Euroleague Advancing Cliff: Fenerbahce, Cantu, Milano, Caja, Cedevita, Brose, Partizan, and Rytas

By: Sam Meyerkopf / @HoopLikeDrazen

With two weeks left of the Euroleague Regular Season and eight teams in contention for three Top 16 spots, it was time to take  a look inside the madness.  After a lot of words, schedule breakdowns, and predictions, here are my thoughts on what these teams have done so far this season and how they’ll fare in the next two weeks.

Group A

Fenerbahce Ulker (4-4)

Remaining Schedule: at Panathinaikos, vs. Cantu

The Situation: Fenerbahce needs to win one of their last two games to advance or Cantu needs to lose one more game.  If Fenerbahce loses both, including a head to head with Cantu, and Cantu wins in Week 9, they are eliminated.

How They Got Here: Just when you thought this Fenerbahce would be different than those inconsistent bunches the last few years, they get right back into their old groove.  Being able to put two good games together is one thing, but how about two halfs?  After starting the season 3-1, Fenerbahce has lost three of their last four.  Between subpar rebounding, mediocre outside shooting, and rotation and roles that are still developing, Fenerbahce has still not found the rhythm you would have expected by now.  A win in Athens is asking a lot against a Panathinaikos team that is surging (three straight wins), and is leading the Euroleague in rebounding,while Fenerbahce is dead last.

Then comes Week 10 and a home showdown versus Cantu for the right to advance to the Top 16.  Cantu walloped Fenerbahce in the first time around (82-58), but with such a blowout it’s a lot about effort and tough to define how that might affect the Week 10 matchup.

Fenerbahce’s biggest dilemma seems to be what to do with their front-court rotation.  Emir Preldzic is a typical small forward, who has been playing a lot of power forward, allowing Fenerbahce to have flexibility with lineups and allowing an extra creator on the floor while suffering in rebounding and post defense.  Mike Batiste is back to playing center where he prospers in stretches, unlike his time at the PF spot in earlier weeks.  Matching Batiste and Preldzic with David Anderson, Ilkan Karaman, and Oguz Savas has been difficult and frustrating. A Batiste-Anderson combo has provided too slow, limited, and totally unable to cover other even slightly mobile big men.  Savas is close to unusable because of his offensive limitations and seriously porous rebounding (averaging 1.3).  Anderson’s shot has been less reliable than usual and it’s proving harder and harder to play him at anything but center.  But because his game is much more extended, he doesn’t work well with Preldzic, making Karaman really the only pairing he can run truly effectively with.  Karaman being the youngest and most inexperienced has had a limited offensive role but has been fairly active on defense.

The ingenuity of Simone Pianigiani to use Preldzic at the PF is intriguing and has worked fairly well but the other big combos have not.  Preldzic-Batiste seem to be a good pairing but the other options are entirely a work in progress.  In a Euroleague that is becoming more and more mobile having Preldzic at the four spot is smart but the steep drop-off after that is of great cause for concern.  Can Fenerbahce win one of their last two to make the Top 16, sure.  Will they need to figure out the best possible post rotation in that time frame, no, but the longer this problem lingers, the more inconsistent the team becomes.

Prediction: Call me crazy but this Fenerbahce team had such a deer in the headlights look in the second half of the Real Madrid game that my mind started going off.  They really haven’t improved much through eight weeks and they’ll be heading home to Istanbul earlier that usual. Eliminated.

Mapooro Cantu (2-6)

Remaining Schedule: vs. Real Madrid, at Fenerbahce Ulker

The Situation: Cantu needs to win both of their next two games to advance.  If Fenerbahce wins one more game, they are eliminated.  Point differential does not matter.

