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Thursday, April 30, 2009
Ich Bin Berliner: A Euroleague Final Four Preview


Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

A couple of weeks ago, the TrueHoop Network's Ball in Europe published a post titled, "Why Americans Should Watch Euroleague Final Four." BiE cataloged the players on each the four rosters who have American connections -- whether they're Yanks, played college ball in the States, or spent some time in the NBA. Getting to see a ballplayer you might recognize from his U.S. association is a perfectly good reason to tune into Euroleague Final Four, but here's some better ones: Interior passing that will make even the most hardened American fan purr, spacing and motion that will remind you of Mike D'Antoni's Phoenix Suns (over here it's a novelty, in Europe it's the way they do things), and an atmosphere so intense that fans aren't allowed to bring keys or coinage into 02 World, where they're holding the event! 

The matchups are set, with Regal FC Barcelona taking on CSKA Moscow in one semifinal, and bitter rivals Olympiacos and Panathinaikos facing off in the other. Ball in Europe will be in Berlin for Euroleague Final Four, and will have frequent reports from the venue. You can catch the games live on ESPN 360.

Over the past week or so, BiE has invited colleagues from around Europe who know the finalists to offer a write-up of each team. Below you'll some quick snapshots of those previews, with links to the full posts, along with some accompanying video. You should also visit The Painted Area's "Seven Men To Watch," which provides a thorough rundown of the weekend's most intriguing characters.

Regal FC Barcelona
"Xavi Pascual has been passing a continuous exam throughout the season. He was confirmed last summer as the team's head coach, but, as always happens to every young coach with no previous experience at the highest level, he has had to prove from the very beginning that he was capable of assembling a winning team from the pieces he was given. And Pascual was failing the exam in the early months of competition, including a semifinal loss to Tau in the Spanish Cup. But management has been patient, keeping the coach around, and it has proven to be worthy.

FC Barcelona arrives in Berlin at the best possible moment of the season for the team and will face CSKA Moscow in Semifinal A of the Final Four ... The team is working perfectly. Daniel Santiago and David Andersen have not been playing at the same level as the past few seasons, but they are two of the best centers in the competition; together with Fran Vázquez and Ersan Ilyasova, this makes up one of the most prolific, versatile frontcourt tandems in Europe. And the backcourt is also incredibly good.

Juan Carlos Navarro is showing that he's back to win titles and will want the ball at crunch time. Gianluca Basile and Jaka Lakovic will sink one three-pointer after another if you leave them open: Basile shot 52.6% on his attempts from beyond the arc during the season, and the whole team is recording an incredible 38.4% (third in the season, while CSKA is tops at 41%). Completing the roster, Víctor Sada is the perfect playmaker, because he thinks of his teammates first. And Andre Barrett and Lubos Barton are self-confident when on the court, despite seeing little playing time."

 
More Euroleague Final Four after the jump...

CSKA Moscow
"Ettore Messina has once again put together a team that can win the supreme title, but this season, the task of winning the cup looks a bit more challenging than the years before ...

J.R. Holden and Ramunas Siskauskas are now the absolute leaders of the team. Together with Matjaz Smodis, they form a trio that is unmatched on the Continent in terms of offensive potential and knowledge of the game.

Holden is still taking the PG role without being a real distributor, but his high-level speed and ball handling make him a tough player to guard. Additionally, his shot seems to be falling again and his long distance attempts netted a career high 39% this season despite a poor percentage during the playoffs. The former Bucknell guard gets relayed by the newly arrived Zoran Planinic ... Nikos Zisis is slowly coming back as well and could be the guy to stop Juan Carlos Navarro in the semifinals.

Trajan Langdon will be the silent assassin from behind the arc to break the zones or come off nice plays for a catch-and-shoot three-pointer. His scoring will be crucial against Barcelona in the semis as CSKA needs the necessary firepower to overcome Xavi Pascual's team. Langdon will get support from Victor Khryapa on the wing; Khryapa's role is more defensive-athletic but the former Chicago Bull will not miss too many open shots. In fact, he has the highest two-point FG percentage on the team at 66.7%.

Finally, MVP candidate #1 is on the other wing in Ramunas Siskauskas and his all-around basketball skills. Siska took over the crunch time and title-winning job in Europe that was held in recent years by Sarunas Jasikevicius and Papaloukas, and can currently be considered the best basketball player in the Euroleague.

While I had some doubts about the CSKA inside sector before the season, the results have proven me wrong throughout the year."


Panathinaikos Athens

"Panathinaikos is counting on the experience that the coaching staff and most of their players have in these games (even the bencher Hatzivrettas is participating in a Final Four for the fourth time). Dimitris Diamantidis has faced some injury problems over the last month, but he'll be ready at the 1st of May … and if Diamantidis is 100% ready, Panathinaikos rises a level. Drew Nicholas and Vassilis Spanoulis played so
me great games after the Top 16 and everybody is hoping they continue to do so. And of course, Sarunas Jasikevicius (who has three Euroleague titles in a row in three final four bids) will always be there to unlock the opponent's defense with his passes while teaching how to play pick-and-roll with the most stable player in the front line, Mike Batiste.

Panathinaikos expects a lot from Kostas Tsartsaris and Antonis Fotsis in scoring and rebounding, while it will be interesting to see how the talented (but inexperienced in "do-or-die” games) Stratos Perperoglou and Nikola Pekovic react. Last but not least, captain Fragiskos Alvertis in his ninth final four participation also wants his fifth Euroleague Championship to finish his career after nineteen seasons with the club. Also, don't forget that Zeljko Obradovic usually saves surprises for the opponents during the final four games. Presidents Pavlos and Thanasis Giannakopoulos and the many Panathinaikos fans who will be in Berlin expect a lot from them."


 
Olympiacos Piraeus
"[T]he moves for Theo Papaloukas, Nikola Vujcic, Yotam Halperin and Josh Childress have paid off, bringing the Reds back to the Final Four for the first time since 1999.

Papaloukas, Vujcic and Halperin all bring the experience of winning two Euroleague titles while Papaloukas has six straight Final Four showings and Vujcic and Halperin each have played in four Final Fours. Josh Childress of course has been battle-tested by four years in the NBA. With that quartet and plenty of more talent, head coach Panagiotis Giannakis's team is loaded and have a great chance of grabbing their first crown since 1997.

...Giannakis has two injury concerns heading to Berlin. Forward Panagiotis Vasilopoulos has been dealing with a back injury and missed the Reds' last four games. And tough defending guard Michalis Pelekanos is out with a leg injury. Both players are listed as doubtful and that will be a loss no doubt - especially in Giannakis' ability to deep into his rotation against the equally deep Panathinaikos. In addition, center Sofoklis Schortsanitis has played just two minutes in Olympiacos's second domestic league playoff game since his month-long suspension for disciplinary reasons.

That means that Giannakis's main men will have to get the job done. Papaloukas will have to find a way to solve the defensive web of Dimitris Diamantidis. The Reds also desperately need to shoot well from long range - especially Halperin and Lynn Greer. And a fascinating battle will be Vujcic and Bourousis against the Greens duo of Nikola Pekovic and Mike Batiste. The old adage goes defense wins championships and Childress has been defensive stopper this season for Giannakis and could play a huge impact on Friday. Also don't forget 22-year-old Serbian point guard Milos Teodosic, who is a winner."