Here is Your-own Yarone’s continued detailed look at the Euroleague Top 16 Draw.
Group G: Unicaja, Lottomatica Roma, Panathinaikos, Partizan
Oh my goodness… What a free-for-all group. After Roma won in Vitoria, after Partizan won in Moscow, can there be a single score in these games that you would say is unimaginable?
Starting from the bottom shows how complicated this group is going to be. None of the three teams will travel to Belgrade with sure confidence they will win there. One of the most difficult arenas in Europe, with thousands of fanatic Partizan fans will welcome Unicaja, Pananthinaikos and Roma. None will feel as favorites there. When the fourth seed team is favorite to get at least three wins, and Panathinaikos is the third seed, it says it all.
There are some interesting players facing their former teams in this group. Sani Becirovic wasn’t good enough for Panathinaikos, and went to get some minutes in Roma on his way to the MVP of the season award. Nikola Pekovic played for Partizan his entire career before moving to Panathinaikos this summer. And of course Dejan Bordiroga, this time as the big off-court boss of Lottomatica, will face his second home in Athens.
In any season so far, the team to get the last ticket (aka best sixth place) turned out to be a key player in the Top 16. Since there is no “best 6th place” anymore, under the new system, we can expect a fourth seeded team to take that role. And nobody fits better than Partizan.
Probably most people will say Panathinaikos, despite their third place and the current so-so shape, is favorite to win this group. But … I wouldn’t seal it that quickly. Score differences will play a key role in this group, so every point matters. Panathinaikos’s favoritism is only due to their legacy and big need to fix the impression of last season, but anything can happen in this group. Anything.
Close History Class: Last season it was Partizan Belgrade who shocked Panathinaikos and kept them out of the Quarter-finals in an amazing run. The two teams played each other as well in the Regular Season and already then it showed Panathinaikos is having trouble with the Serbs. The Top 16 has turned into a Greek catastrophe. In the summer Pekovic and Dusan Kecman moved from being the stars of Partizan to the back-ups at Panathinaikos (and sometimes less in the case of Kecman). Now it’s time for Panathinaikos to get revenge, or for Partizan to prove that even without their top two players from last season, they can eliminate the Green giant again.
Group H: CSKA Moscow, Montepaschi Siena, Fenerbahce Ulker, Cibona
Just like Group E this one should be easy to figure. Buildings will fall, rivers will dry up and birds will go on diet if CSKA and Montepaschi don’t qualify to the next level.
Starting from the bottom once again, we find Cibona who had a great start for the season but lost four of their last five games. Actually their only win was at home against Le Mans. But … they did give a big fight to Unicaja and proved their home court is still a dangerous spot to visit. Would that be enough for a ticket to the next round? Probably not.
The big eye should go on Fenerbahce Ulker. The second year in Bogdan Tanjevic’s young talents farm could turn into something very big next season, with better hits in the foreigners. So this ride will be a great chance for the kids to gain more experience and see what it takes to win against big teams in the big games. One more year in school before the real world starts next year.
CSKA and Siena will probably fight for the grand prize of the group, and their games are glued, as the champs play in Italy on the third game and two weeks later host the re-match. These two games will be the main feature of those Euroleague weeks. You know those mid-season games people define as “The Real Final”? That’s one good example. Anything can happen. Even a third home loss for CSKA this season.
The best Italian team against Ettore Messina, how bad can it be?
Close History Class: Last season Montepaschi and Fenerbahce met in the quarter-finals, and the Turks were the only team to be eliminated 2-0 among the four match-ups. A surprisingly tough 73-66 win in Siena was followed with an easy 86-65 triumph in Istanbul. In 2005-06 it was CSKA to eliminate Ulker 2-0 in the quarter-finals with two double-digit wins.
The G&H Conference
Grab a chair, sit tight, hold on to whatever is steady and available and if you didn’t notice so far, listen closely. CSKA Moscow, Montepaschi Siena & Panathinaikos Athens. One of these teams won’t travel to Berlin this year. For any of them it will be a more than disturbing news.
The champs played in every Final Four since 2003 and played the last three finals. Panathinaikos already missed the Final Four last year in a shocking scenario, and two years in a row without a Final Four for such a golden and money-spending roster is way-way-way too much. Already last season Montepaschi held the unofficial “Best team in the Euroleague you’re not aware of” title for some fans. Some of them dropped the second part and were sure the club from Tuscany is the best. This season they are still showing one of the most impressive teams around. If they fail to play the Final Four the event will miss the least glamorous team of the three, but one that is clearly a worthy title contender.
Two of the most impressive teams of the Regular Season – Unicaja Malaga and Lottomatica Roma – are left aside here. If they make it, it’s a huge surprise. But if you’re looking for an upset, this might be the place to find it. Since the Final Four normally hosts one team that “isn’t suppose to be there”, don’t disqualify these two so quickly.
One thing is for sure. If everything goes as planned Euroleague basketball will experience one of its best periods between March 24th and April 8th.
Imagine for a minute a Best-of-5 series between CSKA Moscow and Panathinaikos Athens with a Final Four ticket on the line. The same deal with Montepaschi and Panathinaikos will shine less but basketball wise will be as intriguing.
If you love European basketball that minute should stimulate a big rush down your veins.