The Turkish Airlines EuroLeague is back! With fans all over the continent looking forward to everything that the next few months have in store, let's take a look at five of the biggest stories ahead of Regular Season Round 1.
Champions versus champions
One of the highlights of the opening week comes with a now-traditional meeting of champions, with last season's EuroLeague and EuroCup winners going head to head. Although the expectation might be for EuroLeague champ Real Madrid to triumph at home against Darussafaka Tefken Istanbul, history suggests the Spanish giants might not have it quite so easy: last season saw Unicaja Malaga upset the odds by overcoming Fenerbahce Istanbul in a 68-67 thriller, while the previous year saw Galatasaray push CSKA Moscow hard before a big fourth quarter allowed the Russian team to pull clear. And in 2015, Madrid suffered at the hands of that year's EuroCup winners Khimki Moscow Region, losing 84-70 in Russia.
In a nice piece of symmetry, Darussafaka's last game in the competition was also against Real Madrid – the Spanish side ran out 3-1 winners in a playoffs series between the teams in April 2017. And the last meeting between the teams in Madrid during that series resulted in an 80-84 victory for Darussafaka. Will history repeat itself this week, or can the EuroLeague title-holder hold serve in its home opener?
Clash of titans
Two traditional heavyweights face off as CSKA Moscow hosts FC Barcelona Lassa on Thursday night, and both teams will be looking to start the new campaign on a high after suffering disappointing conclusions to the last one. CSKA dominated the regular season to finish three wins clear in first place, but couldn't translate that form to the Final Four, exiting in the semifinals to Madrid, while Barcelona finished the regular season in 13th place, five wins short of a playoffs berth.
The Spanish team has significantly strengthened its roster in the summer, with returning coach Svetislav Pesic able to call upon new recruits Kevin Pangos, Chris Singleton, Kyle Kuric and Jaka Blazic in addition to returning stars such as Adam Hanga, Thomas Heurtel and Ante Tomic, who has inherited the team captaincy from retiring legend Juan Carlos Navarro. CSKA, meanwhile, has retained the core of last season's roster, with the likes of Nando De Colo, Sergio Rodriguez and Kyle Hines all suiting up in red uniforms again. Thursday night's game provides these two ambitious clubs an opportunity to strike a significant psychological blow.
Gran Canaria ready for debut
This season's sole EuroLeague neophyte is Herbalife Gran Canaria, which earned its berth by defeating Valencia Basket in the Spanish League playoffs to reach the domestic semifinals. Although new to the EuroLeague, Gran Canaria has been consistently strong in the EuroCup, reaching the 2015 final and amassing an impressive overall record of 57 wins and 23 defeats over the last four campaigns. Gran Canaria's arrival has created one of the most romantic stories of the competition, with 40-year-old guard Albert Oliver ready to make his EuroLeague debut after a professional career spanning more than 20 years, the last six with Gran Canaria. Oliver's experience will help his teammates in their daunting first game: Friday night's trip to play perennial title contender Fenerbahce.
Bayern and Buducnost back in the big time
In addition to EuroCup champ Darussafaka, two more teams are returning to the EuroLeague after a period away. FC Bayern Munich, back for the first time since the 2015-16 campaign, is preparing with high expectations to open at home against Anadolu Efes Istanbul. The German club has plenty of EuroLeague experience in its ranks, with backcourt stars Stefan Jovic and Nihad Dedovic joined by newcomers Petteri Koponen, Leon Radosevic and Nemanja Dangubic.
Only fans will sharp memories will recall the last appearance in the competition for Buducnost VOLI Podgorica, which earned its spot by winning last season's Adriatic League. The Montenegrin side last played a EuroLeague game way back in 2003.
Refreshed rosters ready to shine
That Buducnost-Milan matchup offers a first opportunity to impress for the Italian team's exciting new backcourt combination of Mike James and Nemanja Nedovic. With impressive young centers Kaleb Tarczewski and Arturas Gudaitis staying on for another year, the sense of optimism around Milan is palpable. The same can be said for Efes, which has claimed a significant coup by signing Shane Larkin to complement fellow new backcourt arrival Rodrigue Beaubois. On the other side of Istanbul, Fenerbahce fans are looking forward to seeing a new pair of stars in Joffrey Lauvergne and Tyler Ennis, while there's also a keen sense of anticipation in Athens as two-time top scorer Keith Langford prepares to team up with last season's assists leader, Nick Calathes. There are plenty more mouth-watering new signings wherever you look... which of them will shine the brightest in Round 1?