How They Got Here: The same Cantu club that was defined by games that went down the wire and winning them last year, is living in a bizzaro world this season where they’ve lost three games by two points.  Closing out games has been a real problem and so has been finding reliable scoring options.  With starting point guard Jerry Smith out the past four weeks with a broken foot, distribution responsibilities have fallen into the lap of Jonathan Tabu.  Tabu has been a solid replacement and an improvement over Smith in some games averaging 10.25 points and 5.75 assists in his last four games as a starter. That isn’t the direct problem.  The problem is that Cantu probably more than any possible Top 16 team in the Euroleague relies on their starters the most for production, with little bench help.  By having Tabu as a starter you’ve taken away Cantu’s best guard off the bench and created a giant hole there. So now when Tabu has off games, like against Khimki and Union Olimpija recently, you’ve got no one to fill in.  There have been rumors of Cantu bringing in another point guard to help Tabu like Sundianta Gaines, Brad Wanamaker, or others, but nothing has emerged yet.

With Real coming to Italy this week, things are sure to get wild.  No team is deeper than Real.  They continually sub in fresh active bodies all game long.  Cantu will need to slow the game down, hope Maarty Luenen can continue his torrid three point shooting pace (51.9%), and will really need to lock down on the defensive boards (Real leads the league in offensive rebounds).

If Cantu can slay the Madrid dragon, then a winner take all match is set-up in Istanbul.  Fenerbahce as noted is quite horrible at glass cleaning and Cantu is almost just as bad.  They are last and second to last in the Euroleague in total rebounds.  So yes, rebounding will be very, very important.

A lot will be riding on Pietro Aradori.  The unquestioned offensive leader of Cantu this season was out last week versus Khimki, and we saw how that went.  A probably matchup with Romain Sato will challenge Aradori physically but his craftiness and versatile game needs to shine through.  With Fenerbahce’s big man rotation problems, Luenen, Marco Cusin, Alex Tyus, and Jeff Brooks should provide all types of matchup pluses with their athleticism and for Luenen and Brooks, their shooting range.  This is a mightily tall task for Cantu but I wouldn’t be shocked at all if they win out and advance.

Prediction: I don’t always believe in miracles, but I do believe in Fenerbahce disappointing and underachieving whenever the opportunity to step up arises.  The chemistry on Cantu is so solid, they just need a touch more scoring to get over the hump.  I’m a believer. Advance.

Group B

Four teams have already all qualified for the Top 16 leaving us zero excitement these next two week from Group B.  Not only was this group no question the worst collection of teams among groups they were also the least exciting. No really, thanks for everything Group B.

Group C

Emporio Armani Milano (3-5)

Remaining Schedule: vs. Zalgiris Kaunas, at Olympiacos

The Situation: Milano needs to win their last two games for guaranteed advancement.  They won both games versus Cedevita holding the edge there but lost both matches to Caja.  One win and a loss for Caja will also guarantee advancement.

How They Got Here: There isn’t a lot of good to be found here.  After winning their first two games of the season Milano has lost five of six.  There are a lot of places to poke holes when you lose five of six but Milano never lost by more than 10 points and was in most of these games.  They just continue to let teams score in bunches in the second half, allowing 43 points in the second half in their five losses.  Their lack of effort and cohesion is apparent.

This is still a bunch of individuals masquerading as a team.  They jack up the third most three pointers in the Euroleague (24.3 per game) and an assist in the Milano offensive usually comes off the dribble by one man.  There isn’t a lot of entry pass-kick out-swing the ball side to side-shot offense.  Instead dribble drives and personal shot creation mostly on the perimeter, are indulged way more than a constant movement offense.  This is a formula not too complicated to stop and pretty easy to frustrate late in games.  Sure there are few better at breaking you down off the dribble than Keith Langford, Omar Cook, and Malik Hairston, but you really aren’t making the defense work.  All the defense has to do is key on the person who’s “turn it is” to break you down that possession and then focus on another guy the next time down.

With tests against versus Zalgiris and at Olympiacos to finish out the season, I’d be beyond frightened as a Milano fan.  Zalgiris put up 92 points on Milano the first time around and even with a couple recent losses they are still extremely formidable on both sides of the ball.  Olympiacos is arguably the hottest team in the Euroleague with five straights win by an average margin of 13.6.  Good Luck.

