The “Round of 16” features the same number of teams as the NBA playoffs with a far different format.
This type of format may be confusing for many who are used to the NBA’s format, howeve, the system used in Europe creates a playoff type atmosphere for every game throughout the season. Since each team only has six games to qualify for the next round, the games are very intense and teams are meticulous about their execution on every possession.
The 16 teams remaining represent seven countries, consisting of four Spanish teams, three Turkish teams, three Italian teams, two Greek teams, two Russian teams, an Israeli team and a Lithuanian team. Since Euroleague teams consist mostly of the top finishers in leagues around Europe, it should come as no surprise that teams from the stronger leagues in Europe were able to advance.
Here is a look at how all the Euroleague final 16 teams stand following in the first round of competition:
Group A1. CSKA Moscow (Russia) – 6-0 2. Olympiakos (Greece) – 3-3 3. Galatasaray (Turkey) – 2-4 4. Anadolu Efes (Turkey) – 1-5
The way CSKA is playing, they should run away with first place in Group A. With an incredibly deep roster led by Andrei Kirelenko and Nenad Krstic, CSKA is pretty much locked into a spot in the playoffs.
It gets a little cloudier after CSKA. Vassilis Spanoulis, the leader of Olympiacos, has been dealing with some injury troubles so far this season. However, there has been talk that Olympiacos has been looking at bringing in Antonio Daniels and DJ Mbenga, and these additions would almost certainly lock them into the number two spot in group A.
While CSKA and Olymiakos are the favorites, don’t count out either Turkish team just yet. Galatasaray may have lost big man Zaza Pachulia to the NBA, but young big man Furkan Aldemir could emerge as a major contributor as he sees more minutes. Look for Aldemir to be one of the breakout players of the second round as he looks to boost his stock prior to this summer’s NBA draft. With a strong backcourt consisting of Jaka Lakovic, Josh Shipp and Jamon Gordon, this team is no slouch.
Anadolu Efes may be the powerhouse team in Turkey, but after getting crushed by Maccabi Tel-Aviv in the first round, it looks doubtful this team has enough firepower to make it through the next round. While they retained “The Machine”, Sasha Vujacic, they lost forward Ersan Ilyasova to the NBA and have looked lost since his departure. The way they were playing at the end of the last round, they are lucky to have made it this far.
Group B1. Real Madrid (Spain) – 5-1 2. Unicaja Malaga (Spain) – 4-2 3. Montepaschi Siena (Italy) – 2-4 4. Gescrap BB (Spain) – 1-5
Unfortunately, Barcelona was placed in Group D, preventing this group from being an all-Spanish division. A testament to the strong brand of basketball in Spain, it is very likely that two Spanish teams will emerge from this group. Real Madrid has been playing excellent basketball, with Jaycee Carroll and Nikola Mirotic shooting the lights out the last few weeks. No Rudy Fernandez? No problem, as the team already replaced Rudy with former NCAA Championship MVP Kyle Singler.
Malaga has been playing outstanding basketball in both the ACB and the Euroleague this season, and Joel Freeland is a candidate to be on the All-Euroleague first team. With a very veteran and physical team that includes the rugged and everlasting Jorge Garbajosa, look for Malaga to make a run to the second round.
Siena would stand a better chance of advancing if Bo McCalleb was at full strength, but unless he is 100 percent, it is unlikely they stand much of a chance of advancing. Lithuanian sharpshooter Rimantas Kaukenas may be able to shoot them into some games, but they need their leader to have a prayer of moving on to the next round.
Gescrab BB, after stumbling over the past few weeks, will have trouble competing in what may be the most competitive group in the field.
Group C1. Panathinakos (Greece) – 6-0 2. Armani Jeans Milano (Italy) – 3-3 3. Unics Kazan (Russia) – 2-4 4. Fenerbahce Ulker (Turkey) – 1-5
Last season’s champion, Panathinakos, should breeze through the first round, with former MVP Dimitris Diamantidis running the show. One of the best pick-and-roll players in the world right now, he leads a deep squad that should breeze through this round. Loaded with veterans and former champions, this team has been there, done that, and should make mincemeat of the competition in Group C.
While Milano lost Danilo Gallinari to the NBA, and Malik Hairston for at least the first two games due to injury, they should be able to hold themselves together long enough to make it to the next round. Point guard Omar Cook leads a squad that features Greek stars Antonis Fotsis and Ioannis Bourousis, and Italian star Stephano Mancinelli. While it may seem tough for Milano to miss Hairston in the opening game against Panathinakos, having him healthy for the more winnable games will be crucial for the team to advance to the next round.
While Henry Domercat, Kelly McCarty and Michael Wilkinson are a strong trio, Unics Kazan may have trouble advancing. With a rough schedule that includes the Russian league and the VTB league on top of their Euroleague schedule, it will be tough for this squad to muster up enough wins to advance.
These predictions may seem harsh regarding the Turkish teams, as it appears that none of their three remaining squads will advance. However, the Turkish league is known as a league where defense is optional, and when the games are slowed down to a halt, Fenerbahce will struggle to stop people.
Group D1. FCB Regal Barcelona (Spain) – 5-1 2. Maccabi Tel-Aviv (Israel) – 5-1 3. Zalgiris (Lithuania) – 1-5 4. Bennet Cantu (Italy) – 1-5
Led by Juan Carlos Navarro and Erazem Lorbek, Barca will look to reclaim the title it won two years ago. While Ricky Rubio may be doing his thing in the NBA now, Barcelona has looked even better in his absence, as point guard Marcelinho Huertas has run this team efficiently. To give an idea of just how deep this squad is, former Magic lottery pick Fran Vasquez only plays 13.8 minutes per game due to the team’s stable of big men. That is not a knock on Vasquez, as not player on the team is averaging more than 24 minutes a night. They may have trouble winning in Tel-Aviv, but should otherwise sweep through Group D.
Maccabi has looked a little lost since the departure of guard Jordan Farmar, but the team should start to make some progress with the addition of Demond Mallet. Now that former Kansas guard Keith Langford has gotten some good practice time under his belt, look for him to show the same skills that made him the Euroleague’s leading scorer in the past. With the ability to go two or three deep at every position, and a mastermind like David Blatt running the show, Maccabi should have no trouble advancing.
While Zalgiris has been a bit better since the departure of Ty Lawson, it may not be enough to get out of a Group with two powerhouse teams. Sonny Weems has been a major bright spot for this team, but it doesn’t look like he will be bright enough.
Bennet Cantu benefitted from Caja Laboral’s struggles to advance to the second round. They have done an excellent job shooting the ball this season, and likely will remain competitive in games where their shots are going down. Unfortunately, at this stage of the season, it will take more than just hot shooting to succeed, and a total lack of a rebounding presence will keep them out of the next round.
AJ Mitnick is an American currently living in Israel and working for Maccabi Rishon Lezion of the Israeli Basketball Super League. A recent graduate of IDC Herzliya, Mitnick also maintains a basketball blog, http://mindlessdribble.net, and is pursuing a professional basketball coaching license from the Wingate Institute in Israel.