The quest for the 2010-11 Euroleague title is officially reduced by 50% tonight as a full slate of games completes the Top 16 round of play; three games remain relevant to the final eight round and BallinEurope below takes a brief look at each, together with YouTubes and the ever-popular Fearless Predictions™. Enjoy the games!
• Unicaja vs. Panathinaikos – Would anyone have believed six weeks ago (hell, *two* weeks ago) that PAO just might be bounced from the big league before the final eight and that both Valencia and Lietuvos Rytas would advance? Probably not the PAO players themselves and certainly not BiE.
Tonight all the onus is on the Greek side, which now must win to advance while Unicaja plays for the proverbial pride at home; of course, when these teams met in week two, the Greens delivered perhaps the biggest beatdown not involving a team called “Cibona Zagreb” in the entire 2010-11 Euroleague season to back-breakingly dispose of the Malagans, 82-56.
It’s difficult to imagine a 27-point turnaround from the Spanish side, given the massive (so to speak) advantages underneath with mismatches created all over the place by the likes of Antonis Fotsis, Drew Nicholas and deadly Mike Batiste. Throw in the way Dimitris Diamantidis completely dominated backcourt play on defense in the last meeting, and all signs point to an egregious Euroleague exit by Unicaja tonight. Official BallinEurope Fearless Prediction™: Panathinaikos by a good 10 or 12.
• Lietuvos Rytas vs. Caja Laboral – Hey, if BiE can quote folks he’s never even met, BiE can quote himself. From the Shamless Self-Promotion Department, here’s the BallinEurope contribution to the Lithuanian Perspective’s weekly “The Wiseman Know” column: “L.Rytas is rolling despite less apparent talent than remaining EL teams. And BiE won’t bet against El-Amin anymore … Lietuvos Rytas wins.”
To elaborate further, aside from FC Barcelona, is there a hotter team in all of Europe than Lietuvos Rytas? Between Lithuanian and Euroleague play, the Black and Red is 17-3 in the past three months. And while the spanking delivered by Panathinaikos in Top 16 week one was quite embarrassing, the Lithuanian side redeemed itself nicely last week in Greece. In the Baskonia-L.Rytas match of week two, both teams employed short benches and Khalid El-Amin applied the dagger. A similar scenario awaits tonight, thinks BiE.
• Power Electronics Valencia vs. Fenerbahçe Ülker – These days, it appears the team most capable of beating Fenerbahçe is, well, Fenerbahçe. Demonstrating they came to play in week one of the Top 16 round, the Turkish side played an up-tempo game to register a stunning 14-point victory at Olympiacos. After polishing off groupmates Valencia and Žalgiris Kaunas, Fenerbahçe then suffered revenge at the hands of Žalgiris and finally the Reds.
The loss of Mirsad Turkcan has been huge for Fenerbahçe outside of Turkey (where the team has yet to lose in 2011); coupled with Gasper Vidmar’s absence tonight, the Turkish side may have too many holes to win this one in Spain.
Also in the minus column for Fenerbahçe (or the plus column for Valencia) is the potential mismatch whenever Omar Cook faces off against Sarunas Jasikevicius, who’s played somewhat lackluster ball since coming to Turkey. (Nearly twice as many turnovers as assists? Not a single-game player index rating of more than 5? Come on…) Jasikevicius and company did a reasonable job on Cook’s scoring in the last meeting between the teams, holding the dishmaster to 2-of-9 shooting, but were no match for the Valencia guard’s needlepoint-threading seven assists in that game.
There’s an outside chance, one supposes, that Roko Ukic in fact manages to control the tempo of the game, but once Valencia slows things down, BiE doesn’t believe Fenerbahçe has enough in half-court D to stop the patient Spanish side … or Mr. Cook. Official BiE Fearless Prediction™: Valencia by 5, Omar gets 10 assists. Further Fearless Prediction™: Valencia goes on to stun ACB rival Real Madrid in game one of the quarterfinals.