This Week: Heavyweight clashes aplenty

Nov 09, 2020 by Print
This Week: Heavyweight clashes aplenty

This week marks the first of the season to be affected by rescheduled games. Replays from Round 4 and Round 5 on Wednesday not only give way to a full slate of Round 8 games on Thursday and Friday, but inevitable amount to a double-round week for four teams. Here are some of the stories to closely follow...

ASVEL, Zenit aim to make up ground

This week's action opens on Wednesday with replays of LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne (1-3) vs. Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade (2-3), from Round 4, and Zenit St Petersburg (2-1) vs. AX Armani Exchange Milan (3-2), from Round 5, with both home teams aiming to make up ground in the standings from their own turf. ASVEL's first win of the season last week was historic, the first by a French team in Vitoria-Gasteiz Spain since 1985! T.J. Parker's team has a found a big man to rally around in Moustapha Fall, who ranks second among Turkish Airlines EuroLeague performer with an index rating of 22.0 per game. In its first game in almost a month, Zenit lost an unbeaten record because its offense could muster just 66 points against visiting Olympiacos Piraeus. Either ASVEL or Zenit will add to its win column, for sure, when they meet each other in Villeurbanne on Friday. Milan, which has two games less than it should, too, and plays twice this week in Russia, following Zenit on Wednesday with Khimki Moscow Region in the capital on Friday. That will make for quite a challenging few days for Ettore Messina's charges.

Baskonia facing former foursome in Moscow

There will be reunions aplenty as CSKA Moscow (4-3) welcomes TD Systems Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz (2-3) to the Russian capital on Thursday, with the Spanish side going up against no less than four of its former players. It will be a particularly big occasion for power forward Tornike Shengelia. The All-EuroLeague big man will be facing his ex-club for the first time since his summer move to Moscow, which brought to an end a highly successful six-year spell in the Basque Country. Johannes Voigtmann joined CSKA the previous summer after three seasons with Baskonia, Darrun Hilliard made the move after entering European basketball with Baskonia in the 2018-19 season, and Mike James also debuted in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague with a season and a half at Baskonia between 2014 and 2016.

The game will also be the latest installment of a growing rivalry which has seen the teams meet on 15 occasions over the last four years, including playoffs series won by CSKA in both 2017 and 2018. Baskonia has only won in Moscow twice in 20 attempts this century, so history is firmly on CSKA's side.

Can improving Fenerbahce stop Barca?

After suffering its sole setback so far with a loss at Zenit St Petersburg in Round 2, FC Barcelona has taken on all-comers to string together a five-game winning run and jump to the top of the standings with a 6-1 record. Last week's victory at ALBA Berlin was particularly impressive as Sarunas Jasikevicius's men compiled a team PIR of 140, the highest in club history. The team ethic encouraged by Jasikevicius was reflected in the fact that all 12 players scored and grabbed a rebound, while 10 different players dished an assist.

The latest test for Barca should be a strong one with Thursday's home game against Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul (4-3), which appears to be rapidly finding its feet under Coach Igor Kokoskov and heads to Spain on the back of two morale-boosting wins. Barca is the most accurate two-point shooting team in the league, converting 60.3% of attempts inside the arc, so finding a way to restrict the home team's inside play will be a key for Fenerbahce as it looks to make it three wins in a row.

High-flyers meet in Munich

To the surprise of absolutely nobody, the new EuroLeague season is as competitive as ever, with just one win separating fourth place from 10th in a congested early-season scrap to establish a place in the all-important top eight. Two of the teams currently occupying playoff positions are the season's surprise packages: FC Bayern Munich (5-2) and Valencia Basket (4-2), currently lying in third and fourth place, respectively. There is virtually nothing to choose between the teams in many statistical categories: they are extremely well matched in points scored (79.9 vs 79.8), points allowed (76.1 vs 76.3), defensive rebounds (24.1 vs 23.8) and three-point shooting percentage (34.6% vs 34.8%), so predicting a winner is a dangerous business.

One area of Valencia dominance is assists with an average of 19.3 per game compared to Bayern's 15.9. The return to fitness of veteran point guard Sam Van Rossom is part of the explanation for Valencia's fluidity, but Bayern showed its defensive excellence by holding Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade to just 59 points last week, so we can expect a tight battle in Bavaria on Friday night.

Maccabi and Zalgiris aiming to bounce back

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the standings is seeing Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv down in 15th place with just two games won and five defeats. Maccabi, after all, was looking red-hot when last season ended early with a run of five wins out of six and homecourt advantage very much up for grabs. Then Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos added powerful Ante Zizic to an already talented roster in the summer. In fairness, it wouldn't take much for Maccabi's 2-5 record to look a lot better. Four of the Israeli champs' five losses have come by 4 points or fewer, most recently with a 91-89 defeat at Anadolu Efes Istanbul last week that came down to the very last shot.

On Thursday night, Maccabi will attempt to prove it is currently in a false position by overcoming visiting Zalgiris Kaunas (5-2), which also has plenty at stake as it seeks to bounce straight back from last week's tough-to-take home loss against Real Madrid. Zalgiris particularly suffered against Real big man Walter Tavares in that game and will need to do a much better job against Zizic, who is averaging 11.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.

Panathinaikos ready to compete again?

It doesn't get any easier for Panathinaikos OPAP Athens (2-3). Having already faced local rivals Olympiacos Piraeus (Round 2), standings leader FC Barcelona (Round 4), 2017 champion Fenerbahce (Round 5) and 2019 champion CSKA Moscow (Round 7), now the Greens will have to take on last season's runaway leader Anadolu Efes Istanbul. To make things worse, Efes appears to be getting back on track following a shaky start to the season. The Turkish team has won its last two games to improve to 3-3 ahead of Friday's meeting in Athens, managing to get past Maccabi last week despite the absence of star guard Shane Larkin.

Panathinaikos has remained competitive during its tough start to the season and can call upon leadership from Nemanja Nedovic and Ioannis Papapetrou (15.6 and 12.8 points per game respectively) and an exciting spark from EuroLeague rookie Marcus Foster (12.4 points per game), but will that be enough to overcome a power-packed Efes team which is building a head of steam? We'll find out on Friday.