Column: Maccabi Electra vs EA7 Milano; CSKA Moscow vs Panathinaikos: Each team’s strengths

Continuing on from our look at tonight’s Euroleague match ups, Wednesday night features two more games that are just as intriguing with all four teams experiencing past Euroleague glory.

You have to go back to the 1987 and 1988 finals for the last time Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv and EA7 Milano last played. While CSKA Moscow and Panathinaikos have faced each other in the 2007 and 2009 finales with Panathinaikos coming out on top on both occasions. Incredibly though, despite their vast experience on this grand stage, the Muscovites and the Greens will square off for the first time in the last eight.

Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv vs EA7 Milano

A series that has all the makings of going all the way to five games, with the brand of basketball they play, many fans will be hoping that it does, as Maccabi looks to land a sixth Final Four appearance in ten years, while the Italian giants aim for a first Euroleague crown since 1988. They also want a home court Final Four as well.

Even though they have been Euroleague main stayers, Milano have never reached the leading mark in Italy. They have been near the top – but never on top – as they leave that honour mostly for Montepaschi Siena, who represented the nation at the 2011 Final Four in Barcelona. Three years on and Milano are now leading the Italian league as Siena aim to rebuild. The leaders have assembled ex-Montepaschi stars David Moss and Daniel Hackett, both of whom have played key roles, offensively to Milano’s success, although the latter needed some time to get going.

The Italians also boast Keith Langford, a former Maccabi star and Milano’s leading scorer. His aggressive style of basketball has landed him more free throws than any other player in the Euroleague this season and if given the chance, will score big.

Milano, defensively have been one of the most underrated sides in the Euroleague this season. Especially in the Top 16 where they have held European giants Olympiacos to 51 points, as Milano handed the champions their first loss. The Italians have also scored 91 points against Barcelona, while holding them to 63, again … handing the Catalan side their first defeat. Milano’s home form in recent weeks has been nothing short of outstanding. In fact; you have to go back to December 5 to find EA7 Milano’s last tick in the L column: They were edged 78-71 by Real Madrid in the regular season.

No doubt, they use their aggressive, yet smart defence to force turnovers and turn it into attack. Milano are the number one side in the competition for forcing their opponents into turnovers, an impressive 14.2 a game.

Maccabi head into another Euroleague quarter-final series, hoping not to be victims of a sweep like they were last year to Real Madrid, they do however boast one of the Euroleague’s best offences so this series will be a traditional slugfest pitting defence against offence.

The Israeli side has averaged 79.9 points a game, third best overall and have done so quietly. While they are a huge attraction back home, a lot of the focus seems to be on other sides and how they are doing. Maccabi found themselves in that situation last year, but were comprehensively beaten by Real Madrid in the last eight. Playing the first game in Milan puts Maccabi at a disadvantage but with their offence, Tel Aviv will pose a threat to Milano. Away from the Nokia Arena, they shoot 39.5 percent from behind the arc, good enough for joint first in the league.

Maccabi can be an exciting team to watch if Ricky Hickman and sixth man Tyrese Rice are playing well. If the latter scores over 12 points, Maccabi are 6-1.  They will look to use him when the game is on the line, as Rice’s quickness will pose a problem for Milano bulky guards. But as this series wears on, EA7 Milano will fancy themselves heavily for being the team that will be on the defensive, while Maccabi attack the hoop quickly and look for spot-up jumpers in their offence. It has all the makings to go the distance.

CSKA Moscow vs Panathinaikos

It doesn’t matter how Panathinaikos get to this stage, one thing is for certain … they will make the series memorable, and unless CSKA Moscow bring their A+++ game and eliminate the Greens in three, this should be an unforgettable series. For CSKA: A quarter-final round without them would feel strange. They were eliminated in the Top 16 in 2011, but minus that blip; have been involved in nine Final Fours over a ten-year span.

No doubt Panathinaikos will be buoyed with the news that CSKA Moscow guard Milos Teodosic will miss the first two games of the series and it will lighten the load on them a bit. The Greek side will look to take advantage as one of the Euroleague greats Dimitris Diamantidis always seems to step up his game on these occasions. The veteran leads the Euroleague in assists at 6.5 a game and has been playing some sublime basketball during the latter stages of the Top 16.

The beauty of Panathinaikos is that they are the most unselfish team in the Euroleague. Offensively, everyone gets involved; the plays are structured around specific players and for every aspiring basketball coach, are a joy to watch. No player on the roster averages double digits in scoring, which sums up the point made.

But no doubt, with the rivalry that exists between these two sides, this will probably be more of a challenge for Panathinaikos than in previous years. CSKA have won their last three games, leading into this encounter and are playing with extreme confidence.

They have played without Teodosic for parts already this season and have come out on top, so they can cope with the Serbian international. Aaron Jackson will be a key player in the first two games, and perhaps throughout the series. His quickness and high basketball IQ will be vital for CSKA when they bring up the ball.

Something that was fairly obvious in the Top 16 was CSKA’s long range shooting was more consistent. In fact, they led the Euroleague’s second stage by averaging 46 percent from three-point land. Vitaly Fridzon, who hit 30 triples, went 55 percent from outside the arc. Panathinaikos will have to be on their toes around the perimeter.

This has the hallmarks of a classic series. Milos Teodosic is a loss for the Russian champions. CSKA have managed without him before due to their depth at the guard position, but no team uses all their players like Panathinaikos do and their energy will be a key component for him in this series and how they manage their star players rest time.