|1||LAST WEEK: Won 78-75 at Barcelona
THIS WEEK: December 28 vs. Anadolu Efes
When you turn it over 21 times in Barcelona against the Euroleague’s most unsettling defense (and only undefeated team), the remaining facets of your offense better be in the rarest of forms to stand a chance at winning. Nenad Krstic (15), Sasha Kaun (14), Milos Teodosic (13), Sonny Weems (12), and Viktor Khryapa (11) made it hard for Barca to double anyone, and CSKA as a whole made 55 percent of their two-pointers and 62 percent of their threes. Erazem Lorbek played a season high 28 minutes against his former club, while Marcelinho Huertas and Juan Carlos Navarro both eclipsed their respective season averages in floor time, so it wasn’t as if Barcelona was mailing it in with the Group D crown all but locked up. Ettore Messina seems to have worked out the kinks in Moscow. Welcome home, big guy.
|LAST WEEK: Won 91-60 vs. Union Olimpija
THIS WEEK: December 27 at Alba Berlin
Their first loss came in Khimki, at the colorfully named Basketball Center of Moscow Region. But no other Euroleague team has beaten Khimki there all season, either. Madrid’s next loss came in Athens to a Panathinaikos team who would surge to beat their next three opponents by a smidgeon more than 13 per game. And for benching Rudy Fernandez and issuing a questionable performance week nine in Cantu, they can blame only themselves. But only Siena scores more per game (87.9) than Madrid (83.2) in the Euroleague, whose 12-0 record in the equally rigorous ACB is the most impressive team achievement on the continent this season. More Top 16 games (14 vs. the standard six from years past) means more time for Madrid to showcase their deeper-than-all depth, and for Pablo Laso to understand which lineups work best, and when. Be afraid.
|3||Barcelona(9-1)||LAST WEEK: Lost 78-75 vs. CSKA Moscow
THIS WEEK: December 28 vs. Fenerbahce Ulker
As enthralling as Madrid’s undefeated run in the ACB is, Barcelona’s pedestrian 7-5 in Spain is equally perplexing. They’re in seventh, with a very disturbing 1-4 record against five of the six teams ahead of them. Guess who they still haven’t played? Archrival Real Madrid. There were those among us [hand raised] who forecast a different-looking season for Xavi Pascual’s side, but the 9-1 EL record did well to soothe our concerns, like rebounding, interior defense and stopping the pick and roll. But disappearing against your only worthy opponents domestically won’t buy you any ladders on this list.
|LAST WEEK: Won 82-81 vs. Olimpia Milano
THIS WEEK: December 27 at Caja Laboral
I think Andrei Kirilenko’s walking around with Vassilis Spanoulis’ MVP trophy to this day, but the Greek guard is trying to make sure there’s not even a discussion this season. Spanoulis is currently top five in scoring (16), assists (5.9) and threes (22) and he’s become a bit of a ballhawk on the other end, too (That started last season). Meanwhile, Kyle Hines wants to join his teammate on an All-Euroleague team this season, pulling down 6.3 boards in just 20 minutes per game while standing at 6-foot-5. He’s a center. And the 6-foot-5 might be generous.
|5||Khimki Moscow (6-4)||LAST WEEK: Won 78-77 vs. Panathinaikos
THIS WEEK: December 27 at Besiktas
This offseason, former Michigan State Spartan Paul Davis was one of the hottest names in Europe, coming off a career-cementingly brilliant season with Cajasol Sevilla. Davis left Spain for Khimki Moscow, and what was expected to be one of Europe’s most well-rounded front courts: James Augustine, Kresimir Loncar and now, Davis. An injury forced him out of the opener, however, and he worked his way back into shape, playing around 11-15 minutes per contest, averaging 7.6 points per game. He’s reached 20 minutes in each of his last three, and has responded with 15.7 points on 16-of-27 shooting (55 percent), while going 15-of-17 from the stripe. With Davis and Zoran Planinic at the co-helm, Khimki should challenge for a playoff spot and be a tough out when they get there.
|6||Panathinaikos (6-4)||LAST WEEK: Lost 78-77 at Khimki
THIS WEEK: December 28 vs. Zalgiris
Panathinaikos recently found out that Sofoklis Schortsanitis will miss at least two weeks with a foot injury, likely cutting into at least one, maybe two of the Greens’ Top 16 games. It’s an unfortunate blow for Baby Shaq, given his career long battles with conditioning and injuries, yet Panathinaikos has already gotten used to, if not thrived in, their life without Sofo. They’ve gone 2-3 in games in which he’s played 13 minutes or more and 2-0 without the big fella. Most of the thanks go to Stephane Lasme, who is a leading candidate for defensive player of the year with his 2.6 blocks per game, nearly a whole swat more than Maccabi’s Shawn James and Barca’s Ante Tomic, who trail Lasme at 1.6.
|LAST WEEK: Won 71-53 vs. Anadolu Efes
THIS WEEK: December 28 at Panathinaikos
After playing seven seasons for Zalgiris—an eternity in Europe and two eternities if your team’s owner is Vladimir Romanov—Mantas Kalnietis left his hometown of Kaunas for Lokomotiv Kuban in Russia. Without him, Zalgiris has rotated point duties between Ibrahim Jaaber and Marko Popovic, who bring a nice mix of playmaking ability and shooting to the table. What they don’t do is turn the ball over often: only 27 times in 19 games between the two. And when you’ve got Rimantas Kaukenas directing traffic off the ball, it’s a little easier not to miss the Praying Mantas.
