Tag Archives: Milano

Five Reasons To Be Excited: CSKA Moscow vs Maccabi Tel Aviv

by George Rowland, in Milano / @georgerowland

1. Everyone likes watching a car crash

The last two years CSKA have come in to the Final Four as overwhelming favourites, and both times they have failed in two very different, but still very catastrophic ways. With everyone knowing their propensity to choke, we’re all watching this CSKA team with the anticipation that at any point the wheels could fall off like in Istanbul and London. On the other hand, we’re all expecting CSKA to crash and burn, and without the burden of expectation it could allow them to relax and play their best basketball.

2. It could be the last time for a while we see an old fashioned post battle

Both Sofoklis Schortsanitis and Nenad Krstic are rarities in Euroleague, as guys who like to play with their backs to the basket and use their sheer mass combined with their array of post moves to score. While both have their flaws elsewhere in their games this could be one of the few times we see two players of this style meet, as they are a dying breed in the era of pick and roll heavy sets and super athletic defensive centres.

3. In more ways than one it’s a David vs Goliath battle

In the Old Testament, Goliath, a giant Philistine warrior, was slain by David, the future King of Israel. This is reflective of this match up in more ways than one. Firstly on sheer size CSKA are Goliath, with an average height of 200cm in their rotation they are significantly bigger than Maccabi who measure up at 197, which may not seem much, but will make a significant difference when spread across the entire rotation. Furthermore certain historians of religion have interpreted the victory of David over Goliath as symbolic of the Judeo-Christian victory over paganism, the victory of the old over the new. CSKA are very much symbolic of the old way of basketball whereas Maccabi are symbolic of the new.

4. Maccabi’s fans

We’ve all heard about the Final Four selling out within hours of Maccabi’s series win over Milano, so we know there will be a strong yellow and blue presence in the arena, and if the noise levels are anything like Nokia Arena then it should make for quite an experience. Along with those who have bought their tickets, there are some fans who have travelled without a ticket, hoping to beg, borrow or steal their way into the Mediolanum Forum tomorrow.

5. The end for Messina?

With rumours abounding about his imminent departure to the NBA, this could be the last we see of Ettore Messina in Europe, and while this year’s CSKA team aren’t exactly his most aesthetic team, they still play a way that you don’t really see across Europe. With a chance to leave on a high we should relish the chance to see a Messina team live while we still can.

Back in Fashion: Milano on the Up and Looking Forward to May

By Rob Scott / @robscott33

Going into the Top 16 it was tempting to suggest that the 2014 Final Four would be played by the same teams as 2013’s. Three of those also contested the 2012 edition. I would say this exclusive party could be gatecrashed this year, but how can it be gatecrashed by the host? EA7 Emporio Armani Milano are free and clear in second spot in their group after beating the defending champions 88-86 Thursday night, in Piraeus. It the players resisted the temptation on the flight home to imagine an after-party at Giorgio’s place, it’s difficult for the observer not to wonder what a Final Four would feel like with the hosts involved on the court.

In the post-Suproleague era, i.e. 2002 onwards, there hasn’t been a Final Four without at least two of CSKA Moscow, Maccabi Tel Aviv, FC Barcelona or Panathinaikos. Partizan Belgrade in 2010 was the last ‘first-timer’ in this era, and you have to go back to the early 00s and the ghosts of Italian hoop history to find names that don’t repeat throughout the decade as Finalists: Skipper and Kinder Bologna, Benetton Treviso – we can only hope Montepaschi Siena does not become another one of these spectres of past glory. Unicaja Malaga was the other one-time interloper, and the best days of TAU Ceramica seem long gone.

Langford and Italy, perfectly suited

If Milano does manage to become a new name carved into the Euroleague honours board, it will largely be off the back of a player with a link to those heady days of Italian prominence. Keith Langford was MVP as Virtus (formerly Kinder) Bologna won the Eurochallenge in 2009 - the brash, confident scoring machine out of the University of Kansas, like so many smaller, hawkish guards toiling in the D-League, caught in the trap of NBA orthodoxy – “too small for the two, not really a playmaker” – finally settling into his destiny as a volume scoring vessel in Europe. He now leads Euroleague in the accumulating categories of Index Rating at 19.37 ,and points per game at 17.63.

