By: Sam Meyerkopf, Sir Robert Scott, & Savas Birdal

Yes folks, basketball is back upon us!  Kicking off the hoops season is the Euroleague Qualifying Round.  In past years there have been two spots up for grabs but this year the decision makers for Europe’s best league decided to simplify the system and now we have eight teams fighting for just one spot.  The fireworks will go down in Desio, Italy and will tip off this Tuesday the 25th.  So log onto Twitter, grab your team scarf of choice, suck back a Peroni, and tune into some fresh Euroleague action.  I’ve invited Euroleague media partner Savas Birdal of Euro-Step.net to join in on this Qualifying Round preview fun and of course we brought along our favorite British hoops expert, Sir Robert Scott.

The Big Bad Favorite

Sam: Bennet Cantu

I was very much tempted to go with UNICS Kazan here because of their torrid offseason bringing in Marko Banic, Kostas Kaikamaglu, and Chuck Eidson but with such an early season tournament, team philosophy and chemistry will reign supreme over talent. At least that’s what Galatasaray showed me last season.  Some players are gone but with a few core pieces like Maarty Leunen, Manuchar Markioshvilli, Marko Scekic, and Nicolas Mazzarion still in the fold, teamwork will prosper.  And that’s not to forget the biggest piece of the puzzle, Coach Andrea Trinchieri is still steering this ship.  Also not to be forgotten, this game is being played in Cantu’s house and if you remember from last year, those fans can bring it.

Sir Robert: UNICS Kazan

Last year’s Qualifying Rounds saw both home teams advance to the final, and an upset in Charleroi making it through to the big stage. This year, Bennet Cantu host the slimmed down, single play-in tourney, and with one of Europe’s biggest homecourt advantages, they should be difficult to beat. Looking solely at names on the roster, Unics Kazan has to be the overwhelming favourite. Henry Domercant may have departed, but over the summer proven Euroleague winning talent like Chuck Eidson, Marko Banic, Kostas Kaimakoglu and Ian Vougioukas have arrived. Russian team, full of elite names, big favorites, doesn’t that sound familiar? The difference between Kazan and last year’s BC Khimki team is that it has been assembled more than three days in advance of the tournament.

Savas: UNICS Kazan

Unics Kazan is the only team in the qualifiers that pays several of its players in seven figures and thus the clear favorites. As much as I don’t favor the coaching change from Pashutin to Aco Petrovic, they still have all the necessary components to overcome the competition that will be provided in Desio. Looking at the names on the roster, this team definitely deserves its chance to play in the regular season, but when the games start, challengers like Cantu and Donetsk will make it sure that it won’t be easy for the Tatar team. Last year’s Khimki is a good example of what could happen to them in case of any complacency. Euroleague Qualifying Round is the last place that tolerates teams who take it easy.

Team I’d Like To See Make It To The Euroleague

Sam: BC Donetsk

As a sucker for prospects, my eyes become flashing bulbs when they see that we might have the chance to see EUROCAMP MVP Oleksandr Lypovyy in the Euroleague this year. Please?!  Add him to a group that could be very solid and contend for a Top 16 birth, I want all of it. Doron Perkins should be fully healthy and his attacking style should blend nicely with bangers D’Or Fischer and Kaloyan Ivanov in the post.  Donetsk will be a tough matchup for anyone, beware.

Sir Robert: Ratiopharm Ulm

Ratiopharm Ulm finished runner up in the German BBL last season but Alba Berlin and their AEG-owned arena was parachuted into the Regular Season. The actual second best team in Germany deserves its Euroleague shot, but unfortunately is playing Kazan first. What did their owner say to Jordi? Must have been something bad.

Savas: Bennet Cantu

Andrea Trinchieri won the hearts of many Euroleague fans this season with the style of game he got Cantu to play and I would love to see him have another shot in the Euroleague.  It won’t be easy for sure, as the Italian team lost key pieces like Giorgi Shermadini, Vladimir Micov and Gianluca Basile. It wasn’t long before Trinchieri’s team made its case though. Cantu’s display against Siena in the Italian Super Cup final proves that they will again be one of the toughest teams to beat and I’m looking forward to a possible Kazan-Cantu matchup in the final stage of the qualifiers.

Delicious Dark Horse Candidate 

 Sam: Le Mans

I’m not sure what it is about this guy, but Khalid El-Amin just has a will to win.  A couple years ago it was guiding a Lietuvos Rytas team to a near Euroleague Playoff birth and now it could be bringing a second French team into the Euroleague.  El-Amin should also be fully healthy and ready to general this squad as far as his energy tank can take them.  His biggest enemy, abundant amounts of Italian cuisine. But if the game is on the line, I’d throw a double team on him at all costs, I hope you remember this:

Sir Robert: BC Oostende

BC Donetsk isn’t a traditional big name of European basketball but has spent too much money to be considered a dark horse. BC Oostende won the Belgian league last season and they’re on the simpler side of the bracket. They are definitely capable of beating CEZ Nymburk and then with Tomas van den Spiegel anchoring the defense, perhaps Belgium will continue its run of qualifying success.

Savas: BC Dontesk

Acquiring Euroleague caliber talent in D’or Fischer, Doron Perkins, Darius Songaila and Kaloyan Ivanov, BC Donetsk has certainly made a name for themselves during the summer of 2012. It will be again newly signed coach Vlada Jovanovic’s job to mash that talent in one pot and make things work.  They surely have enough talent to make things tough for the likes of Kazan and Cantu. Individually, the team looks experienced, but as a whole the name BC Donetsk of Ukraine is foreign to the Euroleague. The idea of getting through the pressure caused by the unfamiliar territories could easily turn into a train wreck if things don’t work out as they expected.  But under the leadership of their veterans, it might just be good enough.