On a team that keeps players together over time as much as any, one of the key differences for Montepaschi Siena headed into the Top 16 will be the experience of off-season acquisition Nikos Zisis. Although he holds a backup role to two-time All-Euroleague point guard Terrell McIntyre, it's the 26-year-old Zisis who boasts a Euroleague title. Zisis will be counted on by Montepaschi in the crucible of tight games, especially in a group packed with would-be Final Four teams like Efes Pilsen, Maccabi Electra and Real Madrid. As one of the few players to appear in Euroleague games in all 10 seasons this decade, Zisis knows what it takes and plans to deliver for his new team. "In my opinion, the Top 16 is like playing six finals between four great teams," Zisis said. "We have a great group. Anybody can beat anybody. For sure, it's going to be exciting. For me, all six games will be like we are already playing in Paris."
Nikos, first, how does your team feel about what you guys did in the regular season?
"I think it was a good regular season for us. We managed to get eight wins, and for sure we also lost twice to a great team like Barcelona. From my experience, I think that anyway the games from the first group aren't so important once it has finished. They are good to find chemistry as a team for the more important games coming later. Maybe teams with a better record in the first round can do the same in the Top 16, but what's most important are the games coming now, not what you did before, and we are excited to play the next round now."
Looking at your opponents, what are your thoughts on Real Madrid?
"Real Madrid is for sure a great team that was built to go to the Final Four and to try to win the Euroleague. Of course, I know Coach Messina well and he's a great coach who will have his team ready to play these big games. Yes, they are a new team, which means they don't have so much experience together, but they have an excellent mix of foreign and Spanish players, most of whom are very experienced individually. Someone like Jaric who just came is also experienced, and has played with Ettore before, so I don't think he will need much time to adjust and can help right away. Ante Tomic, I hear good things about him, but I don't know if he will be a factor immediately."
What about Maccabi?
"Maccabi is Maccabi. It's a team with one of the biggest traditions in Europe. To beat them, we must play an excellent game. Pini Gershon is a coach with experience, and as everyone knows, he has his own system, and it can hurt you. Again, they have guys who are new, not together so long, but they have played some very good games. Wisniewski in the backcourt and guys like Alan Anderson and Chuck Eidson are playing good. Generally, they have a mix of players who are good together."
And finally, Efes Pilsen, which snuck into the Top 16 at the last minute...
"Yes, Efes Pilsen was waiting for the result to get into this round because they had trouble finding chemistry until now. But they have one of the best rosters in the Euroleague, and now that they are in the Top 16, you can't underestimate them because of a bad first round. It's a team with experience and great players, great talent. For sure, we will need to prepare well to beat them."
You have plenty of Top 16 experience, and the groups are always tough, but is this one particularly tough?
"I agree this is a tough group. Personally, it reminds me of another tough one, way back at the beginning of the decade, when I was playing for AEK and we were in a Top 16 group to get to the Final Four with Panathinaikos, Olympiacos and Olimpija. Panathinaikos went on to win the title that year, but they only made the Final Four after Olimpija, which was already eliminated, won an overtime game against Olympiacos in Athens. So that tells you that anything can happen."