The Euroleague Top 16 begins tomorrow with two games before the full fixture list is played out on the second day of January. There are some new faces in the mix to compliment the old guard but who looks more ‘Madrid ready’ in time for May 2015?
Here’s the form guide.
1 – Barcelona
Housed in a difficult Group C, known as the group of death when the draw was made, Barcelona were still expected to qualify – but to advance in the relative ease that they did – was impressive. They finished with a 9-1 record; with their sole defeat coming in the penultimate week. Their record in the Top 16 is just as impressive so they will take some stopping.
2 – CSKA Moscow
The only unbeaten team remaining in the Euroleague as we head to the Top 16 and rightly so as well, but the Russian champions had a relatively comfortable group with Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv providing the only real competition for them. Unicaja Malaga proved to be a tricky encounter but CSKA’s first real tests will come at this stage of the competition.
3 – Olympiacos
Olympiacos have a strong and organised roster this season. Everyone seems to know their role, and they have been one of the more exciting teams to watch in the Euroleague. Comfortably the best team in Group D, despite getting out of the pool with two losses [coming when qualification was assured]. They will take some stopping in the Top 16.
4 – Fenerbahce
On paper, Fenerbahce have had a team that could reach the Final Four over the last two seasons, and this year, they have a solid foundation to perhaps do the same. But in those last two seasons, they fell apart and crashed out at the Top 16 stage. The focus is for them to perform at home and grab some vital road wins, which will leave them in better position to qualify for the last eight at the third time of asking. Their form in the regular season has been a major confidence boost; why not start now?
5 – Real Madrid
While Real Madrid qualified on top of Group A, it read like business as usual. But last season’s Euroleague runners-up have not found the form that they are truly capable of in the opening ten games and they now move on to the Top 16 where they will face off against Maccabi Electra in last season’s final and they will face rivals Barcelona in two el’Clasico encounters.
6 – Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv
The reigning Euroleague champions have completed stage one and that was to qualify from a reasonably comfortable Group B. Maccabi’s only defeats have come against CSKA and a shock home loss to Cedevita but otherwise, they have been untroubled. A tough Group in the Top 16 waits though as they will be facing Barcelona, Real Madrid and Panathinaikos amongst others.
7 – Anadolu Efes
Anadolu Efes were close to toppling Real Madrid in the group stages but lost out on the final night of the regular season. The Turkish side have since strengthened their roster and have an experienced coach who knows how to win. Could this be the year that the Final Four welcome a team from Turkey?
8 – Red Star Belgrade
Red Star lived out a dream regular season and has been a joy to watch but, now as the competition gets serious, the Serbian giants will have to earn their keep and maintain a strong home court advantage.
9 – Zalgiris
Three wins in their first four games then got cancelled out with four defeats from their next six but the Lithuanian champions have a strong and determined roster capable of shaking things up. They can be unpredictable though and big performances against strong teams can lead to woeful showings against the lesser known units.
10 – Panathinaikos
The Greek giants almost coasted to the Top 16. Once qualification was secured, they went and lost their last three encounters in rather tame fashion. Panathinaikos knows how to reach the Euroleague pinnacle though; we won’t be seeing the same Panathinaikos that we saw in those last three games grace the Top 16.
11 – EA7 Milano
Last season’s surprise package won their last three matches in Group C and head to the Top 16 with confidence. A 5-5 record though is hardly convincing. Then again, they had the same record last season too.
12 – Laboral Kutxa
The Euroleague season has been a welcome relief to Laboral Kutxa, who have been struggling somewhat in the Liga Endesa. But, the team tends to rely heavily on individuals and that could be their downfall in the Top 16.
13 – Unicaja Malaga
Unicaja began the Euroleague season with three impressive victories, and along with their strong start domestically, it led many to believe that they could be this year’s dark horse. The Liga Endesa side have since dropped off top spot in the league and they lost the last four Euroleague games, albeit in agonising fashion. It’s tough to predict how Unicaja Malaga will take to the Top 16.
14 – Nizhny Novgorod
The Russian newcomers entered this season’s Euroleague with nothing to lose, and despite losing three of their first four games, they never gave up hope. It took until the final night of regular season action for Nizhny Novgorod to topple the more experienced Unics Kazan and dump them to the Eurocup – but sometimes – belief can beat experience.
15 – Galatasaray
Galatasaray also qualified on the final day, denying Lithuanian debutants Neptunas their Top 16 place, but despite a couple of new players, financial troubles could affect the players during this Top 16.
16 – ALBA Berlin
A 4-6 record in Group B was enough for qualification but the German frontrunners will find the going tough in the Top 16. It doesn’t get any harder than Barcelona to begin with in the New Year.