Prediction: Sure they could advance but that schedule is ridiculous and this team is more unreliable than a Gasper Vidmar free throw. Eliminated.

Caja Laboral (2-6)

Remaining Schedule: at Anadolu Efes, vs. Cedevita Zagreb

The Situation: If Caja wins out and Milano loses one game, they advance.  If Caja wins one game and Milano loses two, they advance.  Caja lost their first match to Cedevita by seven, meaning if Cedevita wins in Week 9, Caja needs to beat them by more than seven.  If Cedevita loses in Week 9, then getting a win is all that matters.

How They Got Here: Can I get a book deal here?  Dissecting everything that has gone with Caja’s season could fill a novel but I’ll attempt to summarize it in slightly shorter fashion. Coach Dusko Ivanovic is sent out the door and enter Zan Tabak.  In Tabak’s first game Caja gets one of the worst beat-downs the Euroleague has ever seen, 82-45 at the hands of Zalgiris. It was almost too gruesome to watch.  But hiccups were to be expected with a new coach mid-season and Caja rebounded to squeak by Milano at home last week.  Now with two games to go the Vitoria side that was left for dead two weeks ago, has some hope.

The hope lies in this team’s energy and chemistry, so yes, pretty scary and far, far away from fail proof.  They had 44 rebounds against Milano and held the Italian squad to 62 points.  To put that in perspective, they only eclipsed 30 rebounds twice this season and haven’t held an opponent under 75 points all season.  Caja played with energy and focus, and shook off the softness that has plagued them all year.  With the lack of distributors at point guard and frankly also a lack of elite scorers, Caja needs to excel in the dirty work.  Offensive rebounding, feisty defense, finishing at the rim, and hustling on offense after creating a turnover are necessities not optional acts.  When shots aren’t falling, Caja players need to provide production in other areas.  The most enticing sign of this was Macej Lampe, who has a real tough go of it pretty much this whole season, pulled in 14 points and 12 rebounds last week when his shot was off versus Milano.

Caja has two wins this season, they are both against Milano, so these last two games will be no picnic.  They need to stay tough and even though their talent is vast, it needs to start living up to it’s billing.

Prediction: Yea, I’ve been sucked back in, it didn’t take much.  Plus Week 10 in Vitoria with advancing likely on the line, I’ll take that rowdy fan base to will them to a win.  Believe in Brad Oleson.  Advance.

Cedevita Zagreb (2-6)

Remaining Schedule: vs. Olympiacos, at Caja Laboral

The Situation: With one win already against Caja, if Cedevita wins their Week 10 matchup, they have the advancing advantage over them.  If Milano loses both of their games and Cedevita wins both of theirs, they advance over them.  Milano won both games against Cedevita, so a tied record would favor Milano.

How They Got Here: Didn’t expect to see Cedevita here, but here they are.  Knockoff an undefeated team in Week 6 (Zalgiris), no problem.  Promptly lose the next two games, we’ll do that too.  To find a rhyme or reason with the play of this team is tough.  They lose their first four, win two in a row, then lose two in a row.  They’ve brought back in former coach Aco Petrovic last week to try to guide this team to advancement.  A potentially smart move but coaching changes mid-season are a very tough transition.

One thing dug from their wins is that they are a different team when they make threes.  While they shoot a fair amount a game (20.3), they don’t make that many (6.5 for a 32.1%).  Meaning when they get hot, the shots fly, and they actually stay in games.

Cedevita have a couple of very capable wing scorers in Bracey Wright and Michael Gelabale but not much else.  In their most recent game versus Anadolou Efes, Cedevita had six total players score. Six.  In the game before versus Milano, they had nine, but only one in double digits.  You get the trend, they rely heavily on a handful of players and if those guys get tired, don’t have it going, or are locked down, chaos ensues.  With trips to Piraeus and a season ending duel in Vitoria, it’s worth noting that Cedevita has a shot at advancing, just not a very good one.

