The only European player ever to win both the Euroleague and NCAA titles, Jiri "George" Zidek has been a collaborator with Euroleague.net and Euroleague.TV since the 2006 Final Four was held in his native Czech Republic. Big George, who won the Euroleague with Zalgiris Kaunas in 1999, continues as a color analyst of Euroleague games for Czech TV, not to mention for Euroleague.TV, where he has worked the last three Final Fours. As George returns for the 2011-12 Turkish Airlines Euroleague season, expect more great insights from an ex-champ's point of view!
Chemistry. A proverbial, intangible concept that turns mediocre into quality and groups of talented individuals into champions. When all goes well, or at least up to expectations, we readily assign the right quantity of the performance maximizing ingredient to a team and on the other hand call for it when things stall or grind to painful stop. All in all, however, we usually speak about chemistry between players on the court. Watching Cantu enjoying its Euroleague mission to the fullest against Olympiacos I also saw great chemistry within its coaching staff. Andrea Trinchieri, a rookie Euroleague coach himself, masterfully switched between calm, supportive, demanding and inspirational in the team’s third win, while the whole time aided and supported by one of the most experienced assistants in the game, Lele Molin. If devotion is the central theme of Euroleague, the fans in Belgrade always reassure me that this motto has been rightly chosen. Devoted to the limit, the fans at Pionir Arena put its team up at least 10-0 before the game even starts and make each game a once-in-a-lifetime experience even for fans watching on TV. Another full capacity crowd of 16,000 witnessed the showdown between Panathinaikos and CSKA. Such match ups make the Euroleague what it is.
Fenerbahce Ulker will be looking to extend its winning streak against biggest surprise of the group, Cantu. In reality, Fenerbahce can’t afford to stumble at home if it doesn’t want to get into serious trouble in an even group. Bojan Bogdanovic finally unleashed his scoring potential and Curtis Jerrells added points from the point guard position. Playmaking stays the key question for the Turkish champs. Cantu has nothing to lose and will try to play with the same poise it had at home against Olympiacos last week. Cantu veterans Marconato and Basile were invaluable for the team and will have to be there again in Istanbul. Georgi Shermanidi needs to stay out of foul trouble as he will be asked to neutralize not only Fenerbahce’s interior game, but more importantly to help and change shots on drives from the perimeter.
A battle of two Spanish clubs of the closest geographical proximity will take place in Vitoria as Bilbao buses over its squad. Knowing each other from their domestic league, I expect impeccable scouting and knowledge of the opponents’ strengths and weaknesses. The game will pivot on a head-to-head matchup of team leaders as the high-flying Mirza Teletovic will face off with the fundamentally strong and effective Marko Banic. Teletovic will look to exploit his quickness facing the basket on offense, but he will have to be very alert on defense as Banic exploits each mistake to his advantage quickly.
Olympiacos clearly has its backs against the wall at home against SLUC Nancy after playing well on the road, but dropping two close contests in the last seconds. Vassilis Spanoulis has tried his best to be the team leader in key moments, however, ha has been too isolated in his effort. Olympiacos’s front line needs to pick up as last week Antic, Hines and Papadopoulos all had negative efficiency ratings! They better do some soul searching and show up ready to meet the challenge as center Akin Akingbala has been the key performer alongside Nico Batum for Nancy. Pressure is on Olympiacos, which must shake off difficult losses, get the key win and look at the rest of regular season one game at a time.
CSKA sent a strong signal to the rest of the Euroleague by winning in Athens last week. With evenly spread scoring and minutes, CSKA is in ideal position not to blemish its perfect record at home against Unicaja. Self satisfaction tends to be the main threat to great teams, but coach Kazlauskas has such a deep roster to his advantage that should anybody let his guard down, there is an eager and quality replacement waiting for his chance. Unicaja needs to focus on defense first and expect “the unexpected” on offense as CSKA has the capability to turn its players into a compact wall.
Even though Zalgiris got its first victory last week, it’s without a doubt that leaving the Croatian capital on top is the only acceptable solution for the Lithuanian champs. Zalgiris needs to take care of business from the tip off as it will likely look to Sonny Weems to carry the scoring load. Zagreb, if not struck by a sudden metamorphosis of massive extent, is out of Top 16 race. The team that loses its game against Zagreb, however, could find this victory making a serious dent in their Top 16 hopes.
