Even in these still early stages, some teams in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague have stood out from the crowd and shown the global audience that they mean business.
Maccabi Electra Tel-Aviv:
Should comfortably win Group A, and in my opinion, are amongst the favourites to win it all. The way David Blatt’s side has gone about it’s business has been a pleasure to watch, the ball movement, their footwork off the ball and how Blatt manages his bench has been first-class thus far.
It is a question if Maccabi has what it takes to go all the way? They made the Final Four in 2008; they look a good enough side to make a return, after three years away. In players like Jeremy Pargo, Lior Eliyahu, Chuck Eidson and Sofoklis Schortsanitis, they can be match-winners and play with their heart on their sleeve. They want to win and put Maccabi back where they belong.
I wouldn’t bet against them at this moment.
Regal FC Barcelona:
The holders haven’t had the start they were expecting. A loss at home to Fenerbahce, followed by a loss in Italy to Montepaschi Siena has left Xavi Pascual’s team reeling a little. Expect the ACB giants to pick themselves up though and shake off the blemishes and progress to the Last 16 – which is certainly the aim for now.
The Catalan side has kept the majority of the Final Four winning side from last season – this year, Euroleague’s final stages are in Barca’s back yard. I see these two defeats as minor set-backs. They are hosting European club basketball’s most watched event, they can’t no-show, they have too much talent not to be at the Palau Saint-Jordi.
Don’t laugh at this one, because I’m being serious. I think Fenerbahce’s time is now. They are playing some fantastic basketball at the moment; the team is playing together, as a unit and with confidence. Not many people can say that they toppled Barcelona on their own court, right now.
The majority of the team have come off good World Championships before-hand and are joint top of Group C. The question is, like Maccabi Tel-Aviv: Have Fenerbahce got what it takes to go all the way in the Euroleague?
The Greek giants still have last season’s poor showing in their heads. Not reaching the quarter final stage, while their bitter rivals, Olympiacos went all the way to the final game, that hurt – and now, the green side of Athens want to return to the Final Four, where they have lifted the Euroleague trophy five times.
Currently, Panathinaikos sit joint-top of Group D with a 4-2 record and have gone about their campaign in a business-like manner. Despite defeats to Union Olimpija and Power Electronics Valencia, Panathinaikos will be too hungry not to miss out on a trip to Barcelona.
Union Olimpija Ljubljana:
The story of the Euroleague so far. The so-called “whipping boys” have turned a new leaf, and have made their brand new 13,000 Stozice Arena a fortress, winning all three of their games at home at this time. Away form is the usual, despite winning in Italy, against AJ Milano, have been soundly beaten by CSKA Moscow and Efes Pilsen. That will prove their un-doing, as the Slovenian side should fade away during the Last 16.
Never count the red half of Athens out. They will there or thereabouts come May. I feel though that they a little too inconsistent, and despite winning more games then they have lost, they have shown many weaknesses, particularly in set defence, it feels at times like some of the players don’t even know what their responsibilities are. Might be a factor, as we get to the more important stages.
Montepaschi Siena :
Possessing one of the best offensive players in the competition in Bo McCalebb, the reigning Italian champions have enjoyed a great start to their Euroleague campaign. They have a team to go all the way, but have been known to crack under pressure. Will this be another of those moments, this year?
John Hobbs for TalkBasket.net