After a trial year in Italy with Soresina in 2006/7 led to the briefest of two-night stands in San Antonio, a final banishment to the D-League sent him back to Italy with a point to prove. That 2007/8 season in Bologna promised European stardom, the reward a lucrative deal with one of the continent’s neophyte money-trees, Khimki Moscow.

Things turned sour after two years in Moscow Region. A season as designated ball-hog in Tel Aviv shaped Langford’s reputation as a one-dimensional dominator of possessions, able to accumulate only for himself, with little benefit to the team cause. Winning the Adriatic League in 2012 was the least Maccabi expected for that campaign, although they took Panathiniakos to five games in the Eurolegue playoffs.  Heading to Milano as they attempted to buy their way into the Euroleague oligarchy did little to sway the nay-sayers.

That Milano team with Richard Hendrix, Ioannis Bourousis, Malik Hairston, Gianluca Basile and Omar Cook alongside Langford slumped to a miserable 3-7 record in the Regular Season with Sergio Scariolo at the helm. It was year two of a caricatured attempt to build a winner by accumulating glitzy names, with no attention paid to the structural engineering of successful teams.

That two-year running-joke coincided with unglamorous neighbours Cantu winning the admiration of the hoops intelligentsia, as their lower-budget operation came within a balletic Juan-Carlos Navarro head-jerk from making the playoffs in 2012. The banner at PalaDesio read ‘MILANO IS FASHION, CANTU IS DEVOTION’ and it was easy to nod along with the message.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, then, to see Milano finally threatening to join the elite not by throwing more money at more players who have succeeded elsewhere, but by copying the blueprint, and taking a couple of key players, from the small-town team that dominated Italian basketball over the last decade.

Banchi the man for this era

That Luca Banchi should have found himself in charge at Montepaschi Siena in 2012 was a symptom of the crisis that has engulfed the financial institutions at the heart of municipal capitalism in Europe since the end of this century’s first decade. Siena is a factory town, except the factory is the oldest surviving bank in the world, which recently made the kind of disastrous bets on derivatives that Milano made on big-name players. The assistant coach to Simone Piannigianni throughout Siena’s domestic domination had low expectations. The club that was literally bankrolled in the noughties had to make do with substantially less.

A stripped-down, austerity-era Siena bravely made the Top 16 last season and threatened to slip through all the way to a playoff series before Bobby Brown’s luck - and mid-range percentage – evaporated and they finished below the line. Despite the haircut to the team’s budget, they still managed their seventh successive Lega A championship.

The Banchi plan remains clear – space the floor even from positions one to five at times, to allow space for quick, fearless guards to attack the rim, and if you miss from deep just take the same shot next time. It’s a team ethos in which players with the talent to run ISO offense have the licence, as long as they operate within the overarching structure. Transplanted to a bigger budget, with better players, this collection of principles has translated into a burgeoning culture of winning.

From being a one-way player who pounds the ball only looking to score, Langford has been transformed. Finally, he has learned that facilitating others is not only better for the team, but creates a positive feedback loop in which he has more space to score.

The need to guard the three-point line so closely with shooters like Curtis Jerrells, David Moss and Kristian Kangur means Langford can go one-on-one with his man and either get to the rim, where he scores and/or picks up foul after foul, or shake him off and step back for the three.

He makes unassisted field goals from everywhere on the court at a rate way above average – none more striking than the audacious stepback three over Evangelos Mantzaris that sealed the win in Piraeus. Mantzaris is one of the finest on-ball defenders in the European game, and did everything possible to stand his ground against Langford, but still the ball swished through the net from 8 metres out.

Dramatic improvement, déja vu?

