By: Nick Gibson, Sam Meyerkopf and Rob Scott
(From now until the Final Four, we’ll be taking a look at the dozen teams who couldn’t make it out of the Top 16. They are: The 75%.)
Previously on The 75%:
Regular Season: Five wins, five losses, third place in Group C
Top 16: Three wins, Three losses, second place in Group H
Sexiest Win: 82-74 vs. Maccabi Electra, February 2. Sexy enough to get Cantu’s playoff hopes higher than they’d ever been, or would ever be.
Ugliest Loss: 86-61 at Olympiacos, December 15. Losing to a Final Four team is no calamity. Losing by 25, however…
Why It Broke
Nick: So here we are. That time when we hang about, telling you that ‘broke’ is the wrong word simply because Cantu took mediocre expectations, bent them over Andrea Trinchieri’s knee and gave ’em a thorough ass whoopin’. But Cantu’s better than that now; they deserve nor expect any forgiveness on our part. These guys are a serious ball club, with as many serious reasons for hope as they’ve got serious roster concerns going into the offseaon. As far as the latter goes, my partner Slam will address a key statistical fault in the paragraph below (rhymes with “melounding”), and the other is the issue of finding a next-level game changer that can take a frustratingly steady Cantu pace and kick it into overdrive when the situation dictates. A five week stretch between weeks four and eight produced five win/loss margins of three points or fewer, making Cantu the most unexpectedly intriguing draw of the regular season. They went 3-2 in that span, proving they belonged, but now it’s time to do more. It’s time to reflect, forget, get better and win.
Sam: Not a whole lot wrong with Andrea Trinchieri and his troops. They were on the brink of the Playoffs and then who knows what would have happened. Having a healthy Doron Perkins for more than just two games would have changed everything With two narrow losses to Final Four participant Regal Barcelona in the Top 16, the phase’s worst rebounding team could have used a bit more size, especially when Giorgi Shermandini was taking a breathier. One of the biggest differences between the Euroleague’s middle class and its elite teams is how deep their bench goes and how many bigs they can rotate into the line up. Cantu did the most with what they had, but fell just a step and a post player or two short of continuing their Cinderella story.
Rob: This team went 5-5 in the Regular Season and 3-3 in the Top 16. So, they were the definition of average, no? No! They were the slowest paced team in the Top 16, but executed at a highly efficient rate, and featured in some of the competition’s most dramatic games. They cut and screened to within a Navarro flop of making the playoffs – it may have been frustrating to play against but it was a pleasure to watch.
How They Fix It
Nick: Usually he’s Charmander. On occasion, Charmeleon. And right when you need him least, Manuchar Markoishvili evolves into God damn Manucharizard. You know, the Top 16 week six MVP? In his first five Top 16 games, Markoishvili had scored 31 total points; in the finale, he dropped 32. That’s why fire Pokémon can never be trusted; they’re just too volatile. Trinchieri’s at his best when he’s coaching water Pokémon like Vladimir Micov, whose cool stream of consistency froze the opposition into an agitated state of icy unrest. Cantu will need to add a Squirtle or two to develop on the bench, they should keep their Wartortle (Doron Perkins, duh.), and no Pokédex is complete without a fully grown Blastoise to pressure wash away those close losses down the stretch.
Sam: With Shermandini most likely headed back to Panathinaikos next season, filling the paint with capable giants is of high priority. With Trinchieri at the helm, I have faith he can devise a winning plan with anyone that gets put on the floor, making the basketball culture in Cantu great and somewhere players should want to come play. Cantu was able to cultivate a lot of talent this year and progress players to new levels of glory, now they need to continue that system for any new players that sign up.
Rob: It’s not so much what they need to change, as who they need to keep, starting with coach Andrea Trinchieri. One of the most efficient players of the Top 16 was Giorgi Shermadini, who finished fourth in PIR, but he was on loan from Panathinaikos, who must be pencilling him in to step into Mike Batiste’s shoes. Shermadini was a fantastic pick and roll finisher and wasn’t fazed by late game situations. Nabbing someone who can replicate that will be difficult, but essential.
Who They’ll Target
Nick: As we’ve learned post-David Lighty, college is not the place for Euroleague contenders to find their Squirtles. Instead, Cantu should pluck their shooter from Avellino, namely former ELA blogger Taquan Dean, who has put up 16.3 ppg this season in LegaBasket behind 40 percent three point shooting. And while The Dean’s List is a bit hit-and-miss, he did put up 30 for Unicaja just a few years back. (Biased? Maybe. Who cares. Dude can shoot.) And if they can’t keep Shermadini from returning to Athens or maybe Tel Aviv, they’ll need someone large and in charge like Italian Leo Mainoldi, who started the season on a tear for Mad Croc Fuenlabrada in the ACB before falling back down to earth slightly. And if we’re dreaming here, why not call up Henry Domercant’s agent and get him back to Italy for another go-round? He’s got that Blastoise build, after all.
Sam: If you don’t categorize Vladimr Micov as a star now, then you will soon enough. He is a true point forward and someone Cantu needs to lock up, along with the now healthy Doron Perkins. Then the search for post players continues, and because this isn’t the wealthiest of teams, they will have to dig a little deeper. If signing up NCAA seniors like Mike Glover (Iona) or Mike Scott (Virginia) or mining Legadue is too risky, then maybe luring the Italian League’s leading rebounder and proud Georgian, Viktor Sanikidze to Cantu is an option.
Rob: Sam has suggested some nice young men fresh out of American colleges, but Lighty didn’t really work out last season. The most in-demand bigs in Europe not already at high budget teams, like Paul Davis, are probably out of their price range, but wouldn’t it be great to see someone like Nole Velickovic actually playing at Pala Desio rather than warming Madrid’s bench?