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Top-5 Storylines Of Euroleague's Top-16 Stage

After a three-week break, Euroleague teams are finally back on track as the Top 16 (the competition's second round) is about to start. With 16 teams left, RealGM presents the Top Five storylines to keep an eye on.

• The Euroleague Top 16 curse of Zalgiris

It seems that Zalgiris Kaunas has finally got back on winning track as they grabbed its eighth win in a row on Sunday by beating Astana in a VTB League game. The Lithuanians finished the Euroleague regular season with two wins and they also got their confidence back. There is no doubt that Zalgiris' roster is strong enough to compete with Bennet Cantu or even with Maccabi Tel Aviv, but as past shows, no matter how good Kaunas team looks, they usually collapse completely in Top 16 stage.

In last eight years, Zalgiris won only three and shockingly lost 26 games in the Top 16. Now Sonny Weems and his teammates has a chance to break Zalgiris' curse of Top 16.

• CSKA make a run for the Euroleague title

The only undefeated and undoubtedly the best European team at the moment, CSKA had a brilliant first half of the season. A 10-0 record in Euroleague, 7-1 in Russian championship and 8-1 in VTB league. 25 wins and only two losses in the first four months would be a result of dreams for any team. However, the main fights are still ahead, but as Andrei Kirilenko, the leading Euroleague MVP candidate, declared he is staying in Moscow for the whole season, CSKA is not afraid of anything.

Despite upcoming long flights to Turkey and Greece, it is more than difficult to expect teams like Olympiacos, Anadolu Efes or Galatasaray to stop mighty CSKA.

• Mallet replacing Farmar

With signing Jordan Farmar and making him Maccabi's leader, the Israeli club took a big risk. Farmar, who after returning to the NBA, most of the time sits on Nets' bench, became a European star, and Maccabi was where it used to be - among elite. However, those days are over and now Maccabi has to get use to playing with its new point guard.

Demond Mallet, the newest acquisition of Maccabi, was simply dominant on a losing team in Spirou, and now have to prove what he is capable of with Tel Aviv. Mallet, who will turn 34 next month, has been averaging 18.9 points per game with Spirou, but joining Maccabi and replacing Farmar will be a whole new story.

• Panathinaikos chances of repeating as champions

Same as last season, this year's Panathinaikos looks a bit sleepy -- it is still one of title contenders, but not the top team in the league full of superstars. Writing off Panathinaikos would be a huge mistake -- especially as Zeljko Obradovic is still in Athens, same as Dimitris Diamantidis and Sarunas "golden boy" Jasikevicius. Repeating as Euroleague champions has never been easy, but being underrated and under-appreciated could make this task a bit easier.

• The post-lockout stage of Euroleague

Yes, the NBA lockout ended more than a month ago, but we still didn't have a real chance to see how the Euroleague teams will look like in the post-lockout era. The regular season results were based on this period when NBA players were still here -- they appeared in eight out of ten games -- and in Top 16 stage we will finally see who is who without temporary help from overseas.

Euroleague Power Rankings Ahead Of Top-16 Stage

In order to determine an objective team rankings, we calculate the difference between a team's own FIC per game and their opponents' FIC for the entire season.

The FIC is a single statistical measurement that encompasses things such as scoring efficiency, rebounding, blocked shots, etc. Its purpose is to combine the box score into one statistic, both on a team level and for players. 

With the Euroleague Regular Season complete, the following is the current rankings heading into the Top-16 phase.

Barcelona, CSKA, Fenerbahce Ulker and Real Madrid headline four groups of the Top-16.
 
1. Barcelona Regal: 39.5   

Erazem Lorbek, Juan Navarro, Pete Mickeal, Marcelinho Huertas and Chuck Eidson are each averaging better than nine points per game.

2. CSKA Moscow: 35.0  

CSKA averages 1.65 assists for every turnover, which leads all Euroleague teams.

3. Real Madrid: 26.2  

Madrid leads all teams in total shooting percentage at 173.6%. Nikola Mirotic has particularly helped in this category with a TS% of 69.8%.

4. Panathinaikos: 20.6  

Panathinaikos leads Euroleague in steal percentage at 12.1%.

5. Montepaschi Siena: 12.2 

McCalebb has an unreal True Shooting Percentage of 83.3% in six Euroleague games, making 40 of his 54 field goal attempts.

6. Caja Laboral: 11.4  

Mirza Teletovic led all scorers with 22.0 points per game.

7. Maccabi Tel Aviv: 10.5  

Sofoklis Schortsanitis has a usage rating of 37.7% while scoring 1.7 points per shot.

8. UNICS Kazan: 9.3  

UNICS is assisting on less than 50% of their made field goals, with Henry Domercant scoring 16.6 points per game.

9. Bilbao Basket: 7.9  

D’or Fischer has made 37 of his 52 shot attempts for a FG% of 71.2%.

10. Olympiacos: 3.9  

Vassilis Spanoulis has either scored or assisted on 39.8% of the buckets made by Olympiacos in Euroleague play.

11. Fenerbahce Ulker: 0.2  

Thabo Sefolosha led the team in rebounds (6.0) and steals (2.1) per game in his seven Euroleague appearances.

12. Armani Milano: -1.5  

Danilo Gallinari averaged 16.4 points per game for Milan, with his high coming in his last Euroleague game on November 24th.

13. Anadolu Efes: -1.9  

Ersan Ilyasova had a PER of 25.0 in his eight Euroleague games.

