As you probably noticed before, we do have some of Europe’s finest journalists and experts telling us what they think about the Euroleague or Basketball in general. To be honest, it makes us very proud that these people take the time to write down their thoughts. Latest expert: Yarone Arbel. If you follow the Euroleague or FIBA you prob ably have read many of his great articles all around the web. Here is a very detailed article what Yarone thinks about the Top8 and especially about “his” team Maccabi Tel Aviv:
Maccabi Tel Aviv model 2007/08 is probably one of the biggest riddles in the last years of European basketball. They hold the home court advantage against AXA Barcelona – a team who don’t perform very well so far, especially on the road, which makes them a favorite to book tickets to Madrid in about four weeks. Keeping in mind the myth of Nokia Arena, pretty much any team, not just this year’s AXA, would be the underdog in this series and this situation. Keep in mind – Maccabi never lost a Euroleague series in which it had the Home Court Advantage, and never won one when it didn’t have the HCA. One small history lesson – in 1999/00, the season in which Maccabi came back to the top of Europe, they lost the first game at home against Paf Bologna (Basile was a kid on that team if I’m not wrong), but still managed to recover and won the following two games (the one in Bologna is one of the best in the team’s history when Nate Huffman set an all-time Euroleague game record of 19/19 from the line). That was the first and last time in Euroleague’s history a team lost the first game at home but still prevailed.
Ok, back to the topic. Why it’s a riddle? Because it comes to a quarter-finals series with the HCA and as favorites despite some very basic facts:
Maccabi has no real point guard, or at least not one in shape – Cummings in vast majority of the games simply contributes…nothing. Maybe-maybe some good minutes here and there. Nothing more. The second option is…Will Bynum which u really don’t want as your point guard. Maccabi’s best guard this season is Yotam Halperin, who had some issues himself before he becomes a crème-de-la-crème player. Halperin is a good, even very good Euroleague guard at times, but certainly not one off the charts.
Nikola Vujcic was missing almost the entire regular season, and in many games in the top16 (of the four he played) he was very-very limited in his moves – couldn’t really jump or run.
Marcus Fizer who became the leader of the team in the second round of the regular season was eliminated in the first half of the first Top16 game, and won’t play against this season. He was a starter in Maccabi and a very very important player since coach Sherf took over.
Tal Burstein who was suppose to be a starter as well played his first minutes of the season only on Thursday night in an Israeli league game.
No real point guard in Maccabi? Well, they don’t really have a good small forward. David Bluthenthal is a great shooter but that’s about it and in most games he’s not giving even that. Omri Casspi had some great performances but he’s still a 20 year old prospect. Not a big time small forward. Alex Garcia is a guard, or if you insist an under-under sized small forward. That’s all Maccabi has to offer in this position.
So…what did we have? No big time point guard. No big time small forward. Halperin is the best back court guard. Two VERY crucial inside players were missing for very very long stretches. Yet…they are still here as favorites to be in the F4.
If you’re going to say this means the level of the Euroleague went down, well, I disagree. Maccabi is in this position because they play good basketball since Sherf took over. They top the Euroleague index rating with big distance from second place, miss only one three pointer to lead the Euroleague in points per game, 2nd in 2FG% and 3FG% with less than a 1% distance from first place and top in assists (almost 100 more than second place…). These aren’t numbers of a team that is in this position cause of luck or an easy draw (Ahem..Tau).
Then why? Good question. Not sure I got all the answers. Surely they have a great bench with players like Sharp, Batista, Garcia (one of the most under rated players in the league) and co. that come off the bench ready to eat you alive. For me it’s much better than to have on the bench big time stars like Planinic or Becirovic that don’t have the mentality of aggressiveness bench players should have. Another reason is an unbelieveable performance, especially in the top16 of Terence Morris. If you have no idea what I’m talking about watch Maccabi’s Top16 games and you won’t need me to tell you more. He’s the true MVP of the season, no matter who’s going to eventually win it. And maybe most important – they clicked. They really play like a team, each knows his spot, they have a great momentum and confidence, and most times that’s all that it takes to make it to the Final Four.
I go with Maccabi in this series. My guts see a win in Barcelona so I’ll go with 2-0 but in case it’s pure hunger and my guts mislead me, I don’t see AXA win game three here in Tel Aviv. The only one in AXA who can do it is Pepe. If they make it, then it’s only his fault.
If I may, a line about the other match ups in the QFs.
MPS – FenerUlker: Turks are here cause of the easy draw they got. MPS is here for a reason. They are for real. 2-0 and a third performance in six years for the club of Siena.
Tau – Partizan: Tau will advance. I don’t see Partizan win in Vitoria. Too crazy. Tau got the most difficult group in the regular season, but such an easy in the top16 and even when they were about to meet Pao despite winning the group, came the biggest upset and matched them in the quarters with Partizan. Neven and Zoran are two Croats that will need to survive Pionir somehow. Perharps they won’t. If they do its because of Igor, who has a habit to down Partizan, but I see here a 2-1 Tau.
CSKA – Olympiacos: I’ll go with the upset here. No Pao and no CSKA in the final four. A new ear in European basketball. I also predict the Euroleague champ will come from this series. If anyone can stop CSKA is Yannakis and Olympiacos. Even if they lose it’s going to be by very small margins. I see here three very low-score and close games with pressure coming down too big on CSKA in game three. Olympiacos, with nothing to lose and a great momentum, has enough guys with big balls to make winning plays in game 3 (Vassilopolous, Macas – who already shocked CSKA in Moscow back in 2005 and there are more). The champs will wear red. If they celebrate in Moscow or Piraeus…we shall wait and see. I see another “I told my players to have patience” speech of Paganiotis.
Then again…don’t listen to me. I usually have no idea what I’m talking about.