The Turkish Airlines EuroLeague returns for Round 4 with a pair of teams hoping to stretch their perfect records to the end of October, at least, while another bunch of challengers, including a pair of coaching legends, aim to stay in touch with the leaders. Check out all this week's biggest stories here.
Top two try to stay perfect
The competitiveness of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague is shown by the fact that with three games played, only two teams still boast 100% records: reigning champ CSKA Moscow and FC Barcelona.
This week, both of those table-toppers will attempt to stay perfect with challenging road games, starting on Thursday night with Barcelona's trip to take on Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade, which downed no lesser an opponent than Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul in its last home game. Barca's new signings, Nikola Mirotic and Cory Higgins, combined for 40 points in last week's blowout home win over ALBA Berlin. Slowing down that duo will be a priority for Zvezda.
On Friday, CSKA will look for its fourth win out of four with a journey to the German capital to take on ALBA Berlin, whose coach Aito Garcia Reneses described the Round 3 loss in Barcelona as a learning experience for his young and inexperienced team. ALBA will be keen to show its home fans exactly how quickly it is adapting to this elite level, and the game promises to be a long-range shootout between the competition's most deadly three-pointing shooting teams: CSKA made 43 triples in its first three games, closely followed by ALBA with 41. The next best? Barcelona, has made just 33 shots from the arc.
Final Four contestants in big battle
Two of the teams from last season's Final Four will go head to head in Istanbul as Anadolu Efes welcomes Real Madrid on Thursday night. Both teams go into the game with 2-1 records, with Efes having bounced back from its opening lost against Barcelona to claim consecutive wins, while Real suffered its first defeat in the hothouse atmosphere of the Zalgirio Arena in Kaunas last week.
Real has been totally dominant in the recent meetings between the teams, winning the last seven consecutive games. Efes coach Ergin Ataman faces a particular challenge to slow down the Spanish giant's offense after seeing Real score at least 84 points in each of their last five clashes, averaging 89.6 points in the process.
Perhaps the most likely path to success for Efes will be finding a way for their star backcourt duo of Shane Larkin and Vasilije Micic, who have respectively averaged 19.5 and 17.3 points so far this season, to run wild and attempt to outscore their Real counterparts. Considering the offense-first strategy of both teams, this game should be anything but dull.
Messina vs Obradovic…again
After downing one giant of European basketball with last week's one-point win at Panathinaikos OPAP Athens, now AX Armani Exchange Milan will attempt to dispose of another when Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul comes to the fashion capital on Friday.
The return to European basketball of coach Ettore Messina and the equally legendary veteran Luis Scola has sparked a great deal of interest in Milan's progress this season. The early signs are promising, with the men from Milan holding a 2-1 record after overcoming a bad opening-game lapse at FC Bayern Munich.
Messina has enjoyed enjoyed plenty of sideline tussles with Fener boss Zeljko Obradovic in the past, and the renewal of their scheming for this contest will be a fascinating subplot to the action: will Messina find a way to slow down Nando De Colo after his Round 3 heroics? How will Obradovic stop the long-range shooting prowess of Scola, Vladimir Micov and Sergio Rodriguez? Which coach will get the better out of outstanding big men Kaleb Tarczewski and Jan Vesely, who may be joined this time by Joffrey Lauvergne? This game comes with many ingredients, and two iconic coaches will play a big role in finding the right recipe.
Maccabi growing or Valencia bouncing back?
The only winless team in the EuroLeague is Valencia Basket, which suffered losses in its tough early schedule of meetings with CSKA, Olympiacos Piraeus and Anadolu Efes.
It doesn't get any easier in Round 4 for coach Jaume Ponsarnau and his players, who are this week tasked with travelling to Menora Mivtachim Arena to take on a Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv team that is growing in confidence after gaining its first win of the season with a nervy overtime triumph over Crvena Zvezda last week.
Maccabi looked outstanding during some phases of the game against Zvezda, and with talent including Scottie Wilbekin in the backcourt, Tarik Black in the paint and Omri Casspi everywhere, it's clear that coach Giannis Sfairopoulos possesses the pieces to create a highly effective team. As the pressure of gaining its first victory has now been released, Maccabi can play with more freedom and look to get its season on a real roll. If Valencia don't make a strong start to disrupt the hosts' growing self-belief, it could be a long night for the Spanish team.
Shooting match in Munich?
High scoring should be the order of the day when FC Bayern Munich and Khimki Moscow Region go head to head in Bavaria on Thursday. Both teams have been offensive whirlwinds on their way to collecting 2-1 records, with Bayern averaging 83.3 points (fifth best in the competition) while Khimki has been even better with 84.7 points per game (fourth).
Considering the presence of Alexey Shved, it's no surprise to see Khimki piling on the points. Shved is the second-highest scorer in the EuroLeague, with his 22.7 points per game trailing only Nando De Colo (26.7 ppg). But the Russian sharpshooter is receiving plenty of support from a pair of new signings: Janis Timma (15.7 ppg) and Devin Booker (12.0 ppg), with the latter set to face his former teammates after spending the last three seasons with Bayern.
On the other side of the ball, Bayern has been relying on collective contributions rather than just one prolific shooter. The German team's top scorer is Nihad Dedovic with 14.0 points per game, but eight different players have averaged at least 5.0 points so far, while every single member of the roster has scored and dished at least 1 assist, and all but one have contributed rebounds and steals.
One of these teams will move to 3-1 this week, but will it be Bayern's teamwork or Khimki's more individualist talents?