A crucial Group C with major Top 16 implications takes place in Belgrade, Serbia, on Wednesday when Partizan Igokea hosts Chorale Roanne. The two teams enter the game tied for fifth place – the last spot that leads to an automatic spot in the next stage – with 3-5 records. The game at Partizan’s usually rowdy Pionir Arena will have a bizarre atmosphere as the club has been ordered to play the game behind closed doors. After a red-hot start to the season, Partizan has cooled off, losing three in a row, including a 26-point thumping at the hands of Barcelona last week. Not surprisingly, star center Nikola Pekovic has seen a drop of in his game over those three, and he fouled out of each of them. Meanwhile Roanne has won its last two games, though it hasn’t won on the road since opening night. When the two teams first met in October, Pekovic converted a three-point play with 7.8 seconds remaining to lead Partizan to an 87-88 road win. Brion Rush and Marc Salyers scored 29 and 20 points, respectively, to pace Roanne in that game. That duo, along with playmaker Marc Antoine-Pellin, has become the key to the Roanne attack. With Salyers leading the Euroleague in scoring, Rush ranked fifth and Pellin atop the assists chart, the French champs’ attack is lethal. Naturally, the game will revolve in many ways around these star players. Roanne will send center Pape Badiane, the anchor of the team's defense, to try and stop Pekovic, who is averaging 26 points on 75% shooting and 8 rebounds in home games, in what could arguably be the most important head-to-head matchup. Partizan power forward Novica Velickovic leads the charge against Salyers, with Dusan Kecman, Milenko Tepic and Milt Palacio pushing the backcourt against Rush, Pellin and Pierric Poupet. Naturally, with so much attention being paid to the other spots, small forwards Adam Hess from Roanne and Cedomir Vitkovac could step up as well to play major roles. Partizan is a much bigger team, which is one of the reasons that it ranks second in the league in rebounding and in fouls drawn. Partizan head coach Dusko Vujosevic will need to find a way to keep Pekovic out of foul trouble and to use his team’s height to its advantage this week, while Roanne head coach Jean-Denys Choulet will look to use its speed to get in front. Also of importance will be how Partizan deals with a home game in front of empty stands. No team can be considered the favorite in this clash, in which both teams will give there all for a game that could ultimately make the difference between a spot in the Top 16 at end of the regular season.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007