Welcome back to the Experts Round Table, where we ask a variety of the most knowledgeable Turkish Airlines EuroLeague followers across the continent their opinions on the topics of the day. This week's panel includes Matjaz Smodis, three-time former EuroLeague champion; Luca Chiabotti, the former basketball expert-in-residence at La Gazzetta dello Sport in Italy; Dimitris Karydas, basketball expert and TV commentator at NOVAsports.gr in Greece; Drazen Kanazir, Editor, Eurohoops Germany; and Andy West, EuroLeague.TV commentator and EuroLeague.net contributor. Check out their opinions on three key questions.
1. Which team, in your opinion, has had the most impressive single victory of the season so far?
"In this EuroLeague season, the game that impressed me the most was between Buducnost VOLI and CSKA in Podgorica. I don't think there was anyone who expected Buducnost to win that game. They not only won it, but did so after falling behind by 14 points at halftime. Beating CSKA is big by itself, but erasing a big deficit with a comeback like Buducnost did is truly impressive."
"I have always believed that the games between the favorites are of particular importance, so I think that the CSKA victory in Madrid, the only one on the road this season between the strongest teams, is more significant than the important overtime win for Bayern over Fenerbahce. Also very impressive was the victory by Milan in Pireus, with James, Micov and Nedovic at their best together before Nedovic's injury."
"There are many impressive results every year in the Euroleague. The same happened this season. I will pick the biggest, probably, surprise that came in very impressive EuroLeague fashion: Bayern prevailing after two overtimes against Fenerbahce. It was a historic victory for the German champion and only the third defeat of the year for Fener."
"Current ABA champion Buducnost VOLI Podgorica stands near the button of the EuroLeague, but showed why it is in this year's campaign. Buducnost has collected six wins so far and one of them was a major one. This home run came against CSKA Moscow in Round 9 at Moraca. After a rough start with seven losses out of eight games, the team from Montenegro showed character and beat one of the title contenders – led by 18 points from Earl Clark. This result shows once and for all that there is no team that can't be beaten in this league."
"I pick Buducnost's victory over Real Madrid a few weeks ago. It wasn't just for the result itself – the Montenegrin side won 73-60 – but the authoritative manner in which it was achieved against the reigning champs. Buducnost was simply better in every aspect of the game, both on offense and defense, and there was no question that the result was fully deserved. There have been many shock results over the course of the season, but this was perhaps the most convincingly gained."
2. Which player, in your opinion, has had the most impressive single-game performance so far?
"There were a lot of great performances by a number of players, but the one that stood out to me the most was by Nick Calathes in the 21st round against Anadolu Efes Istanbul. He tallied 20 points and 13 assists in a great effort to secure an important win as Panathinaikos chases the playoffs."
"I choose Nando De Colo shooting 7 for 10 on three-pointers, his career high, in CSKA's victory in Barcelona. De Colo scored 25 points in the first of three fantastic games in a row in which he dominated the scene (24 points per game, the last one against Real Madrid). I would also like to emphasize the 23 points and 8 rebounds by Goga Bitadze in Milan in his second EuroLeague game ever: a real rarity for a 2.12-meter, 19-year-old big man."
"Several times in recent years Nick Calathes approached a triple-double and lost it to small details. This season he had a similar night in Panathinaikos's 88-75 victory over Efes in Round 21. He finished the game with 20 points, 13 assists and 8 rebounds, missing a triple-double by just 2 rebounds."
"For the answer to that question, we have to go to Greece and to Olympiacos Piraeus. So far Nikola Milutinov has played a great EuroLeague season and the Serbian center has earned himself three MVP of the round honors in 22 rounds played. One of them was given after a significant win for the Reds and it was special because it came against Panathinaikos. Milutinov recorded 18 points, 18 rebounds and a PIR of 41 in 30 minutes of action. It was the third-highest PIR of the MVPs this year."
"Staying with Buducnost, I'll go back to Goga Bitadze's debut in the competition a few weeks before that win against Madrid. It was in Round 15 against Bayern and Bitadze scored 17 points, had 7 rebounds, made a steal, blocked 4 shots and drew 7 fouls. All of that in his very first game in the EuroLeague at the age of 19! An amazing start to his career and the moment a new star was born."
3. Which team will finish eighth and take the final ticket to the playoffs?
"There are still eight games left in the regular season, so there are probably lots of changes coming to the table. But I think the eighth place will be taken by either Panathinaikos or Olimpia Milan. It will be an interesting ending."
"Olympiacos is not safe yet, Maccabi is still in the running: in their midst, three good teams are fighting… It's very hard to say who will make the playoffs, but at the end of the day, I think that Olympiacos and Bayern will retain their spot in the playoffs and Maccabi will be the eighth team qualified. But to be sure to do that, Maccabi needs to win in Milan. Otherwise, for Maccabi it will be difficult to exploit its favorable calendar compared to Milan and Baskonia."
"Despite the impressive improvement of Maccabi since the day Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos arrived and Bayern's excellent performance, Milan continues to be at a better pace to earn the last spot for the playoffs. The Italian champion has a small advantage and a more friendly schedule than the other contestants eighth place."
"One of the eight tickets to the EuroLeague Playoffs will go to German champion FC Bayern Munich. The team of head coach Dejan Radonjic has a deep roster and one of EuroLeague's most spectacular guys in Derrick Williams. The Bavarians are one of three contestants with 11 wins and 11 loses right now. In the coming weeks, the current seventh-best squad in the league will have to face five opponents who are outside of the top eight. With the win over Fenerbahce in Round 21, Bayern showed their ability to beat anybody."
"Well, that really is the million-dollar question! At the moment we've got four teams separated by just one win between the seventh and 10th positions and I'll pick Baskonia and Milan to take the two playoffs spots. That would mean Bayern and Maccabi miss out, just because I think their schedules are slightly tougher. But it's going to be an incredibly close battle and I wouldn't rule out Khimki, Zalgiris or Panathinaikos from making a late charge as well just to complicate things even more!"