Welcome back to the Experts Round Table, where we ask a variety of the most-knowledgeable Turkish Airlines EuroLeague followers across the continent their opinions on the topics of the day. This week's panel includes Euroleague Basketball Legend Ramunas Siskauskas; Juan Antonio Casanova, the former long-time EuroLeague writer for La Vanguardia in Spain; Darko Plavsic, basketball reporter at Sportklub Serbia; Nikos Varlas, Publishing Manager, Eurohoops.net Global; and Frankie Sachs, Editor at EuroLeague.net. Check out their opinions on three key questions this week!
What team helped itself most in March's first double-round week? (Barcelona, CSKA, Baskonia and Madrid won twice.)
"In my opinion, Baskonia helped itself the most this week. These two wins were very important for it as the team tries to reach the playoffs. Barcelona, CSKA and Real Madrid are safe. Even though the two victories, of course, are important for those teams, they are not as important."
Juan Antonio Casanova
"CSKA Moscow. The Russian team arrived to the double-feature week with the need to react after having lost three of its previous four games, two of them against direct opponents. They won both games, which allowed them to get back to the coveted fourth place. The second win was especially relevant: 32 points in the first quarter and 32 again in the last one to win by 31 and matching its season record! It was at OAKA to boot, against a Panathinaikos going through a rough patch. The double wins for Real, Barcelona and Baskonia were to be expected."
"I think that CSKA helped themselves a lot with two victories. They won in Athens and that is always tough. It is very important to clinch the fourth spot because of the home-court advantage."
"FC Barcelona and Real Madrid had already qualified for the playoffs and CSKA Moscow and Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv did so last week and seem to be battling for the home-court advantage in the 4-5 series. So, the choice is easy: KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz! They made their record 12-16 – where we have a five-way tie – and they are one win away from the top eight. Qualifying is very hard and they need big away wins at the home courts of teams like Maccabi, Anadolu Efes Istanbul and Barcelona. Just the fact that, in a season with so many injuries, they continue to fight is worthy of respect and shows this team's character."
"The easy answer might be Baskonia, which roared back into the playoff hunt with its wins, but a deeper dive into the results shines a spotlight on CSKA Moscow. Baskonia's two wins, which came against the same two teams Barcelona defeated last week – FC Bayern Munich and ALBA Berlin, were against a pair of slumping teams. However, CSKA avoided pitfalls by defeating a domestic league rival and a team with serious playoff aspirations. CSKA had already lost to Zenit St. Petersburg in Moscow this season in the VTB United League, but took care of business behind a dominant Mike James. Forty-eight hours later, the champs went to Athens and demolished Panathinaikos (more on the Greens below). In doing so, it also tied Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv for fourth place and set up a mouth-watering Round 31 duel that could decide homecourt advantage in the looming quarterfinals series between them."
What team hurt itself most in March's first double-round week? (Panathinaikos, Valencia, ALBA and Bayern lost twice.)
"I think Valencia hurt itself the most. They had a one- or two-win wins advantage from the teams behind it in the playoff race and now they are really in a battle. Every loss is very painful now. Of course, Panathinaikos is not safe, but they are not in as bad of a position and have good chances to get to the playoffs."
Juan Antonio Casanova
"Valencia Basket. Coach Jaume Ponsarnau's team made a big effort to get into playoff territory and now it is out again after four straight losses. The losses from last week - at ASVEL and at home against Milan - were not in the script. Since Milan won in overtime, it's just fair that Valencia blames it on the coronavirus, which forced it to play behind closed doors. Bayern also has reasons to be upset: it was leading by 13 in Barcelona with just 7 minutes to go."
"Panathinaikos is playing very poor basketball lately. It seems to me that players can't adjust to Rick Pitino's style of play. They can have problems with retaining a playoffs spot."
"Allow me to pick two teams, beginning with Valencia Basket in order of priority. Because they lost to LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne and were also defeated by AX Armani Exchange Milan in a way that hurt with Vladimir Micov's buzzer-beater. With their fourth consecutive defeat, Valencia lost its spot in the top eight, which I think is difficult to regain. But I think Panathinaikos OPAP Athens were also hurt. They lost to their big rivals, Olympiacos Piraeus, they suffered the worst home defeat in their history by CSKA and, right when we were waiting to see if they could go any higher, they now have low morale and have not secured their presence in the playoffs."
"Before the double-round week, ALBA and Bayern were teetering on the edge of elimination. Valencia was on the edge of the playoff zone and though it is now on the outside looking in, Coach Jaume Ponsarnau's men remain in the thick of the playoff hunt. The only team that has seen its fate changed dramatically as a result of its two losses was Panathinaikos, which though it remains sixth in the standings with a two-win advantage over ninth place, has seen four more teams climb within that two-win space and dropped the Greens into a tough spot. Panathinaikos has a tough road ahead with two of its next three games against teams directly behind it in the playoff battle and two of its last three against teams in the top-four in the standings. In just one week, Panathinaikos's status as a near-certain playoff participant is now filled with doubt."
What player impressed you most in March's first double-round week?
"Tornike Shengelia of Baskonia was the player who impressed me the most. He helped the team a lot to win two very important games. He played very solid. He was everywhere: in scoring, rebounding, making assists and so on."
Juan Antonio Casanova
"Nikola Mirotic. No, I did not forget Shane Larkin's exhibition against Olympiacos with his 10 threes to match the EuroLeague record. However, Anadolu Efes lost one of its two games - the only one in its last 13 games - and Barcelona won both to make it nine straight, a new record for the team in the competition. Barcelona's wins came with more difficulty than expected and with Mirotic's invaluable contributions despite his 0-for-6 threes in the first game. He drew 17 fouls and made 21 of 23 free throws between both games."
"Alexey Shved. He had some problems with decisions and shooting percentage during the season, but right now, he's playing great and leading Khimki to the playoffs."
"Can I go with Shane Larkin again? I'm afraid I'm going to become boring. Okay, only because Larkin has gotten to the point where he scores 40 points and makes it look completely normal, I'll choose Darrun Hilliard, after I first pay tribute to Baskonia's great leader, Tornike Shengelia. Why Hilliard? In his team's two wins, the American guard had an average of 16 points on 61.5% (8 of 13) three-point shooting. It's very important for Dimitris Itoudis's team that every player that supports his system is effective in his role. This is exactly what Hilliard did this week. He was the shooter his team needs so that spaces can open up and the right distances can be maintained and details like these can decide whether you fail or make history in the Final Four."
"As a journalist, I can't help but get caught up on words. The question asks about the player who 'impressed' me the most, which implies making an impression that wasn't already there. For me, the answer comes down to two players: Walter Tavares of Real Madrid and Jonas Jerebko of Khimki. The Real big man put up fantastic numbers of 22 points, 20 rebounds and 7 blocks between his team's two wins, but even more important was the nearly 29 minutes per game he averaged. No player changes the game simply by standing in the paint the way the 2.20-meter Tavares does and if he can play nearly three quarters in every game, Real has a huge – no pun intended – advantage. Jerebko averaged 16.0 points on effective shooting and 9.5 rebounds for a PIR of 26.0 as Khimki went 1-1. It was his rebounding and ability to stretch the floor from the '4' position that could be a game-changer for Khimki. Over the past month, Jerebko has been playing at his best and among the best rebounders in the league. He's a player to follow closely down the stretch."