By Rob Scott / @robscott33
FC Barcelona (2nd Group E, 11-3 Top 16, 20-4 overall) vs Olympiacos (3rd Group F, 10-4 Top 16, 18-6 overall)
Who is the favourite?
If both of these teams were all healthy, I’m not sure that there would be a favourite. With Vassilis Spanoulis and Othello Hunter suiting up for Game One uncertain of being able to contribute, it’s probably FC Barcelona. But if Olympiacos manages to come away from the Catalan coast with a split, anything is possible. Hell, anything is possible even if they come back to Piraeus 0-2 but healthy, just look at the Real Madrid series last year.
Even though it’s tough to argue with Spanoulis’ credentials, Barcelona have the best player in the series in Ante Tomic. Whether it’s a push to make the NBA jump in the summer, or just the culmination of a player reaching his peak, the Croatian big man is destroying everything in his path. He is probably the best passing centre in the world right now, and Olympiacos will have to be very careful if they deploy their favoured hedge-and-trap defense. Tomic might not be a playmaker off the dribble above the three-point line but he can swing the ball to where it needs to go. If Hunter can’t play, or is limited in what he can offer, the job of guarding Tomic will fall to Bryant Dunston, who is undersized and not in good form. Tomic can exploit that matchup in the post, and if the Reds have to double then Barça have no end of shooters to exploit the space.
Xavi Pascual is the master of in-series adjustments, so it’s unlikely that Giannis Sfairopoulos will be able to employ the same defense the whole way through. That’s likely to be one of the biggest factors.
Any chance of an upset?
As above, if Spanoulis and Hunter can play through their injuries, then Olympiacos is in with a shout. They can spread out any defense with the shooting of Matt Lojeski, Kostas Sloukas, crucially Brent Petway from the stretch four position. Vangelis Mantzaris might be the best on-ball defender in the competition, and Oliver Lafayette and Tremmel Darden can also both shut down tough matchups. Clearly the presence or otherwise of Spanoulis is going to be crucial to whether the Reds’ offense can merely survive, or thrive, but they took CSKA to a close game without him in Week 13. Hunter could be the bigger loss, as heretical as that sounds. Tomic’s heroics haven’t always resulted in Barcelona victories, and the Greeks have a toughness advantage upfront, with Printezis and Petway going up against Macej Lampe and Boki Nachbar.
Almost certainly extraneous numerical factoid
In this season’s Euroleague, Tibor Pleiss averages one assist per 54 minutes.
Explanatory Vine / GIF / Meme
Shame the Euroleague transfer deadline has passed?
Who is going to win then?
Olympiacos to overcome the injury worries somehow but Barcelona still prevails in the narrowest of 3-2 epics.