Second thoughts: Week 10 insights
Basketball junkie Yarone Arbel has been traveling the globe to watch games for almost a decade. He works as an analyst for official websites of the top competitions and events in European basketball. He also uses his experience and broad network of connections to provide consulting and scouting services for clubs at all levels.
Week 10 produced two games where four well-deserving teams fought for Top 16 tickets, and most of the attention was glued to Belgrade and Bilbao. Two huge wins. Two huge upsets. One home team made it. The other blew it. Two veteran Euroleague clubs are out. Two teams that have combined for only one previous Top 16 appearance advanced. It was an appropriate and well-deserved finish for a great regular season. And here's hoping for an even better Top 16! But first, my Second Thoughts on Week 10:
Just how big was that win…
There is a very good chance that a quick survey around the Euroleague about "Which is the arena you least want to play your do-or-die road game in" would finish with the answer - Hala Pionir in Belgrade. History was also against EA7 Emporio Armani Milano this week. Partizan had not missed the Top 16 in the last five seasons. Milano, and this might be a shock, had made the Top 16 just once in its entire run in the Euroleague. Partizan never dropped more than one home game in a 10-game regular season. In the last seven games between the two sides, Milano won just once time. The last time Milano beat Partizan on the road was...never! Everything was against Milano, but it still produced one of the biggest road wins the Euroleague has seen in recent years.
The free throws
If there was one thing that stood out in Milano's win, it was the team's ability to handle the pressure. Milano is ranked only in ninth in the Euroleague in free-throw accuracy and had a team average of 72% coming to Belgrade. Entering the last three minutes, still with the scoreboard pointing to a result that was worth a ticket home, the guests were on 9 made free throws in 15 attempts. However until the buzzer, Milano scored just a single field goal, but stepped up from the foul line to connect 8 shots from 10 attempts from the. That Included 2 of 2 that didn't touch anything but the net by Mason Roca, who's a 60.9% career average in the Euroleague and made just 2 free throws the whole season coming insto the game.
Clear cut Bilbao
Milano wasn't the only team to record a huge win this week and show great nerves. Gescrap BB shocked Europe and eliminated Caja Laboral and it was done in great style. The guests didn't lead for a second in the last three quarters and it was clear which was the better team on the floor. In the closing five minutes, head coach Fotios Katsikaris's gangs connected on 4 of 7 shots from the floor in classic fashion: Two mid-range hits by bigs (D'or Fischer and Marko Banic) and two rim attacks by a guard (Aaron Jackson, who finished with layups). Add to that an impressive prefect 6 hits from the charity stripe without a miss in the last minute to cap the historical night. Coach Katsikaris, who already coached an underdog AEK Athens to the Top 16 in the 2004-05 season, did it again. Not only did Bilbao make it to the Top 16, in its debut Euroleague season, it also eliminated at the same time its archrivals and Euroleague powerhouse from Vitoria. Just an hour drive between the two Basque cities, but such a huge difference of mood last night.
Let the kids play
A scene that was tough to ignore in Belgrade was the fact in a season-defining game, both coaches gave tons of credit to their youngsters. Partizan's Danilo Andjusic is only 20 years old. This is his debut season in the Euroleague. His contribution has been very limited. In such an intense and important game, you wouldn't expect him to play 11 minutes. Most of them actually in the closing quarter, including the final seconds of the game. Yet it wasn't only the case. Armani Milano landed 20-year-old Alessandro Gentile only last week. The son of the legendary Euroleague champion Nando Gentile made his Euroleague debut already this week and he as well played 11 minutes, some of them in the last quarter including the closing seconds. Neither of these prospects had a great impact on the game, and that makes the decision to let them play so easily to critique in the case of a season-ending loss. Kudos to both coach Scariolo and coach Jovanovic for their guts to let the kids play in such games. And in such situations.
Despite it all…
Milano arrived to Belgrade knowing it needed not only to win, but by 4 points to make it. The pressure of a whole season was on the shoulders of a team that had huge expectations before it started. A list of superstars. Two Euroleague champs. All the aforementioned history in the air. The official numbers say 7,500 fans were in Pionir Arena, though it felt like some security regulations were over looked. All the reasons in the world for a mental breakdown were there. It felt like just a tiny blow woulds collapse the visitors and that moment came. For the last 4 seconds of the first half coach Scariolo called a timeout down by 4. The ball was under Milano's rim for an inbounds pass. A short pass to Omar Cook, somehow, slipped out of the veteran's hands despite the fact that there was no pressure on him by the defense. The ball reached the hands of Dragan Milosavljevic, who had enough time to set himself for a shot or even attack the rim, but the youngster didn't check the clock and by instinct took an unorthodox shot from 8 meters that went through the net (#9 on the Top 10 plays of the week). It got Pionir Arena so excited that even the fans' smoking break was postponed! For two minutes... Down by 7 after such a disaster/huge play was the perfect excuse to fall apart. Partizan added 4 more points to cap a 9-0 run to take a double-digit lead early in the second half. Enough powder to break the spirit of Milano, but that's when the change started and that's why Milano's win is much bigger than just winning in Hala Pionir, Belgrade in such game.
Another one bites the dust?
