EUROLEAGUE PREVIEW: WILL REAL RETURN

The Euroleague is back – and once again, all eyes are on the big spending trio of Real Madrid, CSKA Moscow and Fenerbahce to lift the continent’s basketball championship.

No surprise the Spanish, Russian and Turkish giants are the three hottest favourites as the regular season tips off on Thursday.

Real, who ruthlessly ended the reign of Fenerbahce in last season’s final, get an opening week match-up with the Eurocup winners, Darussafaka Istanbul.

And despite the gaping and irreplaceable absence left by Luka Doncic’s switch to the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, Pablo Laso’s men have had a bright enough start in the ACB to suggest they will remain contenders, especially with Sergio Llull recovered from injury and leading their charge.

“We’ll try to have a great year, to be at the top, finish it with a great playoff and try to win,” he said. “The objectives of Real Madrid are always ambitious: try to win everything.”

Doncic apart, there was genuine continuity over the summer in Spain’s capital with only Argentina forward Gabriel Deck landing. That should give Real an opportunity to get early victories on the board.

But it’s still the big budget CSKA Moscow who are the tips of many to claim their first Euroleague title since 2016. If last year’s post-season failure – when they lost to Madrid in the semis after dominating in the regular season – could be attributed to a transition from losing Milos Teodosic, there should be no excuses this term after bringing in NBA experience in Alec Peters and Joel Bolomboy plus proven Euro veteran Daniel Hackett.

The accomplished troika of Nando De Colo, Sergio Rodriguez and Kyle Hines would grace any team. But they get an instant test against a rejuvenated FC Barcelona who are bidding to bounce back the ignominy of finishing 13th and outside the playoff places last season.

Returning coach Svetislav Pesic has tabbed Kevin Pangos, Chris Singleton, Kyle Kuric and Jaka Blazic to offset the retirement of Juan Carlos Navarro while Kevin Seraphin is like a new signing following ten months out.

Fenerbahce have also retained much of the core that secured the 2017 title but strengthened with the fine additions of French forward Joffrey Lauvergne from the San Antonio Spurs and Tyler Ennis from the LA Lakers. Their roster might even be deeper and more offensively talented than two seasons ago.

Elsewhere, the Greek duo of Panathinaikos and Olympiacos round out the six main contenders with the former – with an overhauled roster spearheaded by proven scoring machine Keith Langford – hosting a diminished Maccabi Tel Aviv and the latter, now coached by David Blatt, getting a test of their credentials at Khimki Moscow.

The road to the Final Four in May in Vitoria will, as ever, go through the sextet of established clubs. Upsets may happen but class, usually, tells in the Euroleague over the full campaign.

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