By: Rob Scott / @robscott33
If the opening week of the Top 16 didn’t produce any upsets in terms of results, it did show us some drama in the way it played out. Real Madrid needed the genius of Nikola Mirotic to sneak away with a win at the buzzer in Malaga, Cantu pushed Barcelona hard and Zalgiris threw away a chance to defend their home floor against Maccabi.
Even the way CSKA only pulled away from Olympiacos in the second half was relatively surprising, given the dominance of the Red Army in the regular season and the player turnover in Piraeus.
Week one was an appetiser—Week two is why we’re here, and we have two possible Final Four matchups right off the bat.
Real Madrid vs. Montepaschi Siena
In Madrid, Nikola Mirotic will be missing through injury, which will probably mean more Felipe Reyes and also lets Siena off the hook in their biggest area of weakness in terms of depth without Ksistof Lavrinovic. It could mean an extended Novica Velickovic sighting, which would make everybody’s day, but don’t bet on it.
Interestingly, Madrid played some extreme smallball for a couple of fourth quarter minutes last week with Rodriguez, Llull and Carroll together and Kyle Singler at the four. Defensively, it’s a non-starter as far as serious minutes go, but it does allow them to stretch the floor to almost absurd lengths.
Varying this with Suarez at the three would reduce that risk but keep the spacing. Real are unbeaten at home in all competitions this season, but that changes this week, if Siena keep the game slow and keep Sergio Llull away from the rim.
Maccabi Tel Aviv vs. FC Barcelona
It’s a reinforced Maccabi backcourt, compared to the one that was swept aside by Real Madrid in Week eight of the Regular Season – Keith Langford has had time to settle, and now Demond Mallet is trying to show he can be the lead guard on a top level Euroleague team.
Barcelona made hard work of putting away CAI Zaragoza over the weekend, while Maccabi let a talented-but-dumb Zalgiris team hang around and then come back into the game in the Top 16 opener. Sonny Weems put up only 2 points and a -8 ranking, and Maccabi probably can’t count on both Pete Mickael and Chuck Eidson (in his return to Tel Aviv) following that bad example.
Pride would never allow them to admit this, but Maccabi will be hoping Juan Carlos Navarro can’t go at full speed just yet.
Barcelona’s centres have both the interior strength to matchup with Big Sofo and the athleticism to cope with Richard Hendrix (who Maccabi don’t seem desperate to keep, although the price is steep) and I’m taking the visitors to shade this in the final minute.
CSKA Moscow vs. Anadolu Efes
It would be one of the shocks of the tournament so far if Efes manages to win in Moscow, but I’m at least a little curious to see how that game plays out. We saw Dusko Savanovic’s play as a stretch four carry an average Valencia team to within one game of the Final Four last season and if he gets hot from behind the arc, forcing Khryapa out to the perimeter, it could be interesting.
In The Game made the very astute point that Ramunas Siskauskas presents a matchup problem at the two spot for most teams, so if Efes counters with Tarence Kinsey, that battle could be epic. None of this means that CSKA won’t be able to score easily enough to win the game handily against Efes’ flimsy interior defense, but I would be surprised if this is a blowout.
Panathinaikos vs. UNICS Kazan
Another game between two 1-0 teams and PAO will be the favourites at home, even if Dimitris Diamantidis can’t go. The Greens have only had to play a few minutes without him to call on and it didn’t go well, after he fouled out late in the week four loss home to CSKA. UNICS are no CSKA though, and Nick Calathes should be able to take over for this game without feeling the pressure.
If Petr Samoylenko approaches 16 points and 10 assists against an Obradovic team on the road then something is definitely afoot. UNICS can shoot it up from outside but in Perperoglu and Kaimakoglu, the PAO has the length to close them out.
Boki Nachbar should make his Kazan debut but this isn’t the place to get your sea legs back. It won’t be an easy game, but Panathianikos takes it.
Elsewhere, there are some great face-offs between winless teams, all of which demonstrate further why the current Top 16 format is perfect. All of the teams below will be going in thinking ‘must win’.
Bennet Cantu vs. Zalgiris Kaunas
The thinking man’s favourite player, Tomas Van Den Spiegel certainly thinks Cantu’s home gym offers them a huge advantage, and he’s played there often enough.
So if Zalgiris can come away with a win, that would wipe away a whole load of bad vibes from their campaign so far. But with Dejuan Collins still prominently involved in key situations, I would keep your faith in Cantu, and not just for the venue.
Fenerbahce vs. EA7 Milano
Spahija’s men threw away a big lead on the road in Kazan last week, and still aren’t making the most of a skillful roster. They should still have the depth of talent to put away Milano, a team in crisis whether they want to admit it or not.
This is also the first game at the new Ulker Sports Arena and a sellout crowd is expected. Malik Hairston carried Milano limping over the finish line into the Top 16 and without him they’re even weaker.
Fenerbahce should take it by double figures, and yes, that’s how bad I think this Milano team is.
Gescrap Bilbao vs. Unicaja Malaga
Malaga almost pulled off a small miracle in beating Real Madrid without Joel Freeland, but fell to an astonishing Nikola Mirotic buzzer beater (and it didn’t look like a travel, watch where he picks up his dribble and which foot he jumps off).
Luka Zoric’s Stakhanovite effort was all for nothing. Malaga fell to Assignia Manresa on Saturday, and while that’s no disgrace, Luka’s body must be aching.
Bilbao didn’t really trouble Siena on the road, and this should be another close one. Unicaja won the ACB matchup at home just into the New Year, but they’ll have to do without Joel Freeland’s 18 points this time.
It’s a tough ask, and I’ll take Bilbao at home.
Galatasaray vs. Olympiacos
It might not be the most enticing game talentwise, but it will be the best atmosphere. The Reds performed credibly at home to CSKA and were in the game for 20 minutes, which is more than some teams can say.
Galatasaray is really going to have to beat somebody good to announce themselves as a Top 16 team, but with Vasilis Spanoulis showing no signs of slowing down and Kyle Hines putting in one of the most impressive performances in recent memory for a sub-2.00m post player, they might find it tough this week.
Songaila and Shumpert haven’t given Galata the production they’d have been hoping for upfront and neither can stretch the floor sufficiently against good teams, shooting 36.4 percent and 32.3 percent from midrange, respectively.
It will take a big night from Jamon Lucas or Jaka Lakovic for the home team to take this.