A critical Group A matchup with long-term implications on the race for Top 16 takes place at the S.Darius & S.Girenas Sports Center in Kaunas, Lithuania, on Thursday in Group A when Zalgiris hosts Virtus VidiVici Bologna. This season’s celebration of 50 Years of European Club Basketball will mark the game with a pregame ceremony, in which Zalgiris stars over the tears, Eurelijus Zukauskas, Rimas Kurtinaitis, Saulius Stombergas, Modestas Paulauskas and team president and former All-Euroleague center Arvydas Sabonis will be honored. Zalgiris is coming off a big win over Tau Ceramica last week, that saw the club climb to 3-4 and a tie for fifth place in the standings – the last spot that brings with it automatic passage to the next stage. The Euroleague’s all-time leading scorer, Marcus Brown, stood tall once again with 27 points, making 6 of 6 from downtown, to lead the Lithuanian champs. Zalgiris is undefeated this season at home, with Brown averaging 27.5 points on 81.2% three-point shooting and 2.5 steals in the last two victories. Brown is also 21 for 21 from the free-throw line this season. Meanwhile Bologna, which beat Zalgiris 81-75 on opening night behind Alan Anderson’s 28 points, enters the game at 2-5 and would overtake Zalgiris due to head-to-head tiebreaker with a win this week. Both teams have undergone changes since that game, with the addition of center Michael Bradley being the biggest change for Zalgiris, while Virtus has added Donnie McGrath and made Fabio DiBella the starting point guard. Zalgiris’s biggest strength this season has been its inside play, as the team leads the Euroleague in rebounding. Meanwhile, despite DeJuan Collins being ranked second in the league in assists, the team attack committee more turnovers than any other. On the other hand, Virtus has become so dependant on the play of its high-scoring wingers ability to create for themselves and to shoot from outside that it is ranked last in assists, second-bottom in two-point shooting and tied for fourth in turnovers. Nevertheless the game will hinge on how the trio of Delonte Holland and Dewarick Spencer, both among the league’s top 10 scorers, and Andersen are able to produce against Brown, Dainius Salenga and Jonas Maciulis. The duel between Collins and DiBella at the point guard spot is also critical, while veteran center Roberto Chiacig, shot-blocker Andrea Crosariol and power forward Guilherme Giovannoni will challenge Bradley, Zukauskas and Paulius Jankunas in the paint. Zalgiris remains the favorite in front of its passionate fans, but if ever there is a team that can see a few guys get hot and carry their squad, it’s Virtus. The defensive of abilities of the Zalgiris perimeter players will be tested, though the hosts could counter attack through Brown and Marko Popovic, in a game that could play out in many different ways, each more exciting than the next.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007