Which teams are the favorite to reach the EuroLeague Final Four?

The EuroLeague playoffs will start next week and we can expect some great battles in these best-of-five quarterfinal series.

Baskonia and Virtus Bologna will meet tomorrow in the Fernando Buesa Arena in Vitoria-Gasteiz in a play-in game that will decide the last playoff participant. Baskonia has the huge home-court advantage, but Virtus comes after an amazing win in Istanbul where they defeated Efes in the first play-in game. Meanwhile, Baskonia suffered a 28-point defeat against Maccabi, so the Italian team might arrive with a bigger self-confidence for this game.

However, the winner of this game will have to play against Real Madrid in the quarterfinals and I think this is the only series where there is a very clear favourite. Real comfortably won the regular season, leading the standings all season long and finished with a 27-7 record, four wins ahead of the 2nd place. With the quality, experience and great rotation they have it’s hard to believe that Real could lose three times against Baskonia or Virtus.

Maccabi is another team that had to win a play-in game to reach the playoffs (they beat Baskonia and qualified as the 7th seed), but the Israeli team plays its home games in Belgrade so they don’t have a home-court advantage which could be an important factor in a playoff series. They will have to go up against Panathinaikos, who had an amazing regular season. In the first year with Ergin Ataman at the helm, the Greeks finished second in the regular season and looked like a title contender despite the many roster changes they had. PAO is the favourite to win the series but it’s interesting to note that Maccabi won both regular season games so they are a very uncomfortable matchup for PAO.

In the matchup between the 3rd and the 6th placed teams Monaco will play against Fenerbahce. It should be a very exciting series with no clear favourite. Monaco is a relatively new team in the EuroLeague but they already have Final Four experience and they also have the EuroLeague all-time leading scorer Mike James. Meanwhile, Fenerbahce had a tough start of the season but they made a coaching change and since the arrival of Sarunas Jasikevicius the Turkish team started to perform closer to the expectations. The Turkish team also has a strong roster and if they manage to win Game 1 or 2 they automatically become the favourites to win the series.

Lastly, the series between Barcelona and Olympiacos should be the most balanced, as they finished 4th and 5th. While they are one of the biggest clubs in Europe, we can say that Barcelona exceeded expectations and had a very solid regular season despite having many doubters. Roger Grimau should be a candidate for the Coach of the Year award in his first season as a head coach and Ricky Rubio’s return to Catalunya is another great story for the Blaugrana. However, Olympiacos will be a very tough opponent for Barca, The Greek team lost in the EuroLeague Final last season and they are hungry to get back there and win the trophy this time. Barca won both regular season games against Olympiacos and has the home-court advantage, but this is a series that could easily go to five games.

Imre Halasz

Image: EuroLeague