The chance for a memorable night before its home fans awaits Tau Ceramica as it welcomes Maccabi Tel Aviv to Martin Buesa Arena in Vitoria, Spain on Wednesday. Not only would a victory make it the first Quarterfinal Playoffs qualifier from Group D, but Tau can in fact clinch first place and the homecourt advantage in the best-of-three quarterfinals if it wins and Pau-Orthez defeats Roma, also on Wednesday. What's more, Luis Scola can become the all-time Euroleague leading scorer if he scores 7 points on Wednesday. Be sure, however, that Maccabi arrives in Spain with revenge on its mind. Maccabi saw its 15-game home winning streak come to an end with a 68-79 loss to Tau in the Top 16 opener last month. Now Maccabi, playing on a Wednesday night for the first time since March 2002 – also against Tau – looks to return the favor and snap Tau's record-tying 25-game homecourt win streak. Tau has thrived despite major distractions so far throughout the Top 16: head coach Velimir Perasovic suffered from heart problems before the first Maccabi game and has now suspended his contract with the club; the second-best scorer in the Euroleague after two Top 16 games, Igor Rakocevic, was injured and remains out against Maccabi; and Zoran Plininic, who missed the first two games with a hand injury, is only returning to form now. Nevertheless, Tau has been in stellar form, topping Pau on the road two weeks ago and setting a Top 16 record with a 43-point thrashing of Roma last week. On the other hand, after losing to Tau, Maccabi struggled a bit but pulled out back-to-back wins against Roma and Pau-Orthez. As always, the Tau-Maccabi matchup centers around a couple of all-Euroleague big men: power forward Scola (16.2 ppg., 5.5 rpg.), Tau's unstoppable force in the paint, and center Nikola Vujcic (16.2 ppg., 8 rpg., 4.4 apg.), who is the focus of the Maccabi attack. While Tiago Splitter (9.7 ppg., 5.6 rpg.) and Kaya Peker have been steady helpers for Scola inside, Maccabi has yet to get a big night simultaneiously from both rookie Lior Eliyahu (11.4 ppg., 4.9 rpg.) and Jamie Arnold (8.4 ppg.). To surprise Scola, Maccabi head coach Neven Spahija started reserve Noel Felix last time versus Tau, but he sat down after 4 uneventful minutes and hasn't played since. Even with its injury woes, Tau boasts a formidable backcourt led by Pablo Prigioni (7 ppg., 5.2 apg., 2.7 spg.), Serkan Erdogan (12.8 ppg.), Ender Arslan (7.3 ppg.), and swingman Fred House (7.2 ppg., 4.9 rpg.). They will challenge Maccabi's guard rotation of Tal Burstein, Derrick Sharp (11.7 ppg., 54.1% 3FG), Will Bynum (10.8 ppg., 2.6 apg.) and Goran Jeretin. Yotam Halperin also returned to the rotation in the Israeli League over the weekend and will be a candidate to play. Anything can happen in this hot matchup between teams that have squared off at each of the past two Final Fours. The talent, depth and passion of both teams is of the highest level and the only remaining question is which team will have more of it on Wednesday.
Tuesday, March 06, 2007