Three teams aim for the Top 16, Euroleague preview

CSKA Moscow aims to be the first team to seal their place in the Euroleague Top 16 on Thursday when they host ALBA Berlin in the early game on Thursday.

The Muscovites are currently 5-0 in Group B and have already defeated the German side at the O2 World 84-68. ALBA, currently 2-3 will head to the Russian capital as underdogs but CSKA coach Dimitris Itoudis isn’t taking anything for granted.

“As it was in the first game against ALBA, we face the opponents who are in good shape,” Itoudis said. “They had some very important wins recently, they crashed Limoges at home, they beat Cedevita on the road, and they still have no losses in German League where they defeated their rival Bayern Munich a couple of weeks ago.

“We know perfectly that ALBA fights on the boards, defends tough and plays high-tempo basketball for 40 minutes. We have to be focused and match their energy. Overall we expect the second leg to be difficult. Though we know our opponents better, we still think that everyone will make step forward in competing against CSKA.”

The Germans have relied a lot on Cliff Hammonds and Alex Renfroe this season, and despite their superiority in the Bundesliga, they have struggled on their return to the Euroleague after spending last season in the Eurocup.

Hammonds is looking forward to the tie and says that his side have learned some valuable lessons now that they have played all their opponents in Group B.

“CSKA Moscow are a great team, which seems to be able to switch their game on and off whenever they want and we expect a very tough game against one of the best teams in the Euroleague,” Hammonds explained. “In the first game we did not stick to our game plan and were punished by CSKA.”

A full calendar of Group C games will be highlighted by Barcelona travelling to Munich to square off with Bayern – in a game that will see the debut of Bo McCalebb – formally of Fenerbahce, also in this group.

Like CSKA, Barcelona [5-0] need a victory to ensure their progression to the Top 16, but they will be in for a tough test from a Bayern side who took them to the limit in the first week of the competition but edged it 83-81.

As we head to the sixth week, Bayern are struggling near the foot of the Group C table on a 1-4 record.

“All teams have met each other already, so we all know each other,” Barca’s Brad Oleson said. “We are going through a sweet moment. We are a group with chemistry that you can call a team. We are playing good defence and are shooting well. However, nobody must underestimate Bayern, this will be a very difficult game.”

Despite their poor record in the Euroleague, Bayern coach Svetislav Pesic, who coached Barca to a Euroleague crown in 2003, remembers when his side travelled to Catalunya and narrowly missed out on a famous victory. He hopes to build on that performance over a month later.

“In Barcelona we showed one of our best performances this season,” Pesic commented. “We want to follow up on this coming Thursday.

“Barcelona is in an excellent condition right now, as could be seen at their last win against Valencia. As a consequence we have to give our best in order to have a chance to win.”

The third team that could see themselves in the Top 16, come Friday morning is the undefeated Olympiacos. They host struggling Valencia [1-4] on Thursday.

Both sides occupy two of the bottom three positions in the scoring charts this season, with Olympiacos averaging 74.8 points and Valencia 72.2 so all signs point towards a low scoring affair. The Greek giants do boast the Euroleague’s best defence, conceding a mere 65.8 points a contest.

“It’s obvious that the level we are showing against teams like FC Barcelona or Olympiacos is not one that allows us to compete, but we will give our everything to turn the situation around and try to play better,” Valencia coach Velimir Perasovic said.

The Liga Endesa side, outclassed last weekend by Barcelona, could hand a full debut to Nemanja Nedovic, who arrived from the Golden State Warriors earlier in the week.

Champions Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv have not had the easy ride that they were hoping this season. Having the tag of champions has seen them enter week six with a 3-2 record. They travel to Limoges on Thursday in a key Group B game where the Israelis’ hopes of progression to the Top 16 will improve greatly with a win.

Maccabi comfortably beat Limoges 92-76 in Tel Aviv in week one but are mindful of the task at hand. CSKA Moscow needed a strong fourth quarter to see Limoges off at the Beaublanc and Maccabi coach Guy Goodes knows that if his side don’t play for the full 40 minutes, they could be in danger.

Last week Limoges was very close to beating CSKA Moscow,” Goodes said. “They are a team that is fighting for their lives in the Euroleague, and apparently this is their last chance to stay in the picture.

“Those kinds of games are never easy. We need to concentrate on our own things and come to the game ready both physically and mentally. I hope we’ll do it, because another win would really put us close to the Top 16.”

Thursday:

Unics Kazan vs Anadolu Efes

CSKA Moscow vs ALBA Berlin

Limoges vs Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv

Bayern Munich vs Barcelona

PGE Turow vs Panathinaikos

EA7 Milano vs Fenerbahce

Neptunas vs Laboral Kutxa

Olympiacos vs Valencia

Friday: 

Zalgiris vs Real Madrid

Dinamo Sassari vs Nizhny Novgorod

Unicaja Malaga vs Cedevita Zagreb

Galatasaray vs Red Star