Two of the fastest-growing teams in European basketball over the last decade will battle other in Istanbul on Wednesday when Efes Pilsen welcomes Tau Ceramica for a key Group A encounter. Efes (6-4) will mathematically advance to the Top 16 with one more victory combined with an additional defeat by either Le Mans or Prokom. Meanwhile, Tau (9-1) has already advanced to the next round, is on a nine-game Euroleague winning streak and is unbeaten in any competition since November 11. Tau leads all Euroleague teams this regular season in assists (16.2 apg.) and is third in scoring (83.7 ppg.), while Efes had the fewest turnovers of any team so far (11.1 per game). Above all, it is a big showdown between arguably two of the deepest, strongest frontcourts in the competition. Tau has its star player in all-Euroleague power forward Luis Scola (16.7 ppg., 60.4% 2FG), who teams up in the paint with center Tiago Splitter (9.7 ppg., 6 rpg.), sharp shooter Mirza Teletovic (4.2 ppg.) and big Kaya Peker (4.8 ppg.), who returns to Istanbul for the first time to face the club for which he played six full seasons. Peker will be welcomed with a warm ovation at Abdi Ipecki arena, but not likely by his former team, which doesn't want to wait to reach the Top 16. Efes counters with a versatile, talented frontcourt featuring Marcus Haislip (13.6 ppg., 2 bpg.), who leads the league in blocked shots, Ermal Kuqo (10.1 ppg.), Niksa Prkacin (7.3 ppg.) and Kerem Gonlum (5.9 ppg., 4.1 rpg.). Scola and Prkacin, two of the biggest low-post threats in the competition, will go against each other, while Haislip will have a high-flying matchup against Splitter. Longtime friends Kuqo and Peker will do heavyweight battle in the paint, too. Efes bases its backcourt in super scorers Drew Nicholas (14.2 ppg., 44.1% 3FG) and Horace Jenkins (12.4 ppg.), as well as teenager Cenk Akyol (7.2 ppg.) and newcomer Laron Profit (2.3 ppg.). Nicholas will test his scoring skills against Pablo Prigioni (7.3 ppg., 4.9 apg., 2.8 spg.), one of the best defenders in the competition. Meanwhile, Akyol might have a chance to go against Zoran Planinic (12.1 ppg., 4.6 apg.), in which could be one of the key matchups. Tau plenty more firepower to throw at the Efes defense, with Igor Rakocevic (16 ppg., 45.9% 3FG) and Serkan Erdogan (12.2 ppg., 45.2% 3FG) at the wings, while Fred House (7.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg., 2.9 spg.) brings tough defense to the table. It will be an intense game between teams that know very well that they both want the same things on Wednesday and later in the season: expect nothing less than a major showdown in Abdi Ipecki.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007