By Aris Barkas/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Group A was named the “group of death” after the Euroleague draw, because everyone was also counting on the presence of Unics Kazan in it. After the qualification of Cantu, the scenery is more clear. There are three top level teams – Real Madrid, Fenerbahce Ulker and Panathinaikos, even if there are question marks for the Greens – two that will fight for the fourth place (Khimki, Cantu) and Olimpija being the punching bag for everyone else.
The post Obradovic era still is a mystery. Only Kostas Tsartsaris and of course Dimitris Diamantidis remained from the core of the team that won three titles between 2007 and 2011. The Greens added established players in Europe like Roko Leni Ukic, Sofoklis Shortsanitis and the Spanish league MVP Andy Panko, but also took some gambles like Derwin Kitchen and Hilton Armstrong. Coach Argiris Pedoulakis is not a big name in Europe, but he is well respected in Greece and this is his big chance to take the next step.
PREDICTION: Panathinaikos realistic goal should be the play offs and not the Final Four. In essence, Diamantidis has to accomplish what Spanoulis did last season.
The return of Rudy Fernandez to Europe made Real automatically a contender. Add Mirotic in the mix, who is maturing day by day and you have a winning combination inside the most complete roster of perimeter players in Europe. The only ingredient that seems missing is a dominating big in the paint, but if Slaughter can imitate his predecessor in Brose Baskets Bamberg, Euroleague champion with Olympiacos Kyle Hines, then the sky is the limit.
PREDICTION: Final Four or bust! It’s that simple for Real, the team with eight Euroleague titles, but none in the 21th century.
How do you spell S-i-e-n-a in Turkish? With coach Simone Pianigiani in its first job outside Italian borders the Istanbul powerhouse decided to… buy not only the coach of Montepaschi, but also half of its roster, past or present. Bo McCalebb, arguably the best American playing in Europe, David Andersen and Romain Sato have played for Pianigiani in the past with big success. Veteran former Panathinaikos center Mike Batiste brings winning mentality, Omer Onan is a local star and young talent like Bojan Bogdanovic and Ilkan Karaman add fresh legs and excitement.
PREDICTION: One more Final Four contender! Fener is probably the most expensive team in Euroleague not named CSKA Moscow, so the target is to be among the elite of the league in London.
According to its results, Khimki is the second best team of Russia, trailing only CSKA Moscow. Nobody expects big things from them, thought. They have a capable and expensive roster, they won Eurocup last season, but something just doesn’t click. Players like Zoran Planinic, Vitaly Fridzon, Petteri Koponen, K.C.Rivers can compete with the best, however Khimki has a long history of underachieving in Euroleague. If coach Rimas Kurtinaitis can change that, then the Lithuanian federation should reconsider the possibility of hiring in the future for the country’s national team.
PREDICTION: They will try to be the fourth team of the group in order to play at Top 16. At first glance they can’t impose a real threat to the top three.
After the deconstruction of Siena, Cantu, playing for second straight season in Euroleague, has its eyes in the domestic prize. However, Euroleague helped last season the team of coach Trinchieri to mature and there are already new players in its roster like Alex Tyus and Pietro Aradori who are ready to do damage. Georgian Manuchar Markoishvili is the leader of the team in its third season in Cantu, but the real star is Andrea Trinchieri. After his last Euroleague campaign, he was hailed all over Europe as one of the best emerging coaches of the old continent.
PREDICTION: Everybody likes Cantu, they have fighting spirit and that’s what they should do: Fight, probably in a duel with Khimki, in order to get to the Top 16.
The perennial representative of Slovenia in Euroleague doesn’t scare anyone. The team faced the possibility of being expelled from the league last summer due to financial problems and old debts to former players. That means that the roster of coach Saso Filipovski is nοτ exactly the best possible material. Seven players of the team were born in the nineties, their two Americans, Dylan Page and Dominic Waters, have no Euroleague experience and their two best players are Australian Aron Baynes and Finn Teemu Rannikko.
PREDICTION: The “Dragons” will try their best, but the possibility of their qualification to Top 16 seems far fetched.