Second thoughts: Top 16, Week 6 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.
Gescrap rides the Spanish wave
A quarter of the teams in the playoffs arrived at this prestigious stage in their debut Euroleague seasons. Clearly the more impressive run was the one made by Gescrap BB. While Unics had the bigger budget and lots of experience in its veterans, Bilbao comes from a different situation. This is a new stage for Coach Fotios Katsikaris, who has already shown he can lead an underdog far – as he did in his days with AEK Athens – but few if any in Bilbao believed this was possible. Interesting though is the fact that Bilbao made it here by eliminating three Spanish teams. It was archrival Caja Laboral in the regular season and then Unicaja Malaga and of course Real Madrid that got the hit in the Top 16. Games between teams of the same country have much more atmosphere and energy of a domestic league game than a Euroleague game. Let's take for example Benetton Treviso of Italy and Hapoel Migdal Jerusalem of Israel. When they meet Montepaschi and Maccabi in the domestic league, they might not be the favorites, but still hold a decent chance to win. It certainly won't be crowned a huge upset if that happens. Yet in the Euroleague, you'd expect the Final Four powerhouse to beat a mid-level Eurocup level team easily, otherwise it's very big news. Makes sense? Bilbao rode that wave. However if you dare to think differently, it still doesn't take anything away from Bilbao's great result.
True, Real Madrid's knockout is the bigger story, but the biggest blow this week was to Fenerbahce Ulker. Following the Unics’s loss, the Turks had a chance to qualify with a win over Milano, which was already eliminated. Yet at no point was FB Ulker in a spot to win. It trailed by double digits through most of the last quarter. In a game where the focus was supposed to be at a peak, FB Ulker was low on execution and shot selection. Its three top scorers – Emir Preldzic, Bojan Bogdanovic and Roko Ukic – combined for 41 points out of the total 72, but on just 33% shooting. Bogdanovic went 2 for 7, Ukic was 4 of 13 and Preldzic also missed more than made, 5 of 13. One figure that stood out was the three-point attempts by Preldzic. Not a great three-point shooter in the first place with only 9 made threes the entire season at just 25%, on Thursday night he attempted no less than 7 shots from behind the arc. Considering his season average is less than two attempts per game and that in 78 career Euroleague games he took as many shots just twice hints on the performance of FB Ulker in its most important game of the season. A game with big importance also for Turkish basketball, which won't have any representative in the Final Four played in Istanbul this May.
The hottest team in the Euroleague
Timing is everything indeed. If this was the middle of the season and it was time to announce the hottest team in the Euroleague, it might be EA7 Armani Milano. Its early elimination and the awful results in the first three weeks of the Top 16 kind of fogged the great finish Milano made with three wins in a row, including one in Athens. It'll be difficult to disconnect the three wins from the addition of J.R. Breme, which coincided with the turnaround. His steady performances, something Milano missed most of the season, surely helped. Milano made the Top 16 in the last minutes. In the Top 16 it woke up just a bit too late. Considering the big moves in the summer, maybe the biggest around all of the Euroleague, it's still "too early" of a finish for Milano, but the three-game winning streak gives the gang in Milano some base to build on for the next season, and maybe will prevent another busy summer with lots of moves.
Before Maccabi travels to Athens it needs to keep in mind one thing. Panathinaikos doesn't have a history of losing in a series. Only in one out of five cases has Panathinaikos failed to survive. The only loss came after one very magical and unforgettable shot by Pablo Prigioni in Game 3 in Athens to beat the buzzer and shock the Greens out of the 2006 Final Four. Yet more interesting is to follow the history of Coach Zeljko Obradovic in such cases. Two amazing facts pop out. In his entire Euroleague career as a coach, only twice has Obradovic played a series without the home-court advantage and that was obviously last season and in his debut Euroleague season with Partizan. Nevertheless he shocked Virtus in Bologna and went on to shock all of Europe with the Euroleague title. In the last decade, with the home-court advantage, Obradovic and co. have recorded nine more series wins. In total Obradovic has dropped just a single series in his entire career out of 15 matchups. Not the best news for Maccabi, though if Coach David Blatt seeks a point to hang on to, he might find it in the fact that in the last two Maccabi playoff series, the home team has been eliminated.
The Saras Job
Sarunas Jasikevicius returned to Athens this season in a different role. When he first arrived at Panathinaikos, it was one of the biggest moves of the summer for a huge contract. Now, when his 36th birthday is only a few days away, things are different. His role and weight in the team are different. He's there now to bring exactly what he did on Wednesday night. Only 5.5 points, 2.1 assists and 26.1% from the arc for Saras this season, but in Kazan, when the champs needed the win to secure the home-court advantage Coach Obradovic appreciates so much, he was there. He stepped on the floor right before the end of the first quarter. He hit a three-point shot that gave Panathinaikos the lead, which it never dropped again. Then he added a jumper, assist, steal, another three pointer and another assist in six minutes to lead his team to a 9-point gap – practically its biggest lead in the game. He returned in the last quarter and in three minutes produced 3 assists and a steal. To ice the cake, Saras added a pair from the line and finished the game tying his season high with 10 points, without missing a single shot, tying his season high in assists as well and his best index rating of the season – 14 in less than 20 minutes. Perfect.
Farewell to Cantu
One of the most enjoyable teams to follow this season was Bennet Cantu, which finished its run for this season. The job done by Coach Andrea Trinchieri and his gang will be a memorable one for the great fans of Cantu, who once again got to breath Euroleague air after a long-long drought, and also for Euroleague fans. All of Cantu's home games and most of its road games were among the biggest joys in this season. It might not be the most beautiful basketball to watch, as talent isn't the best thing Cantu has to offer, but the team play, the aggressiveness and the ball movement were classic European basketball. Of the best kind. All in all, after winning in Kaunas in the last week, Cantu was just one single shot from making the quarterfinals and eliminating Maccabi. One shot at the buzzer by Gianluca Basile that hit the rim and kept Cantu at home. Let's hope to see them again next season, hopefully once again in a situation to survive the Top 16.
Yarone Arbel - Euroleague.net
Friday, March 02, 2012