The improvement in Milano’s form since the end of the Regular Season has been dramatic – they qualified with a 5-5 record but sit at 6-3 in the second phase. Two players have been added since the season began. Gani Lawal arrived in Week Five, and immediately began cleaning the glass on the offensive end with ferocity. The real big addition was Daniel Hackett, who joins Banchi, Kangur and Moss in the Siena-alumni section of the locker room. There was a collective disappointed shrug when the most highly-prized recruit of the Christmas interlude chose to remain in Italy, but his and Lawal’s contribution to the Top 16 has drawn comparisons to the impact of Acie Law and Joey Dorsey at Olympiacos in 2012.

Even though their ability to make dramatic shots grabs attention, it’s on the defensive side of the ball that Milano’s quality is more statistically demonstrable. They have the Top 16’s best defensive rating and have limited opponents to the third lowest field goal percentage, behind only FC Barcelona and Olympiacos.

A red flag even bigger than the ones waved by the Olympiacos ultras is their third-from-bottom defensive rebound percentage. Neither Samuels nor Lawal counts this as a skill – perhaps their success on the offensive glass comes from knowing the tendencies of bad defensive rebounders? The ‘eye test’ says that this balance between offense and defense could easily be reversed though – this is a team that can make shots against anyone, but can they come up with a crucial defensive rebound when they really need it?

The other knock on this team was the extreme discrepancy between their home and road records. Going into the Olympiacos game they had beaten only Brose Baskets Bamberg on their travels, posting a 1-7 record, whilst only losing once at home, a narrow reverse to Real Madrid for a 9-1 slate. By showing that they go into a place like the SEF and not only win, but battle from 13 points down in the first quarter, they took a huge step forward into the ranks of the contenders.

The difference between Banchi’s Siena squad and this one is that it has players other than David Moss who are committed to playing defense. Moss is a one-man defensive anchor, sliding into passing lanes, disrupting ball movement with his long arms, recovering on the back line in Banchi’s preferred alignment of having the power forward hedge hard on ball-screens. Moss’ defensive role is key at the end of games. In addition, his ability to knock down spot-up threes means that keeping Alessandro Gentile on the bench doesn’t hurt the offense, with Langford, Hackett and Jerrells all able to create their own shot.

High fashion with a blue collar

Milano is a giant of the sport’s history, winning the Euroleague three times, and a further six continental titles of one kind of another. The team is owned by a company that brings in over a billion dollars of revenue each year. The era in which teams from Bologna, Vitoria-Gastiez and Siena could sit at the top table, without the backstop of a huge football club or a nationwide fanbase might be over, but at least Milano is succeeding not by throwing millions of euros at name-brand players.

It should perhaps be instructive for other teams with Final Four aspirations that they are finding success with an intelligently assembled roster under a low-profile coach, with role players like Bruno Cerella and Nicolo Melli who carry out the simple blue-collar elements of the game. The ostentatious, conspicuous consumption of the Scariolo era seems to be over.

This could all be premature - their struggles on the road could return, they could slip to third in the group and face a playoff series against CSKA Moscow or Real Madrid. They could lose to Maccabi over five games, though it seems like they would be the big favourites. But even the prospect of a newcomer in recent terms to the Final Four is exciting enough to create a sense of eager anticipation, and in the year that they host, the timing could not be better.

Euroleague Advancing Cliff: Week 10 Updated

By: Sam Meyerkopf / @HoopLikeDrazen

If you missed last week’s addition of the Euroleague Advancing Cliff I went in-depth on all the teams still trying to advance to the Euroleague’s Top 16.  Here is a briefer updated version of the situation for every team left after the aftermath of Week 9.

Group A

Fenerbahce Ulker (4-5)

Week 10 Matchup: vs. Mapooro Cantu

Situation: Win or go home.  Point differential does no matter.

Chances of Advancing: 35%.  If this game was in Italy, that number might be in the single digits.  With the type of effort Cantu played with last week against Real, Fenerbahce is going to have to go to a level team wise this week they haven’t been all year if they want a chance to advance.  Cohesiveness, flexibility, confidence, composure, whatever word you want to use that can be attributed to good team basketball, they need to have on Thursday.  You want to know the last time this Fenerbahce team scored over 70 points in Europe’s widest ranging competition…Week 4.  They can’t defend you, they fall apart in the second half, and they also aren’t very effectively offensively either.  I’ve been  attempting to fund their burial the last couple weeks, but it’s about time we all grab a shovel.

