The 18th round of the EuroLeague brings us nine thrilling matchups. To gain a better understanding of what to expect from these games and who to watch, sit back, relax, and delve into our preview of the round!
Fenerbahce Istanbul vs. Crvena Zvezda Belgrade (2 January, 19:45 EET)
Under the leadership of head coach Sarunas Jasikevicius, who joined Fenerbahce a couple of weeks ago, the Turkish giant has won all four matches in the EuroLeague. Granted, the schedule has been relatively favorable, as three out of the four opponents belong to the lower half of the table.
Fenerbahce’s rotation has clearly changed with the Lithuanian. Nick Calathes is the primary ballhandler and has averaged 8.3 points, 7.5 assists, and 4.8 rebounds in the last four games. His deputy, Scottie Wilbekin, is more focused on scoring but he contributed seven assists in the last round against Istanbul’s Anadolu Efes.
One of Fenerbahce’s major weaknesses is their paint defense. Johnathan Motley, Sertac Sanli, and Georgios Papagiannis are not particularly strong defensively, and while Motley constantly struggles with fouls, Sanli and Papagiannis lack strength and mobility.
Therefore, Zvezda’s big men should be in good form against Fenerbahce. Specifically, attention would be on Luka Mitrovic, but the Serbian player, who is playing the best basketball of his career, sustained an injury in the 17th round against Panathinaikos Athens, and his participation is in doubt. However, Joel Bolomboy, also having his best season, is certainly available and ready to cause chaos.
By the way, Fenerbahce has won all seven home games this season, whereas Zvezda has only won one out of nine away games – only ALBA Berlin has a worse record away from home (0-8).
Zalgiris Kaunas vs. ALBA Berlin (2 January, 20:00 EET)
Zalgiris has lost six consecutive games, and after losing in the 17th round against Maccabi Tel Aviv, they parted ways with head coach Kazys Maksvytis, who was replaced by Andrea Trinchieri. The Italian has previously coached Cantù, Bamberg, and Bayern Munich in the EuroLeague.
Fortunately for Zalgiris, they are starting a new chapter against one of the weakest clubs in the league. ALBA has won only three out of 17 games, and the German club is the only one in the league that has not tasted victory on the road this season.
In Kaunas, two clubs with defenses belonging to the lower ranks of the EuroLeague will face each other. For example, ALBA allows opponents to score an average of 86.2 points per game, and Žalgiris’ defensive rating is fifth from the bottom, just behind ALBA.
It is crucial for the Berlin squad to get back two important players: forward Louis Olinde and guard Gabriele Procida. Both missed Round 17 against Olympiacos due to illness.
By the way, in the first match between the clubs this season, ALBA won 64-62. It was one of Zalgiris’ worst performances as they committed a whopping 23 turnovers and shot just 44.4% from the field.
Maccabi Tel Aviv vs. Monaco (2 January, 21:05 EET)
Currently, Maccabi stands at seventh place with ten wins and seven losses, but their performance is poor, making the standings somewhat misleading. Against Monaco, they should have one of their stars, Wade Baldwin, back in action. However, the participation of center Josh Nebo, who was injured against Zalgiris, remains uncertain.
Monaco, with an identical record, is a rather inconsistent team. One day they show greatness, demonstrating why everyone should take them seriously, but the next day their offense becomes very individual, and their defense passive.
However, in Round 17 against Barcelona, we saw what happens when Monaco starts the game with great energy and a strong defensive display. The Catalan giants practically had no chance against the representatives of the Principality, as Monaco’s defense was simply fantastic.
It’s no surprise that one of the driving forces behind Monaco is one of the EuroLeague’s best, Mike James. In the last three rounds, there have also been impressive performances from forward Alpha Diallo, who excels both defensively and offensively. His stats in the last three rounds are 16.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, and an efficiency rating of 19.3.
Against Maccabi, Monaco’s offensive firepower should thrive again, as the Tel Aviv club allows an average of 86.7 points per game against them. This places them as the third-worst defense in the EuroLeague.
Olympiacos vs. Milan (2 January, 21:15 EET)
It seems that playing without their biggest stars, Shavon Shields and Nikola Mirotić, is working out well for Milan. Both will be sidelined for a few more weeks, but in Round 17 against Baskonia, Ettore Messina’s team performed very cohesively, smartly, and displayed excellent defense.
Due to the absence of key players, some of Milan’s role players have stepped into the spotlight. Diego Flaccadori orchestrates attacks and shines with steals; Nicolo Melli has scored 15 points per game in the last three rounds, shooting 68% on twos and 60% on threes; Johannes Voigtmann has averaged 14 points and 7.7 rebounds in the previous three games.
Milan will have point guard Shabazz Napier available against Olympiacos. The American had a disappointing stint at Zvezda, but when he joined the Italian powerhouse in the middle of the last season, they won nine out of 12 games in the EuroLeague.
Speaking of players, it’s impossible not to mention Olympiacos’ ace Alec Peters. The forward, who recently became a father for the first time, is one of the league’s most efficient scorers, averaging 15.4 points. Throughout the season, the American has been shooting 63.3% on twos and an impressive 50% on threes.
It’s also true that this matchup isn’t expected to yield a lot of points. Olympiacos has allowed an average of 73.9 points against them (the league’s best) and Milan 77.2 points (4th best).
Partizan Belgrade vs. ASVEL Villeurbanne (2 January, 21:45 EET)
Partizan might seem like a huge favorite against the French club, but looking at Round 17, nothing is set in stone. After all, ASVEL came very close to toppling the league dominator, Real Madrid, losing to them 76-77.
