By: Nick Gibson / @euro_adventures

Even after watching them power through half of Italy to make the Lega Basket finals last season, qualifying for the EL in the process, it was easy to sleep on Cantu at season’s tip. They brought in veterans like Gianluca Basile and retained big pieces like Marco Scekic, but they failed to make that one big move expected from EL newcomers (Nancy grabbed Batum, Kazan got Domercant, Bilbao with Fischer). Sure Giorgi Shermadini, loaned from Panathinaikos late in the offseason, was a young, skillful big, but he wasn’t a star. Not by anyone’s standards.

But now, they’re at 3-1 and tied with Caja Laboral for first place in Group A thanks to terrific coaching from Andrea Trinchieri and a crowd that keeps Pala Desio rockin’.

But how good are they really? When the seats are filled with strangers and coaching can’t cure a bad shooting night?

Within these next couple weeks lies the answer.

RankTeam (EL Record)What they did to get here...Last Week
1Barcelona (4-0)As much as we raved about the Huertas and Eidson additions, we still might've underestimated their impending dominance. Navarro hasn't even had to be a top two player on this team (Huertas, Lorbek) and they're still winning by 23.5 ppg. --
2CSKA Moscow (4-0)Their OT win at Panathinaikos wasn't pretty, but is it ever when you're duking it out in O.A.K.A? My only concern now: Milos Teodosic. If he gets it going, not even Barcelona can hang with these guys.--
3Panathinaikos (3-1)Perhaps a Dimitris Diamantidis foul away from victory against CSKA, the reigning champs won't be fun to face down the stretch. Any team that can make Kirilenko look human deserves a spot in the top three.--
4Maccabi Electra (3-1)Don't tell anyone, but Maccabi is pretty good. Now that Jordan Farmar is comfortable running the show (See: Understatement), Blatt's bunch can mix tempos get wins. Keith Langford now lays in wait as the wildcard.--
5Montepaschi Siena (3-1)Bo + Rako will be a good time the rest of the way. Depth on the wing is the only issue.--
6Caja Laboral (3-1)That loss to Nancy came as a shock, but Mirza Teletovic is an animal and Fernando San Emeterio finally looks himself again. Now they need to rebound better, defend the post.--
7SLUC Nancy (2-2)The league's most prolific offensive player (Batum) and the league's best clean-up big (Akingbala). Forget halfcourt sets and strategy: throw some athletes on the floor, roll out a ball and let's go to war.--
8Unicaja (3-1)Rowland and Valters leave a little to be desired up top, but they know who butters Unicaja's bread---Freeland and Zoric---so things have just been...working out. Chus Mateo's boys are mentally tougher than Malaga teams of the past.--
9Cantu (3-1)Are these guys for real? At home, you bet your ass they are, but two road games in two weeks against FB Ulker and Nancy will be very telling.--
10Fenerbahçe Ülker (2-2)A ferocious comeback in Bilbao rescued Ulker from the panic zone and Neven Spahija from the hot seat, but now they've got to pull even with Cantu this Wednesday in Istanbul.--
11Unics Kazan (2-2)Two losses to Siena and Barcelona don't mean a thing, but two road wins against Galatasaray and Asseco Prokom are worth their collective weight in gold. If they can get to 3-2 this week against Union Olimpija, keeping Kazan out of the Top 16 will be close to impossible.--
12Olimpia Milano (2-2)Their 28-point fourth quarter against Spirou was the first visual evidence I've seen of "chemistry." If they build on it, everybody better watch out.--
13Real Madrid (2-2)Despite two straight L's and mass confusion in the front court (mainly Ante Tomic's fault), this is a team on the rise. Four home games in five weeks and a little familiarity emerging between Rudy, Jaycee and the two Sergios on the perimeter.--
14Anadolu Efes (2-2)A pair of road wins to go along with a couple of home losses. It's been a bizarre season for Efes, but they're still right in the thick of it. But can anyone tell me what's going on with Esteban Batista?--
15Partizan (2-2)Outstanding bigs, an American point learning on the go and limited point production from the wing. Don't you love a good pattern?--
16Galatasaray (2-2)A pair of road wins in your first four is an excellent way to kick things off, especially when your top prospect's producing the way Furkan Aldemir is. He's a rebound magnet who knows his role. At his age or any, it's quite the luxury.--
17Bamberg (1-3)Looking at the schedule, you knew Bamberg's season could hinge on a two-week span in which they played Unicaja and Zalgiris, the two teams fighting them for a Top 16 spot. Sweep it and sleep easy, split it and be satisfied. But losing them both? That was never part of the plan.--
18Olympiacos (1-3)Spanoulis is scoring, and nobody's surprised. But bottom line: Olympiacos needs a point guard.--
19Bilbao (1-3)Bilbao's supposed to lose at home rarely, but to toss away a game late to a Fenerbahçe team that's struggled to put it together? That's downright unacceptable.--
20Zalgiris (1-3)They now have two more coaches than they do wins. I wonder if the two are related.--
21Belgacom Spirou (1-3)In such a tough group, you can't let victories escape through the back door. Letting Milano score 28 and comeback in the fourth quarter might've been the first nail in their coffin.--
22Union Olimpija (1-3)Saso Filipovski can't decide whether he wants to trust his youngsters or not, and Bertans and Muric aren't making it very easy on him.--
23Asseco Prokom (0-4)They avoid the cellar only because they've played well for stretches this season. Only problem is, it's usually not when it counts.--
24KK Zagreb (0-4)Fighting desperately not to be the second Croatian team in two years (Cibona) to go 0-10 in the regular season. It's not looking good.--