The two Group B teams tied for fifth place - the last automatic qualifying spot to the Top 16 - square off on Thursday when Olympiacos hosts Winterthur FC Barcelona in Piraeus, Greece. Although both have 3-4 records, they have played well enough to perhaps have won more games, if not for coming up short a few times in a tough group. Olympiacos is coming off its most lopsided win of the season, an 89-67 home decision over Milano. Reserves Nikos Hatzis and young Panagiotis Vassilopoulos led the way with 16 and a season-high 14 points, respectively. Barcelona was soundly defeated at home by Maccabi, 78-88, despite a strong game from big man Mikalis Kakiouzis, who finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds. Barcelona won convincingly when these teams last met in the first week of the season, 86-70. Juan Carlos Navarro, who led the way that night with 26 points, is expected back in the lineup this week after missing three games with injuries and illness. With Navarro (15.5 ppg.) on form, Barcelona should have its backcourt at full strength, featuring five of the top guards in the league: Navarro, Shammond Williams (13.5 ppg., 3.8 apg.), Gianluca Basile (9.7 ppg.), Bootsy Thornton and former scoring champ Milos Vujanic. However, the man running the show for Olympiacos has seen it all and won't be intimidated by Barcelona's talent parade. In fact, Tyus Edney (11.7 ppg., 3.4 apg) can become the 18th player in league history to cross the 1,000-point barrier with 6 in this game. Ironically, Barcelona features five members of the exclusive club that will be on hand to welcome Edney: Gregor Fucka (1,362), Vujanic (1,188), Navarro (1,184), Basile (1,160) and Kakiouzis (1,125). Edney will be flanked by Quincy Lewis (10.1 ppg.) and Hatzis (8.8 ppg.), either of whom can change the game with a big shooting night. An interesting meeting will take place inside where Kakiouzis (13.4 ppg., 6 rpg.), who grew up with Olympiacos rival AEK Athens, meets Andrija Zizic (7 ppg., 6.1 rpg.), who spent most of last season with Barcelona. Olympiacos will rest some big hopes on the shoulders of Sofoklis Schortsanitis (10.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg.) in his battle against Barcelona veteran Denis Marconato (7.8 ppg., 6 rpg.), a former teammate of Edney's at Benetton Treviso. There is not much that separates these teams statistically, although Olympiacos's numbers always improve at home, where the team is 3-1 this season – its only defeat in an overtime thriller vs. Efes Pilsen. The pressure will be on Edney to perform and keep his teammates at a level that could match the potential output of the Barcelona guards. The speed and one-on-one ability of Edney and Williams promises a thrilling matchup that could go a long way towards determining the winner.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005