Prediction: Why Cedevita advancing over Milano and Caja still seems insanely crazy to me is something I need to get over but I just can’t see this team putting two solid games up against these opponents. Sorry. Eliminated.

Group D

Partizan Belgrade (2-6)

Remaining Schedule: vs. Barcelona, at Brose Baskets

The Situation: If they win out, they advance. If they beat Brose by more than five points and Rytas loses once they advance.  But Rytas holds the point differential advantage, so if they’re tied in record, Rytas advances.  Because all these Group D teams are all playing each other to end the Regular Season it’s very possible two teams will tie for the final spot and point differential will be paramount.  This also means everything will be very confusing and exciting.

How They Got Here: Partizan finally played well in a game they should win and beat Rytas by one point at home last week.  They’ve now won two of three after starting the year with five straight losses.  The Serbian club seems to have finally figured out their playing rotation after starting off the year with a bunch of young bodies and not much of a clue.  Leo Westermann runs the point until he gets exhausted, Dragan Milosavljevic and Vladimir Lucic are in charge of wing scoring, Drew Gordon and Davis Bertans provide pick-n-pop shooting at the four spot, and Dejan Musli is in charge of controlling the paint.  Pieces of Djordje Gagic, Nikola Milutinov,and Nemanja Gordic are sprinkled in.

The key to this next two game stretch will be consistent offense.  Game to game Partizan struggles to find scorers to compliment Vladimir Lucic.  Lucic has been aggressive as any this year, using a straight line driving method and hurling himself right into contact when he gets close to the rim.  He’s fearless, leading the Euroleague in fouls drawn at 48, while averaging a team leading 13.5 points a game.

Bogdan Bogdanovic is back from injury to provide some outside shooting but hasn’t caught fire yet.  Game to game different scoring options have sprouted up around Lucic but no one has been too consistent and that seems fair to expect with such a young team.  But with advancing on the line more shot making has become a necessity.

If I had to bet on players to step up, it would be in the form of Westermann, Milosavljevic, and Gordon.  Milosavljevic was in the same situation last year when Partizan suffered a crushing loss to Milano in Week 10 to get knocked out and with the fight he plays with, I don’t see him going down so easy again.  Gordon has been extremely productive as of late both scoring and rebounding and Westermann has had hiccups but as we’ve seen, has the chance to be spectacular with his pass creation ability.  A showdown in Bamberg for a shot to extend their Euroleague season will be the ultimate test for this young developing squad.

Prediction: I really want to believe, I do, but Barcelona at home would be a giant upset and then they’re going to Freak City with advancing on the line.  Too much, too soon, too young.  This was the toughest call to make. Eliminated.

Brose Baskets (2-6)

Remaining Schedule: at Lietuvos Rytas, Partizan Belgrade

The Situation: With wins already over Rytas and Partizan, if Brose wins both games they are in.  They hold a five point cushion over Partizan and six point one over Rytas.  If they lose one or lose both games things become very messy with point differential and Partizan and Rytas’ other game outcomes.

How They Got Here: Brose undeniably holds their fate in their hands.  They have two games left and they are both against their direct competition for advancement.  This team has struggled to do one thing all year, create scoring opportunities.  A glimmer of hope does exist in last week’s contest against CSKA where they put up 89 points, but still gave up 97 in a loss.  The biggest change in the team recently has been Anton Gavel who is averaging 15.8 points over his last five Euroleague games and also added a 30 point outburst this weekend in the German League.  Gavel, Boki Nachbar, and Teddy Gipson are really the only three guys on the team that can create their own shot regularly, causing a lot of problems with offensive creativity.  Brose’s attack is pretty simple with those three creating, Casey Jacobsen and John Goldsberry moving the ball and shooting from deep, and Maik Zirbes, Phillip Nuemann, and Sharrod Ford patrolling the paint.

Simple isn’t always a negative though and Brose has gotten this far with a very limited offense and no play from big offseason signing AJ Ogilvy.  Against much younger and less experienced Rytas and Partizan teams their execution of the game plan and tough defense could very well be enough to stifle the other side.  Their isn’t much room for error but one great shooting performance or offensive rebound feast (looking at you Zirbes) and Brose could finally break through to the Euroleague’s second round.

