By: Sam Meyerkopf / @euro_adventures
4 Open Top 16 Spots
5 Deciding Games
2 Days Of Pure BEDLAM
Welcome to the last week of the regular season, where teams find out if they make the first Euroleague cut. Get your holiday shopping in during the day, because your nights are going to be filled with basketball fireworks.
Wednesday 8:00 PM: Panathinaikos (6-3) vs. Brose Baskets (3-6)
Situation (Group B): Brose needs a win and a Zalgiris lose to advance.
Panathinaikos has already advanced and they are stuck in the two hole of this group no matter what happens this week. Zeljko Obradovic will keep his key guys somewhat rested, but by no means does he want to lose this game. Brose has already taken care of Panathinaikos in a shocking win in Bamberg, so Pana will have a little bit of a itch to scratch back home.
The past few weeks Marcus Slaughter and PJ Tucker have formed a beastly post combo and have been flying all over their opponents. The guard play and big man depth when Slaughter and Tucker exit the game have been the biggest problems for Bamberg. Julius Jenkins has the ability to change the offense for both good and bad as we saw against Unicaja (23 points) and then against Zalgiris (3 points, -7 rank). Between Jenkins, Anton Gavel, Casey Jacobsen, and Brian Roberts they need to step up and knock down perimeter shots so Pana doesn’t clog the paint on defense. Roberts has shown the ability to step up in big moments in big games, hopefully for Brose’s sake he can in Athens.
Wednesday 8:00 PM: Zalgiris (3-6) vs. KK Zagreb (2-7)
Situation (Group B): With a win Zalgiris advances. With a win and a Brose lose, Zagreb enters a three-way tie for fourth place.
|Best record in head-to-head games between all tied teams.|
|Higher cumulative score difference in head-to-head games between all tied teams.|
|Higher cumulative score difference for the entire Regular Season.|
|Higher total of points scored for the entire Regular Season.|
|Higher sum of quotients of points in favor and points against of each match played.|
Here are the records for the three teams against each other:
Brose Baskets (1-3): W vs. KK Zagreb 96-65, L at KK Zagreb 74-86
L at Zalgiris 70-81, L vs. Zalgiris 68-82
Zalgiris (2-1): W vs. Brose 81-70, W vs. Brose 82-68
L at KK Zagreb 78-80,
KK Zagreb (2-1): W vs. Zalgiris 80-78
L at Brose 65-96, W vs. Brose 86-74
If there is a three team tie then the best record against the teams in total will advance. This means that if Zagreb wins tonight they will have the best record at 3-1 and will advance.
This all sounds kind of crazy right, Zagreb advancing, what?
Well a simple home win versus the team in last place (Zagreb) is all Zalgiris has to do for us to throw out all of this tiebreaker insaneness. Seems easy right? Well nothing has been that easy with this Zalgiris team this season, who will have their first winning streak of the season if they win this week.
Zagreb has already beaten Zalgiris and they will have more than enough motivation to play with a Top 16 spot on the line. To think when they were getting blown out by 40 points and at 0-4, this Zagreb team would have a chance at making the next round, crazy. Zagreb never gave up and under the offensive wizardry of Krunoslav Simon, they have pieced together a season better than most thought they would. Zagreb though is in dire need of a bonkers shooting night from both Josh Heytvelt and Sean May, who are both dually capable.
This is the first in a string of arenas I will discuss that are going to be at a different level of loud on game night. Hopefully Zalgiris doesn’t fold under the pressure and Zagreb doesn’t play scared.
Thursday 8:00 PM: Bennet Cantu (5-4) vs. Fenerbahce Ulker (5-4)
Situation (Group A): If Fenerbahce wins or Caja Laboral beats Bilbao, they advance.
Cantu is undefeated at home and has a real knack for winning close games late. They have a spot already sown up in the next round, but there will be some real pride on the line with their unblemished home record. Ulker is fighting for their Euroleague lives and coming off a 10 point lose at home, they should have a fire lit under them as well.
Marko Tomas is finally back from injury but he still looked a little sluggish last week and only scored a point. Tomas wasn’t the only problem for Fenerbahce , as they got outrebounded by 13 last week against Bilbao and will need to crash the boards harder in Cantu. The guy I look at and really want to see a stellar game from is James Gist. He’s had some good performances this year and some incredible highlights, but a full game of Gist basketball has yet to come to fruition. If Gist can dominate the paint in Italy and get a little help from his friends Oguz Savas, Gaspir Vidmar, and Kaya Peker, then with their backs against the wall Ulker should have enough momentum to hang with Cantu at home.
Thursday 8:00 PM: Bilbao Basket (4-5) vs. Caja Laboral (5-4)
Situation (Group A): If either team wins, they advance. Caja also advances if Fenerbahce loses.
If I could pick any game this week to go to, it would be this one. Bilbao has already sold out the game and the crowd will be a few steps away from a riot scene all game (and maybe a real one after). Not only is this a battle to advance to the Top 16, it’s a battle for the Basque Country. Which team will go forward this season in the Euroleague representing the most basketball crazy region of Spain?
The advantage for Bilbao in this game is that they play better at home and in the history of basketball, the home team usually wins in deciding games. They also already took care of Caja in Vitoria a few weeks ago. On top of that the two most critical positions on the court (point guard and center) have started to solidify with the steadier play of both Aaron Jackson and D’Or Fischer. Both have played relatively average during the regular season but have broken out recently, especially D’Or (16 and 10 last week).
Caja has the Euroleague’s leading scorer in Mirza Teletovic, All-Euroleaguer Fernando San Emeterio, and veteran clutch shot maker Pablo Prigioni in tow. These three will account for more than half of Caja’s points and have the ball at all important moments of the game. The good news for Caja, I don’t know of many other three-person combos I’d rather go to war with.
Thursday 8:45 PM: Partizan (4-5) vs. Armani Milano (3-6)
Situation (Group C): Partizan just needs to win to advance; Milano needs to win by more than four.
Wow, that Partizan comeback a few weeks ago looks a lot bigger now. Five weeks ago Partizan got out of their end of the third quarter huddle down by 17 points in Milano. Milano managed to sulk in the 4th and Partizan mounted one of the greatest Euroleague comebacks ever.
With Nikola Pekovic now catching Ricky Rubio entry passes in Minnesota, Partizan has turned into a different team. They’ve lost their last two games and haven’t looked like a shell of the offense they had with Pek. Milano on the other hand was recently riding a four game losing streak until they stomped all over Spirou last week and kept their advancing hopes alive. Ionnis Bourousis needs to take advantage of Pek’s absence and go after it in the paint. The Bourousis-Macvan matchup will be one to watch all game.
When it comes down to it Milano has better scorers, but every opponent is affected by Pionir. Belgrade, on Thursday night, will be as close to a war zone as you can get without the weapons. You won’t be able to hear your teammate talking next to you, any type of play called from the sideline will be muffled be the intense chants of the crowd, and you might want to learn some new hand signals before the game. Milano better be ready to go to battle, or they’ll be stormed of the court. I hope for Milano’s sake Omar Cook can at least be a decent floor general.