Experts: Who will qualify for the Regular Season?
MUNICH (FIBA Europe Cup) – The clock is counting down the final days before the start of the brand new FIBA Europe Cup season, but our panel of experts has worked tirelessly over the summer keeping close tabs on all of the action.
Ahead of the Qualifiers, we have gathered Simonas Baranauskas, Jared Grellet and Igor Curkovic for a roundtable discussion on the early favorites to advance and potential sleepers that could turn some heads in the next couple of weeks.
There is a nice mix of teams in the Qualification Round 1 – a number of battle-tested FIBA Europe Cup clubs and a handful of new kids on the block. Who is best-positioned to get past both rounds of qualification?
SB: Istanbul BBSK feels like the only sure thing from my point of view. After a strong debut campaign in the FIBA Europe Cup last year, the Turkish side have put together a competitive roster once again, signing the likes of Damian Kulig, Tu Holloway and Shevon Thompson. Although the new players might need time to gel, Istanbul BBSK will be heavy favorites both against Svitavy and then, theoretically, Lulea.
JG: Istanbul BBSK on paper have delivered another strong roster. They also have a chip on their shoulder after coming up shorter than everyone expected last season. Actually, after that, this is tough. We have two new teams in Kongsberg Miners and Cherkaski Mavpy. Here I am going to say Mavpy will advance, despite my excitement at seeing Norway entering a team into European competition. This side contains none of the players who were runners-up earlier this summer at the FIBA European Championship for Small Countries.
IC: Have to go with Kataja. Daniel Mullings is back, so glad to see him make a comeback after missing out the entire last season, and I hope his "submarine operation" went well. Still have to figure out what that means, actually, you know how Google Translate acts when Finnish is in question. Anyway. Kataja all the way!
Theoretically speaking, is there anyone from the 11 other teams joining the action in the Qualification Round 2 you would be comfortable wagering your house on to make the Regular Season?
SB: I do think that Dinamo Sassari have the best roster among all of the teams already in the Second Round of the Qualifiers, but I would like to stay away from any wagers that could potentially leave me homeless. Especially with their opponents, Benfica, bringing over the Spanish big man duo of Xavi Rey and Alex Suarez from Zaragoza. Those are massive additions for the Portuguese side.
JG: I only rent, so I can be bolder. SL Benfica have one of the best teams on paper in years...and then they have the misfortune to end up meeting Dinamo Sassari? That's a tough break and ultimately, one that I am afraid will see them miss out on the Regular Season. Also, I can see the trio of U-BT Cluj-Napoca, Keravnos and Alba Fehervar accounting for whoever they come up against.
IC: I don't own a house. But, as a die-hard LegaBasket fan, I must say I believe Dinamo Sassari will win the entire competition.
Who is your dark horse pick with the potential to surprise people?
SB: That's a tough one. All these Qualification Round match-ups are too balanced for my liking, so I'm going to look at the big picture and pick our Greek newcomers Lavrio as someone who could open some eyes as the season progresses. Before jumping too far ahead… Dnipro and Alba Fehervar might have other ideas. But I still think Lavrio should have enough to qualify for the Regular Season.
JG: Yeh, can see where Simas is coming from with Lavrio, but I was too much of a fanboy for Hungarian clubs last season to go against them now. Kataja Basket. It would feel weird having a Regular Season without the Finns...it already feels weird seeing them in the First Round of qualifying.
IC: Ironi Nes Ziona. The club is only 13 years old, but by signing a former NBA Three-Point Shootout champion in Daequan Cook, they are showing ambition to make something happen in international competition. Trouble is, they've got an experienced Sodertalje team waiting for them, with the legend Toni Bizaca ready to take the Swedish team to a European competition for the seventh straight season. Actually, can I go back and pick Sodertalje?
We have picked out a list of players to keep a close eye on in the Qualification Rounds. Which one in particular are you most excited to see?
SB: Vasilis Charalampopoulos, who signed a two-year deal with Lavrio this summer, is easily the most exciting prospect the FIBA Europe Cup has seen since… ever. This guy has won titles and MVP awards at multiple FIBA youth championships. The last big talent to have taken part in the competition was Mathias Lessort of Nanterre back in the 2016-17 campaign. Those were fun times. I would imagine we might have even more fun watching Charalampopoulos, even if that might include typing out his 16-letter surname on a daily basis.
JG: Devon Van Oostrum. Sounds like an odd one, I know. But I recall the hype around him in 2013 when he played a FIBA EuroBasket, while still in his teens. He seems to have lost track a little since then, but I am excited to see him reemerge on the European scene. He is a nineties-born kid and still has a lot of years ahead of him.
IC: Have to agree with Simas. The Human Alphabet was MVP of the U18s, U20s Division B, and U20s Division A in three successive seasons, and it is now time for him to show that he could lead a team on club level, and do it all season long, too. There is just something about lefty players from Greece that I find so appealing. Diamantidis, Sloukas, Papanikolaou... Now time for Vasilis to join the club.
Six teams – s.Oliver Wurzburg, Belfius Mons-Hainaut, Pinar Karsiyaka, Steaua Bucuresti, Pallacanestro Varese and Falco Vulcano — are already through to the Regular Season. Who will go the deepest in the competition this season?
SB: Some very good teams on the list, but I would point out three that stand out to me talent-wise: Karsiyaka, Varese and Wurzburg. Given the right circumstances, they could all be championship-caliber teams. Despite basically building a team from scratch, I do fancy Karsiyaka doing particularly well in the FIBA Europe Cup after a couple of strong seasons in the Basketball Champions League. Sek Henry, Erving Walker, Deividas Gailius, Assem Marei are all serious ballers.
JG: Looking at the teams above, I am going with s.Oliver Wurzburg. It was a shock seeing them miss out on the Regular Season last year on account of a tough draw, then defeat Bayern in club competition just a matter of days later. Can not tell you how excited I am to see 'British Airways' Gabe Olaseni in the league, and they seem to have found a diamond in emerging Australian youngster Xavier Cooks.
IC: Varese. Have witnessed some of their games at the Masnago arena live from the stands, that surrounding already has them up 10 points even before the game starts. Hard to describe it, honestly, you have to be there to feel it. And this is coming from a Hajduk Split fan here, I've seen some crazy atmospheres in my life. Varese? They are right up there.