Mapooro Cantu (3-6)

Week 10 Matchup: at Fenerbahce Ulker

Situation:  Win or go home.  Point differential does no matter.

Chances of Advancing: 65%.  Just keep playing hard.  Keep attacking the offensive glass (15 vs. Real Madrid).  Keep putting pressure on the defense.  Stay in constant attack mode.  Cantu didn’t play amazingly against Real last week but they constantly went after offensive rebounds, loose balls, open driving lanes, fast break opportunities, and many more effort plays.  As the game got tighter, they played even harder, and showed it can do exactly what it needs to close out must-win games.  Fenerbahce hasn’t shown that and in coin flip game I’m going with the team I know won’t quit no matter how tough the going gets.

Union Olimpija (3-6) ELIMINATED

Week 10 Matchup: at Real Madrid

Situation: I forgot to mention Union Olimpija last week because even with their record and one Klemen Prepelic amazing game winner, they’re already eliminated. They’re only chance would have been win this week and hope for a Cantu win and then Union, Cantu, and Fenerbahce would all be tied at 4-6.  Union beat Cantu twice, Cantu will have beaten Fenerbahce twice, and Fenerbahce beat Union twice.  Point differential between the teams means everything.  The third tie breaker is point differential in the games played between these teams.  Right now it looks like this: Union is -8, Cantu is +9, and Fenerbahce is -1.  If Cantu wins they will be extending their point differential between the three teams making it impossible for Union to advance.  They can blame Fenerbahce for getting blown out in Week 5 by Cantu for ruining their advancing chances.

Chances of Advancing: 0%. See above.

Group C

Caja Laboral (3-6)

Week 10 Matchup: vs. Cedevita Zagreb

Situation: Win and they advance. Loss and a Milano wins, they are eliminated. Loss and a Milano loss means everyone in Group C trying to advance is 3-3 (Caja, Milano, Cedevita).  Caja beat Milano twice, Milano beat Cedevita twice, and Cedevita beat Caja twice meaning we are back to square one again.  Point differential between the teams means everything.  The third tie breaker is point differential in the games played between these teams.  Right now it looks like this: Caja is +5, Milano is +15, and Cedevita is -20.  So in this scenario, Caja would be eliminated because with a loss they can’t make up the ten points they are down in differential to Milano.

Chances of Advancing: 87%. In Vitoria on a two game winning streak, the Basque squad is finally rounding in to form.  They are still far away from a well rounded team but their baby steps are slowly taking them there.  Last week versus Anadolou Efes, the game was relatively close through three quarters (65-59 Caja) but then Caja closed out the fourth 26 to 17, putting an exclamation point on their offensive performance.  Thomas Heurtel was decisive and effective.  He’s going to make some mistakes and he’s better at creating his own shot than one for others but when allowed to play to his strengths, he looks good.  Scoring 22 points on 5/6 from two point range and 4/6 from three with four assists and five turnovers vs. Efes, Huertel was exactly himself.  An extremely confident pull up long range shooter with sometimes questionable decision making but now he is playing through his mistakes instead of getting pulled by Dusko Ivanovic every time he makes one.  Caja will need Huertel big time on Friday but even if he shoots half as well as last week, if he plays with the same demeanor Caja should push into the Euroleague’s next stage.

Armani Milano (3-6)

Week 10 Matchup: at Olympiacos

Situation: Win and Caja loss and they advance. If Caja wins they’re eliminated. Loss and a Caja loss and I will repeat the same thing that was in the Caja explanation with a Milano twist:

Everyone in Group C trying to advance is 3-3 (Caja, Milano, Cedevita).  Caja beat Milano twice, Milano beat Cedevita twice, and Cedevita beat Caja twice meaning we are back to square one again.  Point differential between the teams means nothing.  The third tie breaker is overall point differential.  Right now it looks like this: Caja is +5, Milano is +15, and Cedevita is -20.  So in this scenario, as long as Cedevita beats Caja by less than 36, Milano advances.

