Group A analysis and video interviews

Oct 06, 2015 by Print
Group A analysis and video interviews

The reigning champions, another Final Four team and the Eurocup winner last season make Group A a unique collection of ambitious clubs with stable benches that boast some of the most successful coaches in the sport of basketball.

Eurocup and Euroleague winner

For the first time in nine years, the reigning Euroleague and Eurocup champions are part of the same regular season group. And for the first time ever, they meet in opening week. Real Madrid is the reigning Euroleague champion and hopes to become only the third club in the past 24 years to defend its title, even though the past two winners – Olympiacos Piraeus in 2013, and Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2014 – failed to get past the playoffs the next year. Madrid returns eight players who lifted the trophy at Barclaycard Center last May, including Final Four MVP Andres Nocioni, All-Euroleague selections Felipe Reyes and Rudy Fernandez, and former Euroleague MVP Sergio Rodriguez - all led by Pablo Laso, last year's Alexander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year. Khimki Moscow Region aims to become the first reigning Eurocup champion in four years to get to the Euroleague playoffs. Since their introduction in 2005, just three reigning Eurocup champions advanced to the Euroleague playoffs the next season. First was Dynamo Moscow in 2007 season, then Valencia in 2011 and Unics Kazan in 2012. No Eurocup champion has ever reached Euroleague Final Four. Khimki looks like the team with all the tools to try, including a backcourt that features former Final Four MVP Tyrese Rice, Alexey Shved, Petteri Koponen and Zoran Dragic.

Fener and Zvezda retool

Fenerbahce Istanbul and Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade are among the Euroleague teams that have made big changes this summer. Of the players who had significant roles in helping Fenerbahce reach its first Final Four last season, only Jan Vesely, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Melih Mahmutoglu and Ricky Hickman remain, with the latter still recovering from ruptured Achilles tendon. The new faces on the team include two former champions with Olympiacos, center Pero Antic and combo guard Kostas Sloukas, as well as playmaker Bobby Dixon, sharpshooting forward Luigi Datome and rim-protecting Euroleague newcomer Ekpe Udoh. In the Serbian capital, Zvezda brought in just four new players, going big with Sofoklis Schortsanitis and Stefan Nastic while also pairing Guy Mekel and Ryan Thompson in the backcourt. But that foursome, together with the familiar faces like Luka Mitrovic, Nemanja Dangubic and Maik Zirbes, should help the team replace the production by last year's departed leaders that accounted for two-thirds of the team's points, more than half of its rebounds and 61% of its assists last year.

Very tall order

Group A looks set to offer quite intriguing matchups in the paint, where some of the biggest men in the competition will be battling it out. With Romain Duport, Vladimir Golubovic and Bangaly Fofana all at 2.12 meters or above, Strasbourg has the biggest group of centers in the competition. However, that group will have its hands full in the regular season. They will see Fenerbahce's trio of Pero Antic, Jan Vesely (both at 2.10) and Ekpe Udoh (2.08). They will also face the size, power and strength of Crvena Zvezda big men Maik Zirbes, Sofoklis Schortsanitis and Stefan Nastic. FC Bayern Munich 20-year old rookie Daniel Mayr, at 2.16 meters, is the tallest player of Group A, but it will be John Bryant (2.08) and Andreas Seiferth (2.09) that will carry most of the load in the trenches. Khimki has plenty of size inside with Ruslan Pateev (2.13), Paul Davis (2.11), Marko Todorovic (2.09) and James Augustine (2.08). The shortest frontcourt in the group belongs to the Real Madrid. The reigning champs do not have a player taller than 2.10, but veteran forwards Gustavo Ayon, Andres Nocioni and Felipe Reyes - who will get help from younger arrivals Guillermo Hernangomez and Trey Thompkins - have shown that they can make up with know-how and desire what they lack in height.

Coaching continuity

While Madrid and Fenerbahce are both coming off historic Euroleague seasons, the group's other four teams hope to build their own Euroleague memories. What all Group A's teams have in common, however, is continuity on the bench. Since its debut in 2009-10, this is Khimki's fourth Euroleague appearance and second under coach Rimas Kurtinaitis, who has won a pair of Eurocups in his four seasons there. Since its debut in 2013-14, Bayern is playing its third consecutive Euroleague season, all under boss Svetislav Pesic. Zvezda also debuted three years ago and also has the same coach since then, Dejan Radonjic, who got the team to its first Top 16 last season. Vincent Collet has been on Strasbourg's bench since 2011 and for both of the club's recent Euroleague appearances. Pablo Laso took over at Madrid in 2011, too. Zeljko Obradovic is in his third season with Fenerbahce after spending 13 in a row with Panathinaikos Athens. Count up their titles and you have 10 Euroleague trophies, two world championships and four EuroBasket gold medals. However you look at it, coaching is a strength in Group A as every team has its choice on the bench and all the good things that flow from their experience.