Efes Pilsen will try to move up the Group B ladder when it hosts Aris TT Bank on Wednesday at Abdi Ipekci Sports Hall in Istanbul, Turkey. After downing the group co-leader Lietuvos Rytas last week to improve to 8-4 and with a game against another co-leader, Unicaja, to come in Week 14, head coach David Blatt’s squad still has a chance to climb in the standings and improve its seeding ahead of the Top 16 draw. Meanwhile Aris, which is fifth in the group at 6-6, has also clinched a spot in the next round and must beat Efes, win next week and hope for an Efes loss against Unicaja to move up to fourth place at the end of the regular season. Bracey Wright scored 20 points and Jeremiah Massey came through with a double-double of 13 points and 13 rebounds to lead Aris to a 67-64 win when the two sides met in Thessaloniki, Greece, earlier in the season. Despite some inconsistent recent performances, Massey remains Aris’s star and one of the top power forwards in the Euroleague. Aside from Massey and Wright, small forward Dimitrios Tsaldaris has come into own lately, averaging 13.3 points in the last three games after posting 7.4 points per game in the first nine. Recent signing Darius Washington could also begin to become more of a scoring threat for head coach Gordon Herbert. Efes boats a deeper squad with a host of players that can step up on any night, though recently two have shined brighter than the rest. Playmaker and Week 10 MVP Scoonie Penn is averaging 19.4 points and 4.5 assists in the second half of the season and center and Week 11 MVP Loren Woods has double doubles in each of the past two games and is among the league leaders in blocked shots and offensive rebounds despite averaging just 22 minutes per game. The key matchup for the hosts could be physical power forward Kerem Gonlum on Massey. The hard-working big man is not counted on for offense, but if his defense can take Massey out of the game, it’s a winning proposition for the hosts. Meanwhile the X-factor for Aris could be the contribution it gets from starting point guard Terrel Castle and Washington, who’ll compete with Penn, Rashad Wright and Drew Nicholas in a crucial positional battle. With players like Ermal Kuqo and Andre Hutson who cans core in the paint and Kenny Gregory who can light it up in transition, Efes has the tools to secure the home win. However Aris is a tough squad that won’t roll over for anyone, making this into what could be a true thriller.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008