14. Bennet Cantu: -3.7  

With Vladimir Micov, Maarty Leunen, Giorgi Shermadini, Manuchar Markosihvili and Gianluca Basile averaging between 8.1 points and 10.5 points per game, the team has very balanced scoring.

15. Brose Baskets: -4.2  

Brose Baskets has several American players, with Marcus Slaughter leading in points, rebounds, blocks and steals, and Casey Jacobsen leading in assists. P.J. Tucker also is averaging a solid 8.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.

16. Unicaja Malaga: -4.2  

Joel Freeland is averaging 13.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, leading the team in both categories.

17. Galatasaray: -6.4  

Darius Songaila leads the team in usage, but has a TS% of just 47.0%.

18. KK Partizan: -10.9  

Nikola Pekovic and Milan Macvan are averaging a virtually identical 14.4 and 15.3 points per game.

19. Zalgiris: -15.9  

Sonny Weems leads Zalgiris in points per game and is fifth overall in Euroleague.

20. Nancy Basket: -19.8  

Batum played in six Euroleague games, averaging 15.8 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.2 assists, though he also averaged 4.7 turnovers.

21. Belgacom Spirou Basket: -22.3  

Former McNeese State product Demond Mallet is averaging 16.4 points per game in league play and 18.9 in Euroleague.

22. Asseco Prokom Gdynia: -23.6  

Donatas Motiejunas led the Euroleague in rebounds per game at 8.2.

23. Union Olimpija: -30.6  

Olimpija was outscored by 15.6 points per game.

24. KK Zagreb: -31.8

Josh Heytvelt averaged 10.1 points and 6.2 rebounds per game while doing a lot of his damage from distance, including hitting seven three-pointers in a game against Brose Baskets.

Euroleague Round 9, Day 2

The game of the night was Montepaschi Siena against FC Barcelona Regal. Barca, undefeated prior to tip-off, lost in a thriller, 77-74.

Igor Rakocevic (21 points) and Pietro Aradori (20 points) were fantastic for Montepaschi and the victory gave the Italian side an outside sniff at first place in Group D.

Both teams battled hard and there was not even a whole lot separating the two statistically. Montepaschi shot 43% from two-point range while Barca shot 45%. Two percentage points separated their three-point percentage, Barca totaled one more rebound, one more assist and had only two more turnovers than Montepaschi.

In Group B, Brose Baskets faced off against Zalgiris Kaunas in a fight for the fourth position. Zalgiris came out on top behind 14 points from Sonny Weems and Vytenis Lipkevicius. The two also combined for nine assists.

Zalgiris is an average team at best, but Bamberg made them look like a tournament contender for stretches in this one. Sloppy rotations allowed the Lithuanian team to shoot well from three and their efforts on the offensive glass were vital at keeping Brose at bay during late moments.

A blowout at half-time, Bamberg fought their way back and brought it to single digits in the fourth, but their lack of size was again a problem. With only one real center, Tibor Pleiss, Bamberg struggles against bigger teams. I’ve mentioned far too often about Pleiss’ struggles and I don’t want to bash the NBA prospect any further, but he doesn’t impose himself at all and occasionally gets crushed rebounding the ball despite being one of the tallest guys on the floor. 

A close game for much of the first half, Maccabi Electra came out much stronger after the break and routed Anadolu Efes, 96-57. The game was a battle for second position in Group C, but Maccabi’s depth and talent ended up being far superior.

Sofoklis Schortsanitis was dominant in under 20 minutes of action. The center had his way with the Efes defense, scoring 17 points and grabbing five rebounds. The Greek national is quietly having a very solid campaign in a reduced role.

American born David Blu was also decent and the combo forward added 18 points of his own while point guard Keith Langford was exciting at times

Missing NBA player Ersan Ilyasova and leading scorer Tarence Kinsey, Efes was fairly depleted. Sascha Vujacic is having a solid Euroleague campaign (13 points, three rebound, two assist average), but he shot 4-11 shooting and 12 points for him.

Unics blew out Assecco Prokom 68-41. It’s not very often you see a professional team in any sports play like amateurs, but Assecco came dangerously close on Thursday night, scoring an incredible 11 first half points. The victory was somewhat expected considering Assecco has been one of the Euroleague’s worst teams this year (1-7 win-loss record) and allowed Unics to make a push for second place in Group D.

American born Bosnian national player, Henry Domercant, was the best player for Unics. The guard totaled 18 points, eight rebounds and shot 4-5 from downtown.

In another blowout, Olympiacos defeated Bennet Cantu 86-61 in a surprising win for the home team. Cantu came into the game second in Group A, separated only by point differential, but didn’t put up much of a fight. Cantu remains one of four teams now tied for first place in the division. With only the top four teams in group qualifying for the Top 16, Olympiacos improved their chances of making the next round dramatically and received a superb performance from former Houston Rocket, Vassilis Spanoulis. One of the elite players in the Euroleague competition (averaging 20 points and five assists per game), Spanoulis managed a game high 22 points and five assists.

Also in Group A action, Fenerbahce Ulker went down to Gescrap BB 70-80. D’or Fischer dominated for the visiting Gescrap side, hauling in a double-double performance with 16 points and 10 boards.

Follow Robert on Twitter @RobertWhitebrrr

Season Preview: Italian Basketball (Lega Basket Serie A)

Italian basketball has struggled over since the turn of the century, both in terms of club teams and their national squad. But Montepaschi Siena continues to thrive behind the likes of Bo McCalebb.
 

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