So after four weeks since I last posted a Euroleague contribution of sorts on here (hence the title), I return to give you my thoughts on a juicy looking quarter-final line-up. Spain are dominant, with all four sides from the ACB involved. Israel are in the mix, as Maccabi Electra Tel-Aviv reach the last-eight, Italians, Montepaschi Siena and my dark-horses, Olympiacos complete an exciting series of games ahead. For the fun of it, I will predict my Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four as well.
Caja Laboral vs Maccabi Electra Tel-Aviv:
Maccabi recorded nine straight preliminary round victories, on their way to easy qualification to the Top-16, their only loss of the group stages came against Caja. Leading to the Top-16, many were proclaiming Maccabi as favourites, as Barcelona were not as convincing in their qualification. But, Maccabi ran into a simply irresistible Barca side, who found their free-flowing, team basketball approach that simply ran the Israelis off the court.
Despite two losses to the reigning Euroleague champs and Lottomatica Roma, Tel-Aviv qualified in second place, and waiting for them is the side that defeated them in week one.
Caja Laboral on record were the better of the two sides in the Top-16. Despite losing at home to Lietuvos Rytas and away to Panathinaikos, they won the majority of their games comfortably, it must be said, as they topped Group E. They will start this series as underdogs though, but I think they like that way (remember a certain ACB Finals series with Barcelona?)
Verdict: This should be an entertaining series, as they they all will. Maccabi start off as favourites, but for me, it’s all to play for. Maccabi haven’t been as ruthless as they were in the opening group games, yet Caja Laboral have been one of the more exciting teams to watch recently. Defence wins games, and this series will be won on who can grind it out on the defensive end. I predict that Maccabi will get the job done, but they will of worked hard for it.
Regal FC Barcelona vs Panathinaikos:
For me, the pick of the quarter-final line-up, I just hope this goes the distance, because it has the makings of one the greatest Euroleague game(s) ever. Seriously.
For the Greeks, they have reached the last-eight after missing out last year, having crashed out to many people’s surprise in the Top-16. They won their first two games this year comfortably, but since then, haven’t shown the same form that they show in their domestic league, or in previous Euroleagues. Pana though are still one of the premier sides in Europe’s elite league, and will be hungry to show it against the favourites.
Barcelona are the in-form side, as I type this. Their Top-16 group was tough; you had Maccabi, Lottomatica Roma and a transformed Union Olimpija side. Yet, Barca swept them all, recording a 6-0 triumph, having had an unconvincing preliminary round, which brought doubt whether the Euroleague champions could even repeat their success, despite having a few injuries in the team.
Verdict: I want this to go all the way, as these are two quality teams who, on their night, can produce some breathtaking basketball. In the end, I see Barcelona winning this series, but only just. Will admit that this year’s Euroleague was made for Barcelona to win. The Final Four in their own backyard, and the amount of critics they got towards the end of the preliminaries – maybe I’m being soft, I don’t know.
Real Madrid vs Power Electronics Valencia:
An all-ACB encounter that for me will have one outcome, but Valencia have made a good accounting of themselves, and just because I am classing them as underdogs in this series, doesn’t mean they won’t come out to play. Real will have to stay on guard, no doubt about it.
Real Madrid were so convincing in the last round, and, for me, are fancied here. Since losing the Copa Del Rey to Barca a month-or-so ago now, they have totally transformed the way they have gone about their business in this Euroleague. The question though is: What has Ettore Messina’s departure done mentally to this squad? Assistant coach, Emanuele Molin takes temporary charge for this series and I’d imagine the season (both ACB and Euroleague).
It’s been great to watch Power Electronics Valencia in this year’s competition. The Eurocup winners have re-earned their spot in the Euroleague, and have worked hard to get where they are (their last victory over Fenerbahce Ulker is proof). Despite their never-say-die attitude though, this might be the final curtain for them.
Verdict: With the way they’ve played in the Top-16, I see a Real Madrid series win, but I’m not going to say by how much – let’s see how it all plays out.
Olympiacos vs Montepaschi Siena
The red of Piraeus have quietly gone about their business for this Euroleague campaign, and it looks like a trip to Barcelona is imminent, barring a major shock here, in what I feel is the more obvious of the games to predict.
After losing their first Top-16 encounter, the reds stormed through the remaining games to finish top of Group H by a comfortable margin. But, they did it very quietly, among the talk of Barcelona and Maccabi, Olympiacos have made their shout, and I feel that they are on course for another trip to the Final Four. Question is: can they go one better this time?
Montepaschi Siena have been impressive, but lack a real finishing touch, they’re durability to last in these competitions is questioned, and tiredness I think will lead to their downfall in this series. Having said that, the Italians have impressed and will be looking to throw their underdog tag out the window when this series starts.
Verdict: I can’t see anything other than a Olympiacos victory here. Experience and hustle will give the Greeks the edge over their Italian counterparts.
John Hobbs for TalkBasket.net
Follow John on Twitter @johnswisshobbs