When you think of Bamberg playing at home, their die hard fans and unselfish team play come into mind first. Favorites Panathinaikos should have no problem looking for motivation or focus as it will look to redeem itself after a rare loss at home to CSKA in Week 4. Inside and outside Panathinaikos has the advantage on paper, with the reigning MVP in its midst and a coach who questioned his teams fighting spirit last week. Bamberg has been known as a giant killer in the past, but has to play a perfect game and hope for a remarkable night from its long distance shooters.
Maccabi as the group leader wants to keep a comfortable cushion ahead of the rest of the pack. Spirou, which earned its right to play through qualifiers, has shown a lot of promise and potential so far. I don’t expect coach David Blatt to allow any mental letdown by his team, since such an approach to the game could turn into a costly falter. Jordan Farmar going against Demond Mallet will try to continue to shine at point guard, while Sofoklis Schortsanitis must look to establish himself down low to use his size advantage. Spirou is a smart and dangerous club and knows how to play together. Maccabi will try to get off to a quick start fueled by the home crowd, but must stay patient defensively as Spirou runs penetrate and kick offense with great precision and patience.
Real Madrid welcomes the team that has won both its road games so far. Anadolu Efes has shown remarkable poise on the road as it executed its game plan perfectly in Belgrade and Milan, which brought them valuable victories. Madrid has an incredible array of explosive firepower that can score in bunches in Carroll, Fernandez and Lull. Especially at home the threesome is a deadly threat that needs to be addressed. In that regard, Efes have to hope to have its versatile, athletic defender Tarrence Kinsay back into the lineup as he is the best defensive stopper on the perimeter on the team. Expect an important battle down low as Efes will try to benefit from experience and the individual offensive qualities of Ilyasova and Savanovic, the latter of whom hasn’t found his rhythm on his new team.
A crucial battle for Top 16 contention will take place in Milan. EA7 found a way to earn an important victory last week in Belgium, while Partizan clawed its way to the top in a thriller against Real Madrid. Partizan will not change its game plan and will look for Pekovic in the post early. Ioannis Bourousis will be the key in keeping the Partizan center as far from basket as possible. Milan will look for Danilo Gallinari to put all-around rising star Milan Macvan in foul trouble as Gallinari is one of the most-fouled players in the competition. Milan playmaker Omar Cook will play the key role in dictating the tempo of game for the home side and keeping in check Partizan’s Acie Law. Cook should try to be aggressive with Law on offense as coach Jovanovic hasn’t been able to find an adequate back up for his point guard. Milan has to start the game with energy and dictate the tempo from the beginning as it holds advantage in experience against a relatively young, albeit very talented Serbian team.
Unics, thanks to two road wins, finds itself in a very promising situation. Olimpija on the other hand has to have a victory in mind if it wants to keep contact with Unics and Galatasaray in the race for a Top 16 spot. Henry Domercant has been deadly for Kazan and I expect him to keep scoring at full throttle. Veteran Aleksey Savrasenko has been called on for surprisingly large amounts of minutes, but has answered the call readily. Olimpija understands its position well and will try to present itself with an active defense to make up for its lack of experience. Statistical averages paint the true, but bleak, picture for Olimpija’s performances so far – it has been shooting under 30% from downtown and hasn’t gotten to the line enough.
All pressure should be off for Galatasaray as it can only surprise against the undefeated group leader. It will be interesting to watch how the 20-year-old rising star Furkan Aldemir does after last weeks double-double in a pivotal game in Ljubljana. Even though it is enjoying an unblemished record, don’t expect Barcelona to travel across Europe with a lackadaisical attitude. The fight for the top spot in this group will happen between the Catalans and Siena. A loss to anybody else, but between the two clubs, would likely decide who wins the duel. Individually eyes will be on Juan Carlos Navarro to see how close he comes or if he breaks the Euroleague’s all-time scoring record this week.
Prokom might have lost its last chance to make things dramatic last week at home against Unics. All this just-before-the-season assembled and inexperienced Prokom team can hope for is to keep the game as respectable as possible. On the other hand Coach Pianigiani will likely have a chance to rest his starters and distribute the minutes as equally as possible.
JIRI ZIDEK - CZECH REPUBLIC
Monday, November 14, 2011