Former Oregon Duck Maarty Leunen is the rock for a Cantu side that now famously spreads the love on offense and expects equal parts from all its contributors, though they clearly miss Italian scoring machine Pietro Aradori, who came over (curiously) from Montepaschi Siena in the offseason, and former Lousivile guard Jerry Smith, who was starting at the point before a broken foot in November’s first week put him in street clothes.
While Cantu will ride a wave of momentum and surprise into their duel with Fenerbahce Ulker, the Turkish side has to be kicking themselves at the mere thought that it has come to this. They came into the season as Final Four hopefuls, and now, thanks to their own lethargy and the complete absence of cohesion, they might be one of the first eight teams eliminated.
My preseason pick for MVP, Bo McCalebb, has been in and out of the lineup with an ankle injury and his production has suffered severely. While no blame lies with Bo for the injury itself, he is culpable to a degree, as it is his fourth season of Euroleague basketball and he still relies too heavily on speed, struggling to orchestrate an offense when he’s playing at less than 100 percent.
Given the diverse array of pieces around him – Romain Sato, David Andersen, Mike Batiste, Bojan Bogdanovic, Emir Preldzic – Fenerbahce’s possessions shouldn’t induce a 24-second, face-melting cringe every other trip.
Oh, and rebounding. Fenerbhace has grabbed fewer than anyone. So when they played the EL’s best rebounding team, Panathinaikos, guess what happened? The Turks got destroyed 69-55 in a nearly unwatchable mud trudge.
Fenerbahce Ulker host Cantu this Thursday. If Fenerbahce wins, they can forget all about these first 10 weeks.
Lord knows I’ll try my hardest to do the same.
The most entertaining game of the week needed overtime in Belgrade, as 2-6 Partizan nearly toppled 8-0 Barcelona but lost in the end, 68-67.
With Partizan down one and the clock under five seconds, 20-year-old French point guard Leo Westermann – who has plenty of Jose Calderon in him – got into the lane against the Euroleague’s best defense and floated the ball toward his rolling center, 21-year-old Dejan Musli.
It was a play that had worked most of the night, whether it was Musli or fellow 21-year-old Djordje Gagic on the receiving end.
But as Xavi Pascual’s defenses always do, Nathan Jawai adjusted this time and stayed home, directly underneath the rim. When Musli caught it, he found the 280-pound Aussie between himself and the game-winning basket.
It was a heartbreaking loss for Partizan, the Euroleague’s youngest team, who will now head into one of Europe’s crazier atmospheres to play Brose Baskets Bamberg in Bamberg, Germany.
Partizan (2-7) will have to beat Bamberg (2-7) and hope Lietuvos Rytas (2-7) loses in Istanbul against Besiktas (4-5), who have already qualified for the Top 16.
If Bamberg beat Partizan, they’re in. Plain and simple.
If Rytas beat Besiktas, they need a Partizan win in Bamberg to advance, as the Lithuanians have the head-to-head advantage over Partizan.
Got all that?