Chances of Advancing: 11%. It’s not looking too good for Milano.  They’ve lost now six of seven and just couldn’t squeeze it out last week against Zalgiris at home.  Omar Cook choked at the free throw line and the team scored two baskets in the last five minutes.  Their offensive execution was bad and the flow of the team was overall very rough.  Beating Olympiacos in Pireaus is hard enough, hoping to do that and have Caja lose at home to Cedevita, damn near impossible.

Cedevita Zagreb (2-7)

Week 10 Matchup: at Caja Laboral

Situation: Needs to beat Caja by 36 and hope for a Milano loss to advance.  No win, no win by 36, no Milano loss, eliminated.

Chances of Advancing: 2%  This should be zero percent but because Caja already has a 37 point loss on the books, I can’t totally put it to rest.  Cedevita is really mediocre and no one has scored less than 75 points against them this season.  Meaning they need to beat Caja at a clip of something like 101-75.  Sure Bracey Wright and Mickael Gelabale are a pretty damn formidable wing combo, but with advancing on the line in Vitoria, a blowout win by Cedevita would be one of the worst losses ever for the historic Basque club.  Cedevita shoots a lot of threes (eight in the Euroleague in attempts) so don’t be surprised to see a long range shooting contest but shooting at a bottom five Euroleague clip of 32.3% is not going to get you anywhere.

Group D

Brose Baskets Bamberg (2-7)

Week 10 Matchup: vs. Partizan Belgrade

Situation: Win and they are in thanks to John Goldsberry’s last second shot.  Loss and they are out.  It’s as simple as that.  They control everything.

Chances of Advancing: 50%. This number is higher because they are playing at home and are the only one of these three that hold their destiny in their own hands. After the kinda of extra effort teams like Cantu and Caja Laboral came out with last week with Top 16 spots at risk, it was really surprising to see the effort Brose brought.  They were flat for most of the game versus Rytas and really didn’t give that extra hustle needed to win games this late in the Regular Season.  I still trust the veterans Casey Jacobsen, Goldsberry, Anton Gavel, and Boki Nachbar over Partizan’s extreme youth in a do or die game but this is going to be a nail bitter.  Brose needs to bring it on Thursday.  What Partizan lacks in experience they’ll bring in effort.  They’ll be getting after it and running every where.  Brose needs to match that intensity level and beyond.  I have faith that amid all the chaos, Brose has the leaders to guide them through finally to the Top 16.

Partizan Belgrade (2-7)

Week 10 Matchup: at Brose Baskets Bamberg

Situation: Win and a Rytas loss and they advance.  Win and a Rytas win and they’re eliminated because of point differential versus Rytas. Lose and they’re eliminated.

Chances of Advancing: 30%.  They had it last week.  Partizan HAD undefeated Barcelona on the ropes for the second time this season but couldn’t pull through.  We discussed the game in-depth on the podcast last week but what a chance for Partizan.  They have now played five games this season decided by five points or less and won one of them.  Their late game offensive options of Leo Westermann creating a scoring opportunity for someone or a Vladimir Lucic drive are good but still a little tight in the clutch moments.  Heading in to what is sure to be a hostile environment in Bamberg, it will truly be an incredible test for such a young team.  This will be a treat for all because rarely do we see a team so young and talented have opportunities like this to grow up quickly and change the direction of their season with one game.

Lietuvos Rytas (2-7)

Week 10 Matchup: at Besiktas 

Situation: Win and a Brose loss and they are in.  Win and a Brose win and they are eliminated.  Lose and they are eliminated.  If Rytas could have boxed out Maik Zirbes last week and prevented John Goldsberry from even getting a shot, it would be win and in if they take down Besiktas.