Prediction: This Brose team doesn’t play the prettiest basketball but they have experience and leaders all over.  With two games against their two advancing rivals, I’ll take Brose and an insane Freak City crowd in Week 10. Advance.

Lietuvos Rytas (1-7)

Remaining Schedule: vs. Brose, at Besiktas

The Situation: Rytas holds the scoring differential edge over Partizan so if they end up in a tie, Rytas advances.  Lost to Brose by six last time.  Need to win out and beat Brose by more than six to advance or if Brose loses one game, Rytas only needs to beat Brose straight up. Losing to Brose will ensure elimination. If Partizan wins two games, Rytas is out, they need to tie or pull ahead of Partizan.

How They Got Here: Don’t get your hopes up too much.  If Rytas had been able to edge by Partizan last week it’d be a whole different story but they lost by one and close to caved in their advancing chances.  Nemanja Nedovic has been electric scoring the ball recently and been a nice pair with Ronnie Seibutis.  Both are counted on heavily to score for Rytas.  The other bright spot would have to be Leon Radosevic who has gotten in a groove lately with his mid-range jumper.  The rest of the offense is spotty at best and without a true point guard on the roster, Rytas is dead last in assists in the Euroleague.

The only real chance Rytas has here, and the light is getting dimmer the more I keep typing, is the offensive explosion possibility of the three players mentioned above.  Seibutis and Nedovic combined for 39 points in the earlier showdown with Brose, and it’s entirely possible the sometimes athletically limited Brose guards will have trouble checking the Rytas backcourt again.  Brose has struggled offensively badly at times as well, so at home in Vilnius it’ll be an all out war in Week 9.  What could be a very sloppy and ugly war.  If Rytas can clear that hurdle things become insanely messy in the group and even a win at Besiktas doesn’t guarantee advancing.  So even if Rytas wins out, their fate is in the hands of other teams.

Prediction: What’d you think I was going to write. Eliminated.

12 thoughts on “Euroleague Advancing Cliff: Fenerbahce, Cantu, Milano, Caja, Cedevita, Brose, Partizan, and Rytas”

  1. had to look holler up in a dictionary.. you know with being greek and all. not much to holler about besides the fact that you chose to write about the teams that are about to be eliminated when my team has gone 5-0 with 4 on the road. and thats after you predicted we were worse than khimki, fenerbahce, zalgiris etc only two weeks ago. the “team of destiny” -such a corny name btw- needs a tribute for you to make up for the early season bashing. maybe also an article about Spanoulis being a lock for MVP? or maybe saying sorry to Pap for judging him a bit to early for ANOTHER season?

  2. @Cos: Thanks for the shout. I didn’t plan for it to be so long but these Advancing bubble teams got to me. If you listened to the podcast Cos I was pushing to move Olympiacos up but couldn’t have predicted them being this hot. Always have been a Pap fan, picked him to be Rising Star this year. But we will surely be talking about them more because no team is playing better. Spanoulis wins month MVP and Pap was not far off.

  3. I don’t think anyone could have predicted that Olympiacos would have gone that hot…
    Don’t mind reading about the advancing bubble teams at all. The problem with the Euroleague is that because of the different languages, you never really get to know about teams outside your country or teams you play.
    No one really writes in English besides a couple of websites like yours. The problem is you guys don’t write often enough. Even the euroleague website doesn’t have articles often enough. Maybe you guys could start a bleacher report sort of structure to get more articles with less research

  4. @Cos Thanks for the note again. Bleacher Report style we probably will never go to but you are right, more less detailed and quicker articles are needed. Hopefully we’ll churn out more writing the rest of the season and beyond. If you have anything you want written about or are interested in us talking about, be sure to drop us a note.

  5. You don’t necessarily need others writing articles, but giving you the local gossip. Rivalries and controversies are what make a league popular.

