The Euroleague regular season isn’t starting with a bang but it is starting the way we deserve, Emmet Ryan writes on why it is still compelling viewing.
It’s been far too long irrespective of what the calendar actually says. Domestic leagues are back across Europe, the World Cup only ended four weeks ago, the youth tournaments of the summer were particularly interesting, we shouldn’t be needy but here we are. Tonight Saski Baskonia and Neptunas get the Euroleague under way.
Since the Top 16 switched from 6 to 14 games, the regular season has taken a hit. It is, after all, visibly less of a factor in the grand scheme of things now. Save for the utterly salivating Group C, we already have a good idea of who will be playing the games that matter. Yet here we are, all desperate for the big return.
Jockeying for position doesn’t mean as much when the next stage is comprised of 8 rather than 4 team groups. Getting there suffices. No, that’s not what is getting the blood up across the continent right now.
It’s because Nanterre happens. It’s because on some random Thursday night when there is a much bigger game on, some team that is just happy to be there is going to shock a power. It’s because those teams who are meant to have no hope of the Top 16, never mind the playoffs, are going to treat every game like the title is at stake. It’s because even with Freak City playing EuroCup, the relentless power of hope is going to see Goliath bleed, even if he doesn’t fall.
There’s a comic book story line in one of the many Batman vs Superman spinoffs DC did. You know the fundamentals, Superman is too perfect while Batman is only powerful because of all his cool stuff. Well anyway, in one of them Superman totally loses it and Batman builds a device so he can get in one clean punch on Superman. Batman knows, in the long run, that he’s toast but if he can get that one clean shot in everybody else is going to see that nobody is unbeatable.
Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv know all about that kind of inspiration, they were the outsiders in Milan before CSKA CSKA’d and then they kept punching a seemingly invincible Real Madrid team in the nose until Pablo Laso’s side fell for good. Most seasons, the biggest dog in the yard should win but oh so often it’s not the team we think going into the Final Four that lifts the big one.
It’s here, in the regular season, that those of us who know nobody is unstoppable that the seed is planted. Across the continent, something is going to happen that will make Twitter explode. Something is going to happen that for a moment will seem incredible and by the morning become an afterthought. Then another thing will happen and another. For 10 weeks we’re going to see a lot of results go exactly the way we expect but the outliers will get us thinking.
That’s why we watch the regular season. That’s why most observers, casual or expert, will feel they can name 12 Top 16 teams before a ball is tipped and probably 6 playoff teams but still be drawn to game between two sides nobody outside of Vitoria or Klaipeda believes can go all the way, and in truth for one few outside of Klaipeda believe can win tonight.
It’s not enough to know, we need to see it. Blowout, sluggish strolls, error filled clunkers, the lot. We need to watch and vent our frustration on Twitter when we can’t because ‘buffering’ or ‘the circles’. It is compelling because we want to be wrong, we don’t want to know when, and if we’ve got a dog in this fight we don’t want it break against us.
So yeah, come the Top 16 we’ll joke about how that is the real regular season. The games will carry more tension, meaning, and probably more quality. These 10 rounds will be an after thought, only being referenced if and when a team that went 10-0 finally falters. Yet we are still going to watch. And it all comes back to that one thing we know with more certainty than anything else.
There will be a Nanterre. It’s time to feel some devotion.