Chances of Advancing: 20%.  And to think I wrote this team off last week.  They played real hard and just attacked the offensive glass, pulling  down 16 o-boards.  So much of this game is riding on Ronnie Seibutis who scored 19 last week.  He needs to get close to that number this week and hope for a continued effort on the glass.  Besiktas doesn’t have a big front line but they have a very hard working one.  This will be a total scrap game with the team that plays ugly  better coming out on top.  Rytas has a lot more to play for than Besiktas but that won’t stop the Istanbul squad from really guarding Rytas all over the court.

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.

Omar Cook Came Through, Caja Laboral Isn’t Advancing, What The Hell Just Happened?

By: Sam Meyerkopf / @euro_adventures

Where do we start?  One of the Euroleague’s ultimate displays of consistency all of a sudden became inconsistant and for the rest of the year there will be no more Euroleague basketball in Europe’s best arena.

That’s right, Caja Laboral the owners of seven straight playoff appearances has vanished into the night.  Partizan, the face of hope and passion throughout European basketball, won’t even have a chance to make another historic Cinderella run.  How did we get here?

The Tragic Story of Caja Laboral

Caja Laboral is no longer with us.  Euroleague leading scorer and constant x-factor Mirza Teletovic will no longer be gracing my computer screen on Wednesday and Thursday nights.  No more Dusko screams or San Emeterio floaters. A team that last weekend took down Barcelona, Europe’s best team going right now, didn’t advanced.  All season I’ve praised Group A for giving us what seems to be the best games week in and week out, but I never expected this. Three weeks in Caja was undefeated, what happened?

Two weeks ago on our show I was saying Caja Laboral was a Final Four contender, now that seems like an old dream lost in my subconscious.  In a Top 16 where 4-6 Zalgiris, 4-6 Galatasaray, and 4-6 Armani Milano have stumbled into advancement, 5-5 Caja Laboral wasn’t allowed in.  A Galatasaray team that I saw two days ago lose by almost 30 points to Barcelona, will be playing for a spot to make the Playoffs.

Do we need to re-think how we do the draw?  Should the groups be bigger to eliminate possible inferior groups (my eyes are starring through the back of Group D’s head)?  Something needs to be fixed. Don’t get me wrong Bilbao beat Caja in a deciding game and Caja had their future in their hands, but it should have never happened like this.

No More Pionir

Those are some of the saddest words I’ve ever written because you just never know with Partizan.  They have the most magic in their hat of any Euroleague team (see getting to 2010 Final Four), but those tricks are now an illusion.  No team was effected more by the lose of an NBA player.

Nikola Pekovic meant everything to this team.  His presence freed up so much room for the young perimeter players, and more importantly it gave Milan Macvan space to dominate.  With Pekovic gone the last three weeks, Partizan has lost every game and hasn’t been a whisker of the team they were with Pek.

It shouldn’t have mattered because they were playing in Pionir, in a deciding game, with basically a four-point lead before the game even started.  It seemed everything was going to plan and by the fourth the Milano players will have been bogged down enough by the crowd that they won’t be able to keep up.  That didn’t happen.  Omar Cook came up clutch and Acie Law didn’t, and now a Milano team that seemed headed out on the garbage boat a few weeks ago, has a fresh start in the Top 16.

A New Regular Season?

Maybe we throw away all of these group shenanigans in the Regular Season.  I mean shouldn’t advancing be determined more on how well your team does and not what group you ended up in?  Three teams are advancing with worse records than a team that was eliminated, that just doesn’t sit well with me.

At the very least split these teams into three groups of eight or two groups of twelve.  More Regular Season games doesn’t sound so bad either.

As we saw with how strong Group C was, how even Group A was, how weak Group D was, and how stinky the bottom of Group B was; a draw in mid-summer shouldn’t have vast implications onto team success.

I’m not exactly sure the correct way to put together the regular season but more games against more teams is a start.  Bamberg beat the defending champs and then got buzzer beaten in two games.  Can we at least give them a few more games to see what was a fluke and what was real?

If anyone has some good ideas for Regular Season change, feel free to drop a comment below.  Please, a great idea might restore my sanity.

R.I.P. Mirza Teletovic’s Ridiculous Shot Selection