Kaunas, and a 15 and 21 in Turkey, probably the most important game of Asvel’s Euroleague history.
Sean Singletary is better than Chris Lofton, not for scoring but also for handling a backcourt. Caja Laboral has chosen the right combo guard to temporarily replace the injured Marcelinho Huertas. Numbers tell us what Pau Ribas will repeat when asked who his favourite teammate is: surely Sean Singletary. The young Spanish point guard has seen his stats increase since the arrival of the Virginia University alumnus.
Twenty-six total minutes between AJ Milano and BC Khimki for an useless Sarunas Jasikevicius. Panathinaikos has had more impact made by the readdition of previously injured Mike Batiste, with 17.3 points per game at 65% shooting from two points in three appearances.
1969-born Larry Lewis has worked very well during Georgios Printezis’ absence, averaging nine points in 19 minutes in three games with Unicaja Malaga. Now that the Greek power forward is available again, his contract could be at an end, particularly because coach Aito has the desire to launch Brazilian 18-year-old Augusto Cesar Lima, a boy who could be Lewis’ son.
Could Aleks Maric be a new Nikola Pekovic? The Australian-Serbian center looks like his precursor at Pionir: Beyond the big numbers (a 49 ranking and a 34+16 against Efes Pilsen’s big men), he dominates physically, just by putting himself in the right position near the basket … Zoran Planinic managed CSKA against Roma in better fashion than J.R. Holden. His time is coming … Martynas Gecevicius, Donatas Zavackas and Arturas Jomantas pile up 32.3 points combined per game, Igor Rakocevic, Charles Smith and Preston Shumpert manage 32. Which trio cost less? … Terrell McIntyre (at 6.7 per game) is doing his best to catch Theodoros Papaloukas (7.1) at the top of the assists per game chart – that duel is amazing…