2004-05 was the season Caja Laboral (then Tau Ceramica) made its last appearance in the Euroleague title game, yet it was also the last time the team didn't finish the regular season in one of the top three spots. A season before that was the last time the club didn't go beyond the Top 16. But tshis is the first time ever it has failed to advance to the second phase. That's how consistent the good performance of Baskonia in the Euroleague has been. Yet the writing was on the wall. Already last season Caja Laboral arrived to Week 9 still without the Top 16 ticket and eventually finished with the same record of the fourth-placed team, a balanced 5-5. This season, with the same record, it wasn't enough. Caja Laboral didn't win on the road after Week 1. It dropped a home game this season and two in the previous regular season. Then another in the quarterfinals that cost it a Final Four ticket. This is the same club that set the record for the longest home winning streak in the history of the competition with 27 straight not too long ago. Two seasons without Tiago Splitter and Caja Laboral is still looking for stability. Last season CSKA was shockingly knocked out in the first round, but came back to be the third team in history of the Euroleague to finish the regular season without a loss. Can Caja Laboral bounce back as well, or after two seasons in a row with a 5-5 record do we need to re-think their status? "Caja Laboral is a great team, a big name in Europe, and it is always expected to be in the Top 16, no matter what," said Mirza Teletovic to Euroleague.net before the game. If next season is another 5-5 performance, some parts of that statement will have to be re-checked.
The man who put Bilbao in this spot was also the one to deliver the final push. Marko Banic averaged 15.7 points on almost 70% shooting from the floor, 81% from the foul line and an index rating of 15.8 in 10 games. More importantly he was there in every night. He didn't drop once to single digits in points. On a team that scores 77 points per night, that's very crucial. When he reentered the game in the 17th minute, the score was tied. His first action was to score his first ever three-pointer in the Euroleague and continue to collect 6 more points until the break. Total points – 9. Halftime gap – 9. Banic later added a very important and typical-Banic mid-range jumper with his team up by just 3 points inside of 80 seconds. This is already the seventh season for Banic in Bilbao. Nobody deserved this more than him.
The key game in Bilbao was time for Caja Laboral's key players to step up, but the floor saw a different thing. Teletovic, the best scorer of the Euroleague season, tied his season low with 12 points – only the second time he didn't score 20 or more this season, while shooting 4 of 15 from the floor. Yet his performance was magic compared to the one of Fernando San Emeterio. Last season San Emeterio had the best index rating average of the entire season. He was selected as a member of the All-Euroleague First Team, but on Thursday night he recorded his worst performance ever. He missed all his 8 shots from the floor, didn't score a single point and reached an index rating of -10.
Re-live Brose Basket
Real Madrid, FC Barcelona Regal, Caja Laboral, Unicaja, CSKA, Maccabi and Montepaschi. This is the list of teams who managed to beat Panathinaikos twice in the same season. Nothing but powerhouses. An elite club to be part of. Brose Baskets came very close to being part of that prestigious club as a bit over a minute before the final buzzer, it was still a tied 66-66 game at OAKA. Absurdly it saved Brose Baskets from holding the title "the first team ever to beat PAO twice in the same season and not to make even the Top 16." For the second season in a row, the German champs arrived so close, but slide out, and for the second season in a row it's for the same reason - winning the wrong games. Last season it had wins over Olympiacos, Real Madrid and on the road in Malaga, yet a record of 1-3 and two of its worst losses of the season against the teams that fought with them for the Top 16 ticket. This season? A win over PAO, a huge win once again in Malaga next to two very close losses in Athens and at home vs. CSKA, but a 1-3 record against its Top 16 rivals and all three losses in double-digits. It’s a big shame because Brose Baskets and head coach Chris Fleming "deserve" to be there. Their basketball, not a traditional style at all, their aggressiveness, their smarts and the fact they can pretty much beat and lose to anybody at any court are fun to watch and would only add to the Top 16.
On the exact other side stands Zalgiris Kaunas. After winning just one game in the first six weeks of the season, it made a big jump and won three of the last four. The schedule screamed in advance this is the likely scenario, but it's fun and impressive to see that Zalgiris knew how to take advantage of it and step up in time. It was the mirror of the Brose Baskets scenario. Zalgiris wasn't even close to beating CSKA and Panathinaikos. Two teams that are "not in its league", but an overtime loss in Malaga and a 2-point win over the Spanish side in Kaunas joined to a 3-1 record over Brose Baskets and KK Zagreb. Enough to make it and to insure some of the best news the Euroleague has received this season - Sonny Weems will be with us for at least six more weeks.
Who wants a top scorer?
Turns out that having one of the Euroleague's top scorers on your team can be more of a curse more than a blessing. With Mirza Teletovic topping, for the first time in his career, the scoring ranking of the regular season, it was time to check just how useful is that for a team that wants to advance. Here are the figures. In 12 Euroleague seasons, only three times have all top 3 scorers made it to the next phase. In 75% of the cases at least one top scorer went home after the first phase. In four years, including the last two, actually two of the Top 3 scorers didn't make the next stage. Mirza is the fifth top scorer to stay out of the race despite the individual title after Milos Vujanic (Partizan), Lynn Greer (Slask Wroclaw), Marc Salyers (Roanne) and Keith Langford (Khimki) did that before. Actually the most likely to fail is the third top scorer as most of them, seven in total, were eliminated, but only a single runner-up, Cibona's Bojan Bogdanovic last season, went home early. Next season when your club's star is in the race for the top scorer in the regular season and your team struggles, it's time to worry.
Yarone Arbel - Euroleague.net
Friday, December 23, 2011