The last two-round week in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Regular Season was full of important news and great basketball, which is what it is all about. CSKA Moscow clinched first place for the regular season and is on track to have the best regular season record under the new format. CSKA has been the best team so far and proved it pretty much every week. Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul locked up home-court advantage for the playoffs and Olympiacos Piraeus may do it soon; it needs to beat either Unicaja Malaga or Zalgiris Kaunas to get it. Real Madrid, Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens, Khimki Moscow Region and Zalgiris will also keep battling for EuroLeague glory. Khimki will make its first playoff appearance and Zalgiris will play in its first playoffs since the playoff stage was reintroduced to the EuroLeague in 2005.
Madrid has the best chance to get the fourth spot and the home-court advantage in the playoffs that comes with it; if Los Blancos win their final two games, they will reach that goal. A loss could change everything, but Madrid is the only team of these four to hold its destiny in its hands in the battle for fourth place. Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz and Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv will fight for the eighth and final playoff spot when they face each other at Fernando Buesa Arena on Thursday. If Baskonia wins, it will be eighth and if not, the drama will continue until Round 30. It has been an exciting regular season and the best games are still ahead of us. Like I always say, it is always a good time to be a EuroLeague fan, but when the spring starts, everything is even better.
I wish I could say the same about my EuroLeague Fantasy Challenge team. I didn't play bad, but wrong choices regarding my team's captain have seen me drop a few spots. I didn't have Nick Calathes of Panathinaikos in Round 27 and he had a monster game. Then I bought him before Round 28 and made him team captain, but he underperformed in that game with a performance index rating of 4. Even with that, Gancedato ranks 165th overall and still has a chance for a Top 100 finish. It is going to take some major moves and I only have three trades available, so I better make the right decisions or things will go south for me. Before that, it is time to recommend some players.
1. DEANDRE KANE, MACCABI FOX TEL AVIV - He struggled at the beginning of the season, but has adjusted to the competition and is playing his best basketball right now with a double-digit PIR in his last seven games... and a career-high PIR of 34 against Panathinaikos last week. And his team is fighting to stay alive!
2. NIKOLA MILUTINOV, OLYMPIACOS PIRAEUS - The best center in the EuroLeague, right here, right now? It could be argued. Milutinov has averaged a PIR of 19 over the last six games, partly because of his insane two-point shooting percentage: 28 of 31, 90.3%!
3. DEJAN DAVIDOVAC, CRVENA ZVEZDA MTS BELGRADE - Nemanja Dangubic is out for the season - get well soon, Nemanja! - so Davidovac has started the last couple of games and done very well since then - 17.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and an average PIR of 21.
4. JAMES AUGUSTINE, UNICAJA MALAGA - Unicaja is eliminated, but there is one competition left for a player in his team. Augustine leads the league in rebounding with 6.81 per game and I am sure he wants to finish the season atop the charts, plus he is one of the most reliable fantasy players around.
5. VINCENT POIRIER, BASKONIA VITORIA GASTEIZ - Toko Shengelia came back, but Poirier has not slowed down at all. In fact Poirier had a strong all-around game - 15 rebounds, 8 rebounds and 5 assists – against FC Barcelona Lassa. He has averaged a PIR of 20 over his last three games.
So, back to Gancedato - what do I do now? The key is whether to keep both CSKA players or not, since the Russian powerhouse is first no matter what. CSKA played at Khimki with a full lineup and a loss in Kaunas would mean Baskonia would have better chances to be eighth. And if I were CSKA, I wouldn't want to play against the hottest team in the EuroLeague right now. And this is CSKA we are talking about, a team that doesn't accept any loss, no matter how little impact it has, so I am keeping Nando De Colo. My first player out is Facu Campazzo of Real Madrid, because Luka Doncic came back and that means less playing time for him. I am also selling Jan Vesely of Fenerbahce, because of Khimki's very athletic lineup. I am also selling Cory Higgins of CSKA just in case Coach Dimitris Itoudis decides to go with a different rotation; he earned the privilege to try some tactical experiments in the next couple of games while getting his team ready for the playoffs.
Three players must be bought and yes, you guessed it right, Doncic is one of them. He is back in action and his team needs to win both games to finish fourth, so I am sure Doncic will give Madrid the extra push it needs until the end of the regular season - and beyond. I am also buying Georgios Printezis of Olympiacos. His team needs one more win to clinch the home-court advantage and Printezis played in Malaga before, so he will be extra motivated to have a good game. My first choice for center was Nikola Milutinov, but having two Olympiacos frontcourt players is too much. I have doubts between Bryant Dunston, Ante Tomic, Arturas Gudaitis and James Augustine. Tomic usually plays well in Istanbul, I don't know why, and earned Spanish League MVP honors. He seems to be in great shape, so I am buying him.
So, this will be my lineup before Round 29:
Nick Calathes, Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens (PG) - Plays at home, his team is fighting for big goals... Calathes should have a good game.
Nando De Colo, CSKA Moscow (SG) - I expect CSKA will be highly competitive against archrival Zalgiris Kaunas. And I expect De Colo to keep doing well.
Dorell Wright, Brose Bamberg (SF) - It is Brose's home finale and its players will want to get one for the fans. Yes, it is a bit of a gamble.
Toko Shengelia, Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz (PF) - The best power forward in Europe? We could argue about that. Team captain? No question!
Ante Tomic, FC Barcelona Lassa (C) - He has been just unstoppable over the last three or four weeks. Tomic usually plays well in Istanbul, too.
Luka Doncic, Real Madrid (G) - He is back, and I am sure Madrid needs his best version to win the next couple of games, which is important.
Georgios Printezis, Olympiacos Piraeus (F)- Back in Malaga, where he played for almost three years, ready to lead Olympiacos to yet another win.
Alexey Shved, Khimki Moscow Region (U) - What can I say? Shved is my weak spot. I love this player, and I always want him on my Fantasy team!
BENCH: Vassilis Toliopoulos (Olympiacos), Egehan Arna and Melih Mahmutoglou (Fenerbahce), Jake Cohen (Maccabi).
Big games are coming! Enjoy them all and make it more fun with the EuroLeague Fantasy Challenge!