The first EuroLeague regular season under the guise of the “new era” is in the books and we have no doubt been treated to some memorable clashes, major surprises and most importantly, that ‘big game’ feel over the course of seven months as we now prepare for the post-season beginning with Baskonia’s visit to CSKA Moscow on Tuesday, April 18.
But in that span of 480 EuroLeague fixtures, played with 16 teams between October and April, only eight of them will continue on to the Playoffs, beginning next Tuesday. So before we look at the first round of the Playoffs, let’s go over what will be missed now that the regular season has concluded.
As one of the powerhouses in European and world basketball, Barcelona’s omission from the Playoffs comes as a major shock if you’re a EuroLeague outsider but still with a little knowledge of the competition itself. For a team that on paper had so much depth and firepower plus a proven head coach with championship winning credentials, Barca seemed destined to compete for the top four.
Then the injuries creeped in and the Catalan’s season slowly but surely became a disaster.
Unfairly, coach Georgios Bartzokas was under intense pressure and some fans even called for him to be dismissed. But the board rightfully decided that the Greek playcaller should stay on and continue to mould the club how he wants it. The injury list that he has had to deal with this season is enough to write a book on but losing Pau Ribas for the season was a major blow. Not to mention being without influential shooters Justin Doellman and Petteri Koponen for large periods as well, Barca struggled with team chemistry and it was their major downfall.
Tyrese Rice was the team’s clear EuroLeague MVP this season. Playing and starting in all 30 of Barcelona’s games, Rice averaged 13.0 points and 4.9 assists a game but he struggled with constant changes made by Bartzokas, due to the growing list of injuries.
To the loyal EuroLeague enthusiast, Barcelona’s elimination from the Playoff picture was expected, but you still struggle to come to terms with it. Expect them to come back stronger next year, unless the injury plague is still haunting them.
Unics Kazan were amongst the first teams to be eliminated from Playoff contention and they ended the season second from bottom but on an individual scale, they boasted the league’s best scorer in Keith Langford.
The 2014 EuroLeague scoring champion once again set the pace after the regular season as he averaged 21.7 points a game plus he came second in index rating with an average of +21, of course with several players still competing he will drop down the table.
But on a team that finished with an 8-22 record, Langford was literally a one-man gang but the way in which the American plays the game was so effortless and at times, he was almost mesmerising to watch. He deserved better.
THE PASSION FROM CRVENA ZVZEDA & ITS FANS
Crvena Zvezda supporters will probably rank as the most loyal and passionate supporters on the globe. Even professional players were caught up in their euphoric trance this season as displayed by Barcelona’s Ante Tomic.
But as well as the supporters, the team missed out on the Playoffs on the final day, losing to Darussafaka Dogus. It cut short an incredible season that included seven straight wins that propelled them to as high as fourth in the standings.
Unfortunately for the Serbian champions, four losses in their last six games hampered their post-season aspirations. But there was no doubt that Red Star were amongst the most watched teams in the EuroLeague this campaign.
Real Madrid vs Darussafaka Dogus (Prev results: DD 81-68 RM; RM 101-83 DD)
After a season split between the two sides, this series could be tricky to predict. Darussafaka under David Blatt have been hit and miss this season but go into the Playoffs with three straight wins. Real finished top of the pile and will be favourites but the Turkish side will make life hard. The Liga Endesa side will pull through.
Prediction: Real Madrid in four.
CSKA Moscow vs Baskonia (Prev results: CSKA 112-84 Baskonia; Baskonia 79-78 CSKA)
Reigning EuroLeague champions CSKA Moscow will see this as a new start, as will Baskonia but it’s hard to see past the Muscovites in this one.
Prediction: CSKA in three.
Olympiacos vs Anadolu Efes (Prev results: Oly 90-66 Efes; Efes 77-69 Oly)
Anadolu Efes are an incredibly dangerous team on home court but Olympiacos’ home-court advantage will ultimately be the telling factor in what promises to be a fascinating series.
Prediction: Olympiacos in five.
Panathinaikos vs Fenerbahce (Prev results:
Arguably the pick of the Playoff series match-ups and to boot, the first two games are complete sell-outs, which will make this the most anticipated. Fenerbahce coach Zeljko Obradovic will try to derail his old club for whom he won five EuroLeague titles with. This is a difficult one to call but I’m staying true to a Tweet I sent in answer to a question about this series.
@johnswisshobbs who do you think will make F4 this year? Fener or Pana?
— burak (@BurakAndRoll) April 7, 2017
Panathinaikos go in with better form. Both sides capable of road wins. Going PAO but it'll go the distance. https://t.co/foGqnU7aOq
— John Hobbs (@johnswisshobbs) April 7, 2017
Prediction: Panathinaikos in five.
Personally, it would be great to see a Turkish side in the Final Four on, what would practically be home court inside the Sinan Erdem Dome, an arena barely used for basketball anymore. And they have three chances in the post-season. But Real Madrid, Olympiacos and Panathinaikos will be strong, I feel.