|8||Maccabi Tel Aviv (8-2)||LAST WEEK: Won 78-62 vs. Alba Berlin
THIS WEEK: December 27 at Montepaschi Siena
Nik Caner-Medley tore a thigh muscle in Maccabi’s week ten game against Berlin and will miss a month. This nightmarish season keeps on getting worse for the former Maryland Terrapin, who seemed ready to make his big EL splash after playing well in stints with Asefa Estudiantes and Valencia in Spain. But Nik hasn’t scored more than 10 points or grabbed more than 4 rebounds all season long and is averaging a beggarly 2.8 and 1.5. David Blatt will continue to lean on Shawn James, who has turned in an exceptional second season with the Israeli side this season.
|9||Unicaja (8-2)||LAST WEEK: Won 86-62 vs Elan-Chalon
THIS WEEK: December 27 vs. Bamberg
Augosto Cesar Lima is a 21-year-old Brazilian forward that has haunted mock drafts for the past couple seasons now. After spending a lot of time on Unicaja’s pine since coming to Malaga as an 18-year-old in 2009, Lima is using his 10 minutes per game to grab 2.7 rebounds. The consistent PT is an upgrade over the fluctuation which marred his past, but I’m afraid he’s trying too hard to stretch his offense too far away from the painted area, where he can be a menace if you don’t get a body on him.
|10||Caja Laboral (4-6)||LAST WEEK: Won 97-70 vs. Cedevita Zagreb
THIS WEEK: December 27 vs. Olympiacos
After firing head coach Dusko Ivanovic on Novemeber 18, Caja Laboral went into Kaunas and lost 82-45 on November 23 under new coach Zan Tabak. On November 25, they beat Unicaja 90-79 in the Spanish League, and haven’t lost in either Spain or the Euroleague since. Their issues with depth and defensive commitment remain, but Caja Laboral is playing some hard-nosed basketball right now, and when healthy, they’ve got a line up that can wear down anyone who feels like finessing it.
|11||Fenerbahçe Ülker (5-5)||LAST WEEK: won 77-69 vs. Cantu
THIS WEEK: December 28 at Barcelona
With Fenerbahce in a win-or-go-home scenario in week ten, the worst rebounding team in the Euroleague got a gift delivered to Istanbul: the league’s second worst rebounding team, Cantu. The Turks won the tug-of-board battle by 13. Their reward: 14 more games to try and forget the first nine ever happened.
|12||Bamberg (3-7)||LAST WEEK: Won 92-90 (OT) vs. Partizan
THIS WEEK: December 27 at Unicaja
The warm and fuzzies have worn off for the German champs after their biggest Euroleague win ever, easily: an overtime classic against Partizan that got them to the Top 16. They will need to scour the open market, or knock on some closed doors, to find a ball handler that can create off the dribble to give Anton Gavel a rest, and another big man to firm up a thin rotation down low.
|13||Besiktas(5-5)||LAST WEEK: Lost 95-88 vs. Asseco Prokom
THIS WEEK: December 27 vs. Khimki Moscow
Daniel Ewing had a spotless debut for Besiktas, settling in seamlessly with 14 points, 4 boards, 4 assists to zero turnovers and 2 steals in a game Besiktas won against Lietuvos Rytas. The challenge now will be sharing shots with Curtis Jerrells, the Baylor product who prefers having the ball in his hands most of the time, if not all of it.
|14||Montepaschi Siena(5-5)||LAST WEEK: Won 66-65 vs. Lietuvos Rytas
THIS WEEK: December 27 vs. Maccabi
Three losses. Then five wins. Then two more losses, the last one to the league’s worst team, Asseco Prokom. I could forgive it, and go for the it was the last week and it didn’t matter argument, but to give up 95 points? And at home? While Jerel Blassingame out-Bobby Browns Bobby Brown? Unforgivable. They’ll get hot and win a couple, but there’s not an offense left in the field that can’t light it up against these guys.
|15||Anadolu Efes (5-5)||LAST WEEK: Lost 71-53 at Zalgiris
THIS WEEK: December 28 at CSKA Moscow
When your team’s greatest advantage lies with the defensive depth of your backcourt, you expect to lead the Euroleague in steals. So far, so good. But it’s tougher to squeeze the value out of those 8.7 steals per night when you throw the ball around carelessly and turn it over at a bottom-five rate (14.8 per game). And even though Efes is solid up top, it’s far too easy for the opposition to throw it into the paint where Dusko Savanovic, or whoever else is down there, will almost always need help if left alone.
|16||ALBA Berlin (4-6)||LAST WEEK: Lost 70-68 at Maccabi
THIS WEEK: December 27 vs. Real Madrid
It’s tough to imagine what Berlin would have done without Deon Thompson this season. After Alba lost Nathan Peavy for the year before playing a possession, the Tar Heel took on an enormous load down low and led Berlin in both scoring (14.6) and rebounding (6.2) while logging more minutes (30.1 mpg) than any other Euroleague big man, if you count Vladimir Lucic (33:14 mpg) as the small forward that he is. But against the best competition he’s ever seen, he’ll need German center Yassin Idbihi to be his second-half self offensively, and shoulder some of the tougher defensive assignments down low.
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