A CHANCE TO MAKE HISTORY
This Top 16 group offers a good number of teams a unique opportunity to make history. Four of the teams – Lokomotiv Kuban, Darussafaka, Crvena Zvezda and Cedevita Zagreb – have never made it to the Euroleague playoffs. Anadolu Efes's last Final Four appearances were in the 2000 Euroleague and the 2001 SuproLeague. Unicaja only made it to the playoffs once, in 2007, by beating FC Barcelona 2-1 in a best-of-three series to make it to the Final Four, too. Fenerbahce only reached its first Final Four last season, so it has a chance to build a destiny. One of the most-experienced teams at the highest level is six-time Euroleague champion Panathinaikos, but its last Final Four appearance came in 2012. Going back to its first-ever Final Four appearance in 1994, the Greens have never missed four consecutive Final Fours.
WE MEET AGAIN
A lot of players and coaches have been in other clubs in this group in the past. Nemanja Nedovic of Unicaja started his career with Crvena Zvezda. His teammate Richard Hendrix earned Eurocup final MVP honors with Lokomotiv Kuban in 2013. Nick Calathes of Panathinaikos, who was the Eurocup MVP last season, and Derrick Brown of Anadolu Efes were his teammates there. Three Darussafaka players - Serhat Cetin, Emir Preldzic and Oguz Savas – played for Fenerbahce in the past; three others – Milko Bjelica, Jamon Gordon and Ender Arslan – suited up for Efes, while another one, Semih Erden, played for both. Fenerbahce forward Baris Hersek played for Darussafaka and Efes, Pero Antic for Lokomotiv and Zvezda and Kalinic for Zvezda, too. Dogus Balbay of Efes played for Fenerbahce in the past and Jayson Granger was with Unicaja in the last two seasons. Dontaye Draper earned Eurocup MVP honors with Cedevita in 2011. James White of Cedevita spent one season with Fenerbahce and Luka Zoric was there during the last two years. Marcus Williams of Zvezda also played the Top 16 with Lokomotiv and Unicaja. Vlado Stimac of Zvezda was also in Malaga. Miroslav Raduljica briefly played for Efes in the 2010-11 season, as did Ognjen Kuzmic in 2011-12. No-one beats James Gist, however, as he played for Lokomotiv, Fenerbahce and Unicaja before joining Panathinaikos!
THREE GENERATIONS OF SERBIAN COACHES
The Serbian coaching school is famous all over the world and is represented in Group E by its dean, its most successful member and an up-and-coming great. Dusan Ivkovic is one of two coaches to win four different European club competitions (Aito Garcia Reneses is the other) and has been quite successful with the former Yugoslavia's national team. He led Olympiacos to the first two of its three Euroleague titles; Lokomotiv coach Georgios Bartzokas won the other. Zeljko Obradovic is the winningest coach in Euroleague history with eight titles conquered with four different teams. Both Ivkovic and Obradovic are considered to be two of the best European coaches ever, but Sasha Djordjevic of Panathinaikos may be the next on the list of coaching greats. Djordjevic won the Euroleague as a player – downing the title-winning shot to make Obradovic a Euroleague champion for the first time, too – with Partizan in 1992. He wants to join Svetislav Pesic, Armenak Alachachan and Lolo Sainz as Euroleague winners as player and coach.
GROOVE IS IN THE D
One thing that can be taken for granted in Group E: Defense will be the key for most games. Four of the best defensive teams in the regular season are in this group. Lokomotiv (68.3 points allowed pg.) has the best defense in this season's Euroleague, Fenerbahce ranks third (70.7 ppg.), with Panathinaikos (71 ppg.) and Unicaja (71.9 ppg.) right behind. Panathinaikos, Efes and Lokomotiv have held opponents under 50% two-point shooting so far, while Fenerbahce has the best defense when it comes to three-point shooting, with opponents hitting just 28.7% of their shots from downtown. Lokomotiv (14.9), Panathinaikos (14.6), Unicaja (14.3) and Fenerbahce (14.3) are also high in opponents' turnovers. Darussafaka has limited four of its five opponents to date to 70 points or less, too. They say defense wins titles and it also helps you to important wins.
NOT YOUR AVERAGE NEWCOMER
There is no need to go deep in Euroleague history to find out which was the last Euroleague newcomer to make it to the playoffs; it was Unics Kazan in the 2011-12 season. That is the next goal for Darussafaka Dogus, arguably the most experienced rookie team in competition history. Only two of its main players - Mehmet Yagmur and Scottie Wilbekin – made their Euroleague debuts this season. The other players combined for a whopping 75 years of Euroleague experience before the start of the season. Head coach Oktay Mahmuti is in his 10th season in the competition with three different teams, so even though Darussafaka is a newcomer, its parts give it enough experience to be on the same page when the most important games arrive.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
All eight teams have been working together for more than three months, so the best basketball of the season is still ahead of us. Stats can help us determine which way teams can get even better and challenge for a playoffs spot. Lokomotiv leads all Top 16 in turnovers (15.5 per game) and must take better care of the ball. Zvezda is second in blocks received (4.1 per game) and needs to improve its shot selection. It also leads all Top 16 teams in fouls committed (22.5 per game). Efes has the worst free throw shooting percentage (68.4%) of all qualified teams, with Darussafaka (68.5%) and Panathinaikos (70.1%) not far behind. Unicaja (32.9%) and Cedevita (33%) trail everyone else in the Top 16 when it comes to three-point shooting, so better shot selection would allow it to spread the floor and find advantages in one-on-one situations. Cedevita also ranks low in steals (4.9 spg.), as does Fenerbahce (5.9 spg.). In other words, things can get better for everyone - and believe us, they will.