The year 2017 is gone and everybody across the world is celebrating (or not) the advent of 2018. For Euroleague fans, though, the celebrations will have to wait for just a few days more. On Thursday (January 4th), the second half of the Regular Season will begin and the battle for the Top 8 Playoff positions is expected to be more fiery than ever.
Without further delay, let’s take a quick look at the best and worst “projects” of the competition so far.
The Greek rivals are still going strong
CSKA Moscow is the first, and so far the best, team of the competition but this is no news. The Russian Euroleague giant is almost every year the most consistent team in terms of results during the regular season.
However, the fact that Panathinaikos and Olympiacos, the two enemies of Greek basketball, have managed to establish a dominating presence in the competition despite the serious budget cuts of the last years is admirable. Both teams finished the first half in the top 3 and they seem ready to go all the way and outrun teams, such as Fenerbahce and Real Madrid.
Olympiacos looks to be half step ahead due to their team cohesion and the presence of Vassilis Spanoulis. But the serious injuries that the Reds have to battle against at the moment may put them in trouble.
As far as Panathinaikos is concerned, the Greens are back and stronger than last year. Xavi Pascual has put together a very talented team which starts reminding to their fans of the old good days with Zeljko Obradovic. The American quarteto of Calathes, Gist, Singleton and K.C. Rivers are leading this effort.
can be is a great coach
There’s no doubt that Zalgiris Kaunas is the biggest surprise of the season so far. The Lithuanian Champions are on the fourth position with the remarkable record of 10-5. After one year and a half as the Head Coach of Zalgiris, Saras has achieved to create a very competent team that appears ready to fight until the end for the home-court advantage.
We can’t be sure if their will eventually be attained, but there is no doubt that Zalgiris is here to stay. Kevin Pangos is the mind and heart of this team, while Paulius Jankunas is contributing a lot thanks to his experience. The recent arrival of Beno Udrih is expected to add even more quality to the existing roster.
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Sarunas Jasikevicius is undoubtedly the key person behind this success and it is no blasphemy to say that sometimes he resembles Zeljko Obradovic a lot. Who can forget his furious reaction to Micic winning 3 point shot against Fenerbahce just because the latter didn’t follow his instructions? This emphasis on detail in combination with his incredible basketball IQ have already put Saras on the top of the coach community in Europe.
Fenerbahce and Real Madrid have to try harder
What a win last week for Real Madrid against the 2017 Euroleague Champions in Turkey! Both teams were anticipated to perform better in the first 15 games of the season. Nevertheless, they had some good reasons for their kind of mediocre performances so far.
Starting from Fenerbahce, we have to keep in mind that they started the season without Kalinic and Dixon. Both are really important for Zeljko’s plan which was significantly harmed by their absence. On top of that, we should also consider that Ekpe Udoh and Bogdan Bogdanovic are no longer with Fenerbahce. They were undoubtedly the heart of the team and two critical keys for last year’s triumph.
Regarding Real Madrid, now, the Spanish team was very unlucky so far in this season. After seeing Sergio Llull, Gustavo Ayon and from time to time Randolph and Rudy Fernandez getting injured, Pablo Laso is constantly trying to keep his team going. He hasn’t done bad so far (9-6) and I believe that they will be presented much stronger in the next round.
Both teams are ready for their big comeback in order to win the home-court advantage. After all, they are only 1 win away of it.
The biggest disappointments
First and foremost, Barcelona! Everybody thought that the nightmare had passed after the big failure last year. Giorgos Bartzokas was substituted by Sito Alonso and the arrival of players, such as Adam Hanga, Kevin Seraphin and Thomas Heurtel made Barcelona fans very optimistic about the new season.
But things went south again and Barcelona is on the 13th place with a record of 5-10. The win against Khimki last week made staff and players to smile again and to hope for better results in 2018. But, there are many things that need to be changed if Barcelona wants to make it to the Playoffs.
The next two big disappointments are Anadolu Efes and Armani Milano. Both teams spent a lot of money this summer in order to put together a competent team but so far nothing has come as they expected. Perasovic was fired by Efes this month and the Turkish team is in rebuilding mode under the new coach Ergin Ataman. Ledo and Adams are also expected to leave the team since they didn’t manage to convince Ataman that they deserve a second chance.
In regards to Armani, they have to start playing a bit tougher. Their brain seems to be very vulnerable (eg. Theodore got expelled for flopping against Panathinaikos). Theodore and Goudlock have proved to play a bit selfishly so far and I think this is the main problem for Milano this year. They are not a team! The arrival of Kuzminskas might improve things, but it can’t do miracles unless Armani invests in team cohesion and expel ‘softness’ from their game.
What’s coming next?
Well, that’s a tough one! I believe that CSKA Moscow and Fenerbahce will be in Belgrade this May. Concerning the other two teams that they will keep them company, I would say that Olympiacos and Real Madrid appear to have the best chances at this point. The biggest difference in comparison to the previous season has to do with Panathinaikos. The Greens look much better than last year and nobody can ignore their chances of reaching to the Final 4.
As to the rest of the teams, I’m not going to lie. I really hope that Zalgiris will somehow manage to go to Belgrade because they have an extremely interesting project and they deserve a big success after so many years. Apart from the Lithuanians, Maccabi, Baskonia and Khimki are teams that you can’t ignore. However, I believe that they won’t manage to step up in the crucial moment.
That’s all folks! A very exciting Euroleague season is around the corner and I’m looking forward to see what’s coming our way in 2018. Write your own thoughts and predictions below!
All the photos included in the article belong to Euroleague.net