Round 8 of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague roars into action on Thursday and Friday with a selection of top-class games including a meeting of the current co-leaders. Let’s take a look ahead at what lies in store.
Leaders go head to head in Milan
After suffering their first defeats of the season last week, co-leaders AX Armani Exchange Milan and FC Barcelona (both 6-1) meet for a titanic tussle in the Italian fashion capital on Thursday night. In addition to pitting the competition’s pace-setters, the game is also a rematch of last season’s thrilling semifinal when Cory Higgins struck a nerveless game-winner to send Barcelona to the title game. And with Higgins joined by the likes of Nikola Mirotic, Nick Calathes and Brandon Davies while Milan boasts the presence of Sergio Rodriguez, Shavon Shields, Kyle Hines and Nicolo Melli, there are big-name potential game-changers wherever you look. One key to the outcome could be long-range shooting. These are two of the best teams in the competition at denying their opponents from beyond the perimeter, with Milan’s defense allowing just 30.2% of three-point shots to be converted and Barcelona’s just 30.5%. Creating open looks for sharpshooters like Devon Hall and Kyle Kuric could make all the difference in what will surely be a very tight battle.
Big guns looking to bounce back
Two icons of European basketball open Round 8 on Thursday with the aim of getting back into winning ways. CSKA Moscow (4-3) hosts Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul (2-5) after both suffered a pair of defeats in last week’s double-round action. CSKA coach Dimitris Itoudis will be particularly keen to fix his defense after seeing his team allow more points than anyone else – 81.7 per game – in the first seven rounds, including 58 in the second half alone of Friday’s shock road loss to AS Monaco. All three of CSKA’s defeats so far have come on the road, however, and Fenerbahce has yet to win away in four tries. The Turkish team will be itching to break through with a win after suffering a trio of very close losses: 1 point against Real Madrid and 2 each against Barcelona and Olympiacos. And that helps explain how Fenerbahce, despite its negative record, can take confidence from boasting the best defense in the competition, allowing only 69.4 points per game. Holding CSKA to similar numbers will be a key to the outcome on Thursday.
ASVEL’s Okobo vs. UNICS’s stealers
No team enjoyed the double-round week more than UNICS Kazan, which claimed a couple of Spanish scalps from Real Madrid and Bitci Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz to improve to 3-4. UNICS will attempt to take that strong form onto the road with a tough Round 8 trip to face LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne (5-2), which is flying high as this season’s surprise package after also winning twice last week. ASVEL’s attack is powered by Round 7 MVP and the EuroLeague’s top scorer, Elie Okobo, whose 35 points saw ASVEL down Panathinaikos on Friday. UNICS, however, is the best EuroLeague team at steals with an average of 10.0 per game, so Okobo will have to be careful the visitors don’t exploit the only weakness of his otherwise outstanding debut EuroLeague campaign: turning the ball over. Okobo has committed more turnovers (4.0 per game) than he has dished assists (3.7), so expect to see UNICS’s swarming defense to exert maximum pressure on ASVEL’s new scoring star on Thursday.
Can Bayern maintain resurgence against Real?
After shrugging off its slow start by stringing together three consecutive victories, FC Bayern Munich (3-4) aims to make further strides up the standings by overcoming Real Madrid (5-2) at home on Friday night. Bayern’s return to form has coincided exactly with the return from injury of Vladimir Lucic, who boasts a personal 3-0 record for the season. Another major force for the German team is Darrun Hilliard, who averages 16.9 points per game after scoring at least 14 in six games straight. But more than individuals, Bayern will attempt to overcome its illustrious visitors through teamwork, especially in the interior where the need to contain Edy Tavares is crucial. For Real, Friday’s 65-58 loss at UNICS meant its second defeat in three road trips so far, a trend that Los Blancos will want to nip in the bud. Pablo Laso’s team has averaged only 67.7 points in its last three games and needs improved productivity from its guards with Thomas Heurtel (9.0), Nigel Williams-Goss (7.6) and Sergio Llull (4.8) struggling to score regularly so far.
Monaco to challenge Olympiacos home streak
Friday night also delivers a meeting between two teams who will be very happy with their starts to the season, with Olympiacos Piraeus (5-2) hosting AS Monaco (4-3). Olympiacos has a perfect 5-0 home record after narrow victories over ALBA Berlin and Fenerbahce last week, and it has been a real team effort for the Greek club with Tyler Dorsey, Moustapha Fall, Kostas Sloukas and Sasha Vezenkov all averaging double figures in PIR and 11 different players averaging 11 minutes or more on court. Monaco showed its awesome capabilities with last week’s sensational comeback victory over CSKA Moscow, and the combination of Mike James’s dynamic guard play, Danilo Andjusic’s shooting and Donta Hall’s all-action athleticism inside the paint is starting to look very promising. Overcoming in-form Olympiacos at Peace and Friendship Stadium would arguably be Monaco’s biggest achievement yet, and this promises to be an exciting contest between a pair of teams looking to stay firmly inside the all-important top eight positions.
Seen at: Euroleague.net