Partizan’s momentum has waned after five consecutive victories because they’ve fallen to Real and Virtus Bologna in the last two rounds. However, both of these teams belong at the league’s top, so drawing significant conclusions from these losses is premature.
To secure a win, Partizan needs to lock down ASVEL’s backcourt. If they manage that, the French team will likely struggle to avoid defeat since Paris Lee and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot are pivotal players for them.
It’s also true that ASVEL represents one of the most favorable opponents for Partizan. While the Belgrade team is known for their strong offense, Gianmarco Pozzecco’s team allows an average of 87.8 points per game this season, making it the league’s worst defensive performance.
It’s worth noting that Partizan excels particularly in two-point shooting, making them the league leaders by making 60.8% of their attempts.
Valencia vs. Anadolu Efes Istanbul (3 January, 20:30 EET)
Valencia faced an injury crisis in Round 17, as Semi Ojeleye, Stefan Jovic, Damien Inglis, and Victor Claver were sidelined. The first of them is arguably the club’s best offensive player, the second is the top playmaker, and the latter two are very important in defense and rebounding.
However, the thinner roster didn’t mean that Valencia couldn’t put up a fight against Bayern Munich away, as they lost the match by only one point. And most importantly, in Sunday’s league match against Real Madrid, Ojeleye, Jovic, and Inglis were back on the court.
To bolster head coach Alex Mumbrule’s options, Valencia added extra strength by signing 30-year-old forward Justin Anderson. His debut against Bayern saw him score eight points in 19 minutes and deliver an overall solid performance.
Having struggled with injuries for a considerable time, Efes has welcomed back most of their infirmary, but… the Turkish giant performs adequately on offense; however, their defensive woes lead them to allow an average of 87.1 points. Only ASVEL allows more points in the EuroLeague.
Meanwhile, Valencia doesn’t excel significantly on offense, and Efes has a trump card in the form of Shane Larkin. The American is currently in great form, averaging 19.5 points, 5.5 assists, and 4.5 rebounds in the last four games.
Virtus Bologna vs. Bayern Munich (3 January, 21:30 EET)
The home court is Virtus’ stronghold. Luca Banchi’s team has won a staggering eight out of nine EuroLeague battles held at the Virtus Segafredo Arena. The sole loss came in the season opener against Zalgiris Kaunas, where they squandered a 15-point lead twice.
On the other hand, Bayern is among the league’s weakest teams away from home, as Pablo Laso’s men have secured only two victories out of nine matches.
Virtus’ greatest strength lies in their overall quality. They perform well both offensively and defensively, along with their rebounding game. With Tornike Shengelia and Daniel Hackett, they have two players currently in excellent form.
In Round 17 against Valencia, Bayern couldn’t count on their star center Serge Ibaka due to illness, but the former NBA star is likely to have recovered for Virtus’ match. Yet, even without Ibaka, Bayern remains the EuroLeague’s best team in rebounding, grabbing 38.4 rebounds per game.
It will be intriguing to see who wins the battle of the snipers. Virtus boasts NBA champion Marco Belinelli, while Bayern has witnessed an impressive resurgence from World Champion Andreas Obst, who initially struggled this season. Recent signs indicate a turnaround from his World Cup hangover, as evidenced by his remarkable performance in the last three rounds, sinking nine out of thirteen three-point attempts.
Baskonia vs. Panathinaikos Athens (3 January, 21:30 EET)
It seems that head coach Duško Ivanović’s effect has diminished. While Baskonia won seven out of Montenegrin’s first eight EuroLeague battles this season, currently, they’ve only managed to secure one victory in the last four games.
On the other hand, Panathinaikos is riding the wave of victories. Under the guidance of two-time EuroLeague champion Ergin Ataman, his team has won four consecutive matches, losing only to Real among their previous five home games.
In Round 17, Milano vividly showcased how to stifle Baskonia. They locked down Markus Howard and Codi Miller-McIntyre, which is why Baskonia faced significant offensive challenges. This posed a major problem for the Spanish club as their defense isn’t exceptionally strong.
In their first meeting this season, Panathinaikos convincingly defeated Baskonia. However, Baskonia was missing several players due to injuries during that game. Therefore, making a definitive conclusion based solely on this result would be premature. Nevertheless, Panathinaikos’ big men Mathias Lessort and Dinos Mitoglu troubled Baskonia significantly.
They are likely to be in good form on Wednesday, especially considering Panathinaikos’ star playmaker Kostas Sloukas has finally found his rhythm. Over the last four games, he’s averaged 13.3 points and 7.3 assists. Lessort and Mitoglu serve as excellent passing options for the creative Sloukas.
Barcelona vs. Real Madrid (3 January, 22:00 EET)
El Clásico will be played for the fourth time this season, and so far, all matches have ended with a victory for Real. The Royal club had the narrowest victory in late October in the EuroLeague, defeating Barcelona 65-64.
However, the current dynamics are different because both teams were operating at full throttle in October. While Real has maintained an excellent momentum, winning 16 out of 17 EuroLeague matches, Barcelona’s engine has begun to falter.
Three losses in the last four games might not seem catastrophic in the bigger picture, but Barcelona is undeniably in crisis in terms of their game. The joy and fluidity have disappeared from their performances, and generally, they are allowing opponents to score a lot of points.
For Barcelona, some relief might come from the injuries that have hit Real. Guerschon Yabusele will certainly be absent against the Catalan team, and at the time of writing this article, it’s uncertain whether Mario Hezonja and Gabriel Deck will be ready to play against Barcelona. They were absent from Round 17.