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This season’s Euroleague scores are paving the way for one of the most exciting and evenly matched tournaments in the recent history of Europe’s top-flight competition.
It may well end up being one of the most potentially dramatic, with some huge disappointments but also pleasant surprises.
As for the massive let-downs, one name stands out above all others – EA7 Emporio Armani Milan, a super-rich squad that tried to catch up way too late. By the time the Italian giants wanted to join the party, food and drink had run out, and nobody single was available anymore. The Milanese, with some big names such as coach Ettore Messina on the bench and Shavon Shields, Nicolò Melli and Brandon Davies on the court, had a horrible start to the season and that proved too heavy a burden to make up for. However, they had a chance to dream of an epic comeback these past few weeks when they clinched six consecutive wins between the end of January and their defeat in Madrid.
Having said that, Anadolu Efes could become an even more shocking upset, although the 2021 and 2022 Euroleague champs still have time to claim a spot among the Top 8 and keep dreaming of defending their crown after a rather poor season, like they did last year. With Vasilje Micic, Shane Larkin and Will Clyburn leading one of the most impressive rosters in living memory in Europe, it wouldn’t surprise many if they actually managed to qualify for the quarter-finals. What not many people can fathom is how such a team got in such dire straits.
When talking of positive surprises, Partizan should take the gold, having earned the right to dream of keeping their current Play-Off spot all the way to the end of the regular season after their impressive victory over Efes in Istanbul, but still with very little room for mistakes. The fact that it’s such a close tournament means they could easily drop out of the PO spots… but also makes it easier for the Serbians to climb up a couple.
Monaco must also be considered one of the most pleasant surprises of the season. Fighting to secure home-court advantage in the quarter-finals, the Monegasque team is involved in inconvenient off-court problems with their leader, the magical point guard Mike James, who is no stranger to these situations, being out of the squad for now after an argument with head coach Saša Obradović. The team’s capabilities without the former NBA player remain largely unknown as he played every single game this season until the current situation exploded, although the squad is undoubtedly much more solid than in previous years.
If we keep looking at the top of the table, there’s a team that stands out – the leader, Olympiacos Piraeus, and while that’s not really a surprise since they played in last year’s Final Four, not many expected the Greeks to perform consistently at this level. Olympiacos have been extremely solid all year round, triumphing in Madrid and Barcelona, and have a firm grasp of that fully deserved top spot. Vezenkov’s growth has guided a team masterfully coached by Bartzokas – the true leader of a side that has established great dominance in the Greek scene over arch-rivals Panathinaikos.
Second and third places are held by Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona, who go toe-to-toe and also compete against other teams to hold on to home-court advantage and achieve the best possible position. Neither of them seem as mighty as they did in previous seasons, but it’s hard to imagine a Final Four without either. Real Madrid, with Pablo Laso gone and Chus Mateo taking the helm, haven’t changed much, but the spark that made them different is nowhere to be seen in most games, and they’ve played some forgettable ones. So have Barcelona, as the team looks the weakest since Sarunas Jasikevicius’ arrival. Barça had to overcome the prolonged absence of their superstar Nikola Mirotic during the first months of the season. If the former NBA man catches up and gets to the key games of the season in peak form, it could be crucial for a team with brutal potential but currently having issues from the three-point line due, in part, to Kyle Kuric’s little time on court in recent weeks.
As things stand, it is difficult to predict who will complete the eight qualifiers for the quarter-finals. Efes and Partizan are still involved in the fight, but so are Maccabi, Valencia, Baskonia and Zalgiris.