    An example: Spanoulis’ transfer from Panathinaikos vs Olympiacos.
    The myth is that Spanoulis asked for as much money as DD was paid. The thing is, DD has always had an excellent relationship with the Panathinaikos ownership and always chose to play for Panathinaikos for less money. Panathinaikos told him that no one makes more than DD on the team. The real issue was that Spanoulis never felt as if he was the favorite of the fans and thought he was better than DD but couldn’t get the recognition while playing for Panathinaikos where he would usually come from the bench to score points. It was a bold move for Spanoulis who at the time you could say could not claim to be better than DD. His first season he looked like an idiot while Olympiacos didn’t reach the final four and Panathinaikos won the Euroleague without him. After last season he can make a legitimate claim to be as good…. While he still has one or two -i can’t remember- Euroleague titles less than DD, he has been MVP of the Final four in the two he has won…. There are loads of arguments for or against…

    My request for an article: Who ranks higher in the list of all-time greats? V-Span or DD?

    Or maybe a comparisson of country playing styles. Lithuanian teams have traditionally produced some great shooters. Spanish teams are closer to the NBA in a sense, faster and bigger. Greek teams tend to focus on defense and good production from role players…. You get the where I’m going…

  6. @Cos: Great comment Cos, one of the best we’ve ever had I think. The DD-Spanoulis argument is a really, really interesting one. And it’s wonderful to hear your deeply Greek insight. This argument is so wide we might have to do it on a podcast and bring in people of even more expertise on DD and Spanoulis. My real quick take would be that the complete and physical game that DD plays made him a little more like-able and he was there first. Both are in really good situations now and can help a team in a variety of ways, Spanoulis more with his scoring, DD with controlling the game and defense. Career wise I’d lean a little towards DD but for the rest of the season, no one is playing better than Spanoulis so it’s tough to bet against him. But I’m not ready to make any grand decision yet, we’ll have to hold off for now. Who would you take?

  7. Thanks!
    I don’t want to say too much as I would like to see/hear you guys talk about this but I would tend to agree with you despite being an Olympiacos fan.
    I would also add that DD’s style of play is what makes him in my eyes the most iconic modern European player.
    Maybe not the best, or more the most effective, but definitely the most representative of the Euroleague game. Him and Theo Papaloukas, only Papaloukas wasn’t good for as long.
    The Gasol brothers, Parker, Ginobili, JCN, Jasicevicius and Spanoulis could all claim to be as good or better than those two, but they both had a game that also matched the NBA style.
    That being said, Spanoulis is a couple of years younger and seems to be in his prime while DD is clearly getting worse. Also, DD stopped playing for the Greek national team at the age of 30 whilst Spanoulis has carried it since almost on his own.
    Anyway, I am primarily a soccer fan so I can only reproduce opinions that I have already heard and seem to make sense. I’m sure you guys could come up with more arguments for or against.
    Lastly let me add that these sort of conversations are what get fans to comment and really follow a league and as a result a website or a blog.

    As I said in my previous post, schools of basketball is also a hot topic between Euro fans.
    You see that the most successful teams in the history of the Euroleague have always had a lot of local players in their team. Panathinaikos has traditionally been a “Greek team”. Calathes, Kaimakoglou and Vougioukas were top Euro players when playing for them, but now that they have had to join a different basketball culture, they do not seem as impressive. Olympiacos won the Euroleague when they shed all the international superstars and lined up a Greek team. Partizan have almost always been a team that has over achieved by playing players from the former Yugoslavia with the addition of one or two Americans with specific characteristics. Zalgiris are doing well for the first time since 1999 when again they had a strong core of Lithuanian players. Barcelona has consistently been one of the best by producing the best of the best of Spanish basketball… The same can be said about CSKA and Russian basketball. These teams all have distinct styles of play that have much to do with the different basketball culture they have. How do these compare?
    Even Maccabi and the Italian teams that have traditionally depended on American imports have styles that are influenced by the local basketball… What’s your take on all this?

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