Efes Pilsen hosts Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv in a big Group B matchup on Thursday at Abdi Ipekci Arena in Istanbul. The two teams are tied for third place in Group B with 6-3 records and one win less than the co-leaders, but the storyline of this game will be more about the coaches. Maccabi head coach Oded Kattash resigned Tuesday due to the perennial Israeli champion’s struggles in its domestic league, with general manager Tzvika Sherf stepping in for his fifth tour of duty as Maccabi coach. Sherf, also the Israeli national team’s head coach, and Efes Pilsen head coach David Blatt know each other as well as any coaches in the business, and even helped each other scout their opponents at the EuroBasket championships last summer, which Blatt went on to win with Team Russia. Blatt was also the head coach at Maccabi for two seasons and helped the team to a pair of European titles as its top assistant. Maccabi hopes that Sherf will ignite his new troops, who suffered a disappointing home loss to Lietuvos Rytas before the winter break. Meanwhile Efes has gotten hot, winning three in arrow before the break. Blatt’s side has some injury woes, with Drew Nicholas, Serkan Erdogan and Ermal Kuqo all missing recent domestic games. However all but Erdogan are expected to play this week. Maccabi used an 11-0 run spanning the third and fourth periods to come back for a 73-67 win over Efes when they met in November. Esteban Batista came off the bench for 14 to lead Maccabi that game. Andre Hutson scored a season-high 21 that game for Efes. Both teams have extremely deep frontcourts – even though Maccabi’s All-Euroleague center Nikola Vujcic is still sidelined. Loren Woods, Hutson, Kuqo and Kerem Gonlum make up a formidable quartet that Maccabi will counter with Esteban Batista, Marcus Fizer, Terrence Morris and Lior Eliyahu. If Efes can control the glass, small forward Kenny Gregory could make a big impact in the transition game. Even without Nicholas and Erdogan, Blatt has a reliable backcourt with guys like playmaker Scoonie Penn, Rashad Wright and Ender Arslan. The Maccabi rotation at guard features Yotam Halperin, Vonteego Cummings, Will Bynum, Alex Garcia and team captain Derrick Sharp. At face value, Efes seems to have a big advantage in the fact that Blatt knows much of the Maccabi roster quite well. However if Maccabi comes with some extra inspiration under its new boss or injuries caused Efes to use a shorter roster, this game could get very exciting very fast, leaving no result a surprise.
Wednesday, January 02, 2008