With the Euroleague heading into the Top 16 stage, the recently completed draw has separated the contenders from the pretenders.
Group E has dished up a Greek derby with Panathinaikos set to face European newcomers Maroussi of Athens along with the only undefeated side, Catalan giants, Barcelona.
Meanwhile Olympiakos benefited from a slightly more straightforward draw, the bonus of topping their section in the previous stage.
Regal FC Barcelona
Spanish giants Barcelona enter the Top 16 as the only undefeated left in the competition. With a physical yet extremely talented roster, Barcelona may have no limits this sea son and will push Panathinaikos all the way.
Panathinaikos will keep defending its 2008-09 Euroleague title as one of the toughest teams to beat anytime, anywhere.
Coach Zeljko Obradovic hopes to have his team’s full roster ready to battle. If so, Panathinaikos counts on an star-flooded backcourt in which Sarunas Jasikevicius, Dimitris Diamantidis, Drew Nicholas and Vassilis Spanoulis will see most minutes.
Nikola Pekovic and Mike Batiste should make the difference in the paint, with Antonis Fotsis opening the floor. As usual, expect the Greens to reach high.
Of the draw, Obradovic said, “We are in the Top 16 and there are no easy opponents. Barcelona is the only team that remains undefeated so far and there is no doubt that we will play two tough games against them.
“Partizan is a very familiar to us, because we play each other very often and you have to pay attention because they have a lot of strong points. Maroussi has performed very well this season and there is a special situation when teams from the same country play each other.”
PAO centre Nikola Pekovic added, “Now we are going to a more important round and we have to pay attention and be ready for 40 minutes of good basketball and give our 100%. Barcelona has played great so far with a lot of fast breaks, alley-oops, three pointers and spectacular basketball.”
It was business as usual this so far this season for Partizan Belgrade, which advanced to the Top 16 for the fourth season in a row on the strength of head coach Dusko Vujosevic’s ability to make a diamond in the rough shine bright.
Centre Aleks Maric burst onto the scene as the most dominant force in the paint of the regular season before injury struck him down in the penultimate game.
Maroussi BC has been beating everyone’s expectations ever since the Euroleague Qualifying Rounds – and hopes to do so in the Top 16.
A fun-to-watch, interesting team with a very good coach in Georgios Bartzokas, Maroussi has no stars but a lot of players ready to contribute.
Floor general Billy Keys, defensive aces Jamon Lucas and Michalis Pelekanos, versatile forward Kostas Kaimakoglou, sharp shooter Stevan Nadjfeji or big man Dimitris Mavroeidis and Jared Homan can step up in any given night to lead the team.
Bartzokas reiterated his side’s never-give-up attitude, “We knew that we were in the last group, so we shouldn’t have the possibility to expect something better. Anyhow, Maroussi has proved in the Preliminary Round and the Regular Season that it is not the team to give up. We will continue to play like this, to stay competitive in the Top 16 and enjoy our participation at this highest level. Regarding our opponents, it will be a great experience, no doubt. Panathinaikos are the defending champions, Barcelona has played the best basketball in Europe so far and Partizan Belgrade expresses an authentic basketball model due to their philosophy.”
“Ιt’s going to be very exciting,” said Maroussi guard Billy Keys “We are in the Top-16 and this is a great success for the club, but that there is still fuel in our deposit. To play against Panathinaikos, Barcelona and Partizan is not only interesting, but also challenging, for a team which is considered like an underdog. So far Maroussi achieved a lot of exploits and we will try once again to overcome ourselves”.
Olympiakos made it to the Final Four last season – and the goal is not only to return, but to do even better.
The Reds count on former Euroleague MVP Theo Papaloukas, Milos Teodosic, Patrick Beverley and Scoonie Penn to offer several ways to read games in this Top 16.
Josh Childress and Linas Kleiza have been unstoppable so far and are ready to take Olympiakos to greater heights. With Giannis Bourousis, Nikola Vujcic and a healthy Sofoklis Schortsianitis offering several options inside, the sky is the limit for the Greek powerhouse.
Head coach Panagiotis Giannakis, said after the draw, “We are trying to create a team with such a strong character that it will give us the possibility to have every match in our hand, no matter the opponent or the home court. I think that we are in a good level and we keep working on this direction.”
“Now in the Top 16 Olympiakos has to face three teams which got a lot of respect for their results, he continued. “Despite the major changes, Caja Laboral has a strong base.
“Khimki is a newcomer in the Euroleague, but coach and some of the players have a lot of experience in the competition. Cibona has glorious history and tradition and they know how to fight till the end. We know that our job is not easy, but if you want to make it the Final Four, you have to prove that you deserve it.”
A late three-pointer in the final regular season game prevented Caja Laboral from winning Group C, but the team will be equally dangerous in the Top 16.
Former All-Euroleague centre Tiago Splitter leads an interesting frontcourt that offers three-point threat Mirza Teletovic and experienced forwards Walter Herrmann and Lior Eliyahu.
BC Khimki Moscow
Khimki Moscow is not your average Top 16 newcomer, as it features a very experienced roster and a marquee coach like Sergio Scariolo.
Raul Lopez and Carlos Cabezas offer different alternatives at point guard. Keith Langford, Vitaliy Fridzon and especially Kelly McCarty will be ready to offer points and defence at both wings.
Perseverance was the middle name of Cibona Zagreb as it fought to the last minute of the regular season to assure itself passage to the Top 16 for the second consecutive season.
Cibona’s rivals in the Top 16 will have to deal with team that has little pressure and plenty of talent, led by home-grown Croatian scorer Marko Tomas.