By Eurohoops team/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Fenerbahce has been named the favorite to secure Euroleague glory this year after winning its last two games to finish top of the table. It swatted aside Milan and then fought back from a double-digit deficit to vanquish Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv 78-75 via a sensational buzzer-beater by Kostas Sloukas. That saw it close the regular season with a 25-5 record and finish number one in the standings, setting up a playoff clash with Zalgiris Kaunas. It is the overwhelming favorite to win that contest and surge into the semi-finals.
The betting lines at top bookmakers such as Betonline show that Fenerbahce is the narrow favorite for glory this year. It suffered a heart-breaking defeat to Real Madrid in last year’s Championship game, but it looks to have the strength to go one better this time around. Sloukas, Nikola Kalinic, and Jan Vesely have been hugely impressive in recent weeks, with Nicolo Melli and Luigi Datome also in strong form. Vesely, in particular, has been on fire and he has the highest player index rating of anyone taking part in the playoffs. Fans will hope to see him return from injury in time for the game against Zalgiris Kaunas next week.
Fenerbahce’s victory in the final round of the regular season ensured that they had the best record in Euroleague history. CSKA Moscow achieved a record-breaking 24 wins last year, but Fenerbahce pipped them with 25 in 2019. They also managed to win all 15 home games this season, and that is a first for the league. “To play tough, to play focused, to compete is not something that you can switch on and switch off like a button,” said Datome, who put in a great performance to inspire his team to victory on the final day. “Today was not important for us because we knew that we were going to be first. It was good, then, the attitude that we had to fight until the end like we always do.”
However, it looks extremely close between the big teams once again this season. CSKA matched last season’s total by winning 24 games. Defending champion Real Madrid finished with a 22-8 record, showing how far these teams have pulled away from the chasing pack. All three are expected to win their opening playoff clashes comfortably. Barcelona might be the favorite to beat Anadolu Efes in the other game, but that looks closer to call.
Ultimately, this season looks like coming down to a battle between Fenerbahce and either CSKA Moscow or Real Madrid. “Now the season starts,” said Sloukas after his famous buzzer bearer. “Today was a game without, let’s say, numbers: win or lose, we were first. But I think we showed character, we found motivation.”
CSKA Moscow closed the regular season with four straight wins, and its 70-68 victory over Fenerbahce in Round 28 should give it enormous confidence ahead of the postseason. It beat three playoff teams in its final four games. It has also beaten Real Madrid home and away this season, so CSKA will carry a great deal of confidence into big games in the playoffs. It should certainly have little trouble beating Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz once over five games.
Real Madrid lost two of its last three games of the regular season, but it cannot be counted out after romping to victory last year. It has a series against Panathinaikos in which to rediscover its confidence and it could emerge in fine form ahead of greater challenges to come. The playoffs are shaping up to be intriguing once more this season and the next round should provide all manner of drama and excitement.