By: Sam Meyerkopf / @HoopLikeDrazen
After two days, four games, and Darryl Watkins’ best game ever, we are done with Round One of the Euroleage Qualifying Round. If you missed our Qualifying Round Preview with Sir Robert Scott and Savas Birdal, you can catch it here. Stay tuned after Round Two for a preview of the Finals. Now, our semifinal match-ups are:
Mapooro Cantu vs. CEZ Nymburk
Unics Kazan vs. Le Mans Sarthe
And no, I don’t have any idea of what or who is a “Mapooro”. But to give you idea of how the teams have fared so far and what to expect in the next couple days, here’s a power rankings of sort because it’s not just a problem, it’s a full on internet addiction we all have to rankings.
1. Mapooro Cantu
My pre-QR prediction that they’re the tournament favorite has nothing to do with this ranking, I promise. Cantu took punch after punch from a feisty PBC Lukoil Academic Sofia and never backed down. Jerry Smith looked solid in his full on Euro transition and was able to push the ball from the point guard spot when necessary. New big man Alex Tyus was super active on both ends of the floor and looks even more polished as a rebounder and finisher. Finally Manuchar Markoishvili at 27 years old with 11 years of pro ball experience, might have finally put it all together. The Georgian forward was efficient shooting the ball and was Cantu’s go-to scorer down the stretch. He finished with 15 points and looked smooth on every one of them. Coach Andrea Trinchieri guided his team to another close win and with him at the helm, it’s hard not to have faith in this team late in games. CEZ Nymburk will provide a tough test, especially if AJ Abrams and Mike Taylor stay hot from distance, but with a home crowd and a team where so early in the season it seems players already know their roles, Cantu should float into the finals.
2. Unics Kazan
Most would have them at number one with their plethora of talent, but I’m worried. Chuck Eidson is not back to super utility man yet, but he’s getting there. Terrell Lyday and Mire Chatman had great shooting days, which is not always to be expected. Even though they were not a finely tuned machine on Tuesday, Unics kept it together in the first half and then blew the socks off of Ratiopharm Ulm in the second. If they can figure out which lineups prosper together and how best to incorporate Eidson and Kostas Kaimakoglou into the offense, then the skies the limit. Le Mans plays much more of a team game and slowing down Khalid El-Amin will be priority number one for the men from Russia. They scored 91 against Ulm with really one half of solid basketball and two wonderful shooting performances, Le Mans put up 61 and worked hard for all it. Now is the time to gel Unics and you better do it quickly.
3. Le Mans Sarthe
This team didn’t do a ton of things well but Khalid El-Amin righted the ship, they buckled down on defense and they ran into a still trying-to-figure-things-out BC Donetsk squad. El-Amin ran the pick and roll beautifully with Alain Koffin, providing Le Mans with a go-to scoring play when the chips are down. Their problem will be defending all of Unics offensive weapons and being able to spread out Unics with better outside shooting. Only two guys, El-Amin and Cameron Long, hit treys against Donetsk. All these little things might matter, but when it comes down to it, El-Amin will have to take over for stretches if they want to play in the QR Finals.
4. CEZ Nymburk
They looked up and down at times against Oostende but pulled away when they needed to. AJ Abrams and Mike Taylor were brilliant offensively and couldn’t miss from anywhere on the court at times. The key for Nymburk will be what to do when or if they fall behind. They played with the lead for most of the game versus Oostende and with Abrams and Taylor lighting it up, running solid plays on offense didn’t really matter. The problem will be when they’re down and don’t really have a pass-first, get everyone else involved point guard to rely on. Will they be able to shoot themselves back in the game then? I find it less likely, especially with the way Cantu is able to play so solidly late in games. Great win in the opening round but looks like the bus might stop here.