The top-8 teams from Spain, Greece, Israel, Italy and Russia are ready to begin the last stage to reach the 2012 Euroleague Final Four. In the best-of-five series, only four clubs will earn tickets to Istanbul where the new Euroleague champion will be crowned on May 13th.
CSKA vs. Bizkaia Bilbao Basket
Bizkaia Bilbao Basket has been a true Cinderella team in Euroleague this season. In its debut year, the Spanish club managed to make it to the Top 16 and shake things up even there. Beating Real, Montepaschi and Unicaja in last three Top 16 games would be impossible for most of the teams, but not Bizkaia Bilbao Basket.
After making the impossible possible, Bilbao, which is one of just three Euroleague newcomers in eight seasons to reach the playoffs, faced the biggest challenge in team’s history - to beat the best team in the Euroleague, CSKA Moscow.
The end may finally be here for Bilbao.
CSKA is the best offensive team in the league, leading in scoring (86.2 PPG), three-point shooting (41.1%) and two-point shooting (57.8%). CSKA’s players also dish out almost 20 assists per game (best result in the league) and obviously have no problems with sharing the ball. Moreover, having the main MVP candidate Andrei Kirilenko and second best big man in the league, Nenad Krstic, on your squad definitely helps and makes them a true favourite to win the series.
RealGM prediction: CSKA wins 3-0
Montepaschi vs. Olympiacos
After last season’s fiasco, Olympiacos got a chance for a sweet revenge. For those who don’t remember, Olympiacos, which had a homecourt advantage, humiliated Montepaschi by a final score of 89-41 in the first playoffs match. They later collapsed and lost three games in a row and finished its Euroleague season at the Top-8 stage.
However, it is more than obvious that Olympiacos’ currently situation is not that good as it was in previous seasons. Lower budget, no homecourt advantage and being in a rebuilding year puts Olympiacos in an underdog position, but it doesn’t nessecerally mean the winner is already known.
The key elements of this series should be the two best Euroleague scorers, Bo McCalebb of Montepaschi and Vasilis Spanoulis of Olympiacos. McCalebb has scored in double figures in 14 straight Euroleague games and was the Top 16 leader in scoring (16.8 PPG).
Spanoulis leads the league in scoring among the players still active in the competition with 18.1 points per game.
Nevertheless, the deeper bench should lead Montepaschi to a fifth Final Four appearance in 10 years and gives the Italian champions another shot to win the title.
RealGM prediction: Montepaschi wins 3-1
Barcelona Regal vs. Unics
Huge investments paid off this season for another Euroleague debutant in Unics Kazan. Evgeny Pashutin’s system fit perfectly for the Russians, who managed to win against Euroleague's greatest by slowing the pace of the game down and play solid defense.
However, Barcelona Regal, which has the best defence in the Euroleague this season and is on pace to set a record by allowing only 61.4 points per game, already demonstrated twice how to handle a team like Unics.
Unics has been struggling on offense as they are ranked only 19th in terms of scoring (70.9 PPG), but it is worth to notice that Kazan was held to a season-low 50 points in its regular season visit to Barcelona. And this is the same place where they are playing on March 20th and 22nd. During the regular season match against Barcelona Regal at home, Unics scored only 65 points and allowed its opponents to score 93.
Unics has everything it takes to be a legend killer, but it seems Barcelona Regal learned its lesson from the last season when they didn’t reach the Final Four that was hosted in their hometown, and are simply too strong for the Russians.
RealGM prediction: Barcelona Regal wins 3-1
Panathinaikos vs. Maccabi
Panathinaikos Athens and Maccabi Tel Aviv, two teams that reached the 2011 Final Four, can't both make it this season.
The most successful European basketball club of the past decade, defending champion Panathinaikos, has won three Euroleague titles over the five years, while Maccabi advanced to the Euroleague final seven times in 12 years. Moreover, the fact that these teams have been crowned European champion in eight of the last 12 seasons speaks for itself and also illustrates how big this series are.
As is usual for European powerhouses, all Panathinaikos-Maccabi games are hardly predictable. They met 25 times in over last 20 years and the Greens won 14 games, while the Yellows have won 11.
As it is incredibly hard to take a favorite in this series, Panathinaikos will have a small advantage as their defense is stronger (i.e., Panathinaikos leads the Euroleague in steals with 8.4 PG), their players are more experienced and Maccabi’s troubles with shooting from three-point line could be the Greens’ key to success.
RealGM prediction: Panathinaikos wins 3-2