This season’s Euroleague Top 16 has certainly been an intriguing one as the second stage of the competition slowly winds down before the quarter-final playoffs begin.
And instead of easily predicting this year’s Final Four combatants like most can do in previous years, this season’s Final Four in the German capital of Berlin could spring a surprise.
Real Madrid, Barcelona, Olympiacos and CSKA Moscow have constantly been the main topic of conversation and since Berlin last hosted European basketball most prestigious of events back in 2009, the four aforementioned teams have been involved, with all four of them battling it out in 2013 in London.
2009 Panathinaikos OLYMPIACOS CSKA BARCELONA
2010 BARCELONA OLYMPIACOS CSKA Partizan
2011 REAL MADRID Panathinaikos Maccabi Montepaschi
2012 OLYMPIACOS BARCELONA CSKA Panathinaikos
2013 REAL MADRID BARCELONA CSKA OLYMPIACOS
2014 REAL MADRID BARCELONA CSKA Maccabi
2015 REAL MADRID OLYMPIACOS CSKA Fenerbahce
But could the 2016 Final Four give us a different line-up? This season, holders Real Madrid and their rivals Barcelona have been anything but spectacular in the Top 16. Real Madrid even struggled to make it to the Top 16, at one point standing on the brink of elimination from the group stages after losing three straight games, which placed them outside the qualification spots with a miserable 2-5 record.
The Liga Endesa side then awoke to win their final three games in convincing fashion to scrape into the Top 16, but have since found the going tough, so far sitting on a less than satisfactory 5-4 mark.
The trend is also plaguing Barcelona, as they have seemingly struggled since week eight of the regular season. At that point, they looked to be coasting at 6-1 but defeats to Panathinaikos, Zalgiris and Lokomotiv Kuban has set the tone for a string of uncharacteristic performances leaving them at 4-5 in the Top 16.
The same can be said of Olympiacos, although their patchy run of form began much later on as their good form in the group stages has not carried on in the Top 16. Despite going 2-0 to start, the Reds have lost five of their last six encounters, which sees them in ‘must win’ territory with five games to play.
Even though those three teams have lost their way a bit so far, the same can not be said for the evergreen CSKA Moscow, who have dropped just three out their 19 games played and boast a possible Euroleague MVP candidate in Milos Teodosic.
So could we have a different feel to the Euroleague Final Four this year in Berlin? Which teams, apart from the “tenants” and favourites CSKA Moscow look eager enough to make the finale in mid-May.
The team of the Top 16 and you could say, along with CSKA Moscow the pick of the sides this season. Coach Zeljko Obradovic has played a role in getting the best out of duo Bobby Dixon and Jan Vesely, plus key role players Bogdan Bogdanovic and Ekpe Udoh. The Turkish side look on course for back-to-back Final Four showings.
Lokomotiv Kuban currently own the Euroleague’s best defence and if they continue to play like they did in their 76-61 victory this past week over Anadolu Efes, then he Russians stand a great chance of travelling to Berlin in May. Their team defensive strengths are followed by lightening quick and often devastating transition offence, which led by Malcolm Delaney at the point and proven Euroleague winning coach Georgios Bartzokas on the sidelines, is the true game-winner.
No Final Four appearance since 2008, but Laboral Kutxa have quietly gone about their business this season and have currently won their last five Top 16 games, beating CSKA Moscow, Barcelona and champions Real Madrid in that spell. Darius Adams has been sublime at both ends, while veteran Ioannis Bourousis is enjoying a second wind following a torrid spell at the reigning Euroleague holders.
Last season’s Eurocup winners finally snapped a three-game skid against Barcelona this past week and have already beaten Real Madrid twice, CSKA Moscow and Laboral Kutxa so far this season. No doubt Khimki are competing with the best of them. Questions will undoubtedly be raised as to whether they can make it to the Final Four as they don’t boast a decent overall record this season [10-9], but with a strong team that boasts 2014 Final Four MVP Tyrese Rice, Russian veteran Alexey Shved and Zoran Dragic, let’s not count Khimki out, just yet.