For his latest Euro column, MVP’s Niall Gray looks at the race for the EuroLeague post-season.

Twenty-four regular season rounds down, ten to go.

The race for the EuroLeague play-offs is heating up and with eighteen teams fighting it out for eight spots, the battle is as fierce as ever.

As it currently stands, just Anadolu Efes Istanbul are confirmed, but you would have to think only a complete collapse would stop any of the current top six making it.

If that’s the case, then you’ve got 12 teams fighting for two spots.

Let’s take a look at some of those in the mix…


Valencia Basket (12-12)

After starting the season with five straight losses, you would have been forgiven for writing off Valencia’s hopes at the end of October.

But look deeper and you would have seen what a tough start it was with three games on the road, and both of last season’s finalists visiting La Fonteta.

A run of four straight wins at home started the turnaround and Valencia have gone from strength to strength even since.

Their best player is Bojan Dubljevic and as he has done over the years, Dubljevic has come up big time and time again.

I have to confess, I did not expect Valencia basket would be in the mix, but here they are.

It’s been nine years since they last graced the post-season and with a home-heavy schedule to finish, that drought may well be coming to an end.


Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul (11-13)

No-one could have imagined before the season that Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul would be in their current situation. I have to say I didn’t see it coming.

That’s because they have Zeljko Obradovic, – a nine-time winner and EuroLeague’s greatest ever coach – at the helm, and the off-season additions of Nando de Colo and Derrick Williams were supposed to make them stronger.

But it hasn’t happened and now Obradovic’s side are in an unfamiliar situation.

Poor performances and injuries have been factors, but the biggest factor for me why Fenerbahce are in this situation is their home form.

Six defeats at the Ulker Sports and Events hall is more home losses than in any other season since Obradovic took over in 2013 and it’s not the just the top teams doing it, with one of the biggest upsets coming when Zenit St. Petersburg were in town.

But write off Fenerbahce at your peril. Obradovic may be having an off year and his team misfiring but the talent is there to make a run.

Given how close the play-off race is, it could all come down to the last game of the regular season, when Fener cross the Bosphorus for an Istanbul derby at Anadolu Efes.

One thing is for certain, if Fenerbahce make it, get ready for an epic play-off series against the likes of Efes, Real Madrid, Barcelona or CSKA Moscow!

Fener on the slide (MAP)

AX Armani Exchange Milan (11-13)

Another team coached by a legendary coach. When Ettore Messina returned the Euroleague, I had high hopes he would be the one who could change the losing mentality in the fashion capital.

With just one play-off appearance in the modern era, it would be fair to say that Milan have underachieved.

When Mike James was shooting the lights out last season, Milan came the closest they have for a while.

But the James experiment lasted just one season and Messina soon put his own stamp on the team.

In came two-time champion Sergio Rodriguez, a legend in Luis Scola and a few other new faces to bolster a squad on paper that look more than capable of making to the post-season for the first time in six years.

Even though Milan currently occupy the eighth spot, it’s definitely lower than where they were expected to be.

Like Fenerbahce, poor form and injuries have definitely contributed but while Fener have shown signs of life in recent weeks, Milan are heading the other way.

Seven wins in their opening nine games, they’ve managed just four victories in the fifteen games since.

It’s beginning to look like Milan will be missing out once again.


Zalgiris Kaunas (9-15)

If there’s been one underdog to root for in recent seasons, then surely it has to be Zalgiris Kaunas, coached by the great that is Sarunas Jaskevicius.

In 2018, they did the amazing and dumped Olympiacos out of the play-offs, going on to finish 3rd at their first Final Four in almost two decades. Then last year, that miracle run to end the regular season, six straight wins as Zalgiris climbed from 13thto 8th, bagging a play-off place in the final round.

This is a team that lost Brandon Davies – easily their best player last season – to Barcelona over the summer, but even when Zalgiris were on a losing run, those defeats were close.

Just look at the standings and from seventh place to eighteenth, only Zalgiris have a positive points difference.

With six wins in their last nine (only losing close games to Madrid, Panathinaikos and Efes), you get the feeling Zalgiris are gearing up for another run at the post-season.

It’s a difficult schedule, but Zalgiris have overcome the odds twice in the last two seasons.

Can they do it a third straight year? We’ll have to wait and see.


LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne (9-15)

They are France’s biggest basketball team and its most successful – a record 19 domestic Championship titles to their name and after nearly a decade away, LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne are back in the big time on European basketball’s biggest stage.

Written off by the bookies in the pre-season, ASVEL were one of the surprise packages in the early rounds as wins over Olympiacos and Panathinaikos, showed they were not going to roll over.

I was in Lyon the night that the ASVEL took down the champions CSKA and the venue was rocking as it often is. The Astroballe may be a small, compact venue but when it comes to atmosphere, few arenas can beat it.

Now, while ASVEL had been a force at home, their form on the road has been their downfall.

With a road-heavy schedule to finish the campaign, I’m not sure Zvezdan Mitrovic’s side have what it takes to put together a long run.

However,  with Tonye Jekiri in the middle and a potential future superstar in Theo Maledon, I expect ASVEL to pull off a few big wins before the season is done, giving their fans hope heading into next season.


As for the rest…

To sum up briefly, Crvena Zvezda MTS Belgrade (10-14) appear to be fading away at the wrong time.

Injury-hit Olympiacos Piraeus (10-14) are hard to call. They should be dead and buried but even without their stars, they still managed to defeat CSKA in the last round. Still can’t see them making it, but stranger things have happened.

Khimki Moscow Region (10-14) started the season with a bang, but have fallen away as the season progressed. Alexey Shved is raising his scoring output, but it’s probably too late for a play-off chase.

KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz (9-15) have made some late additions, notably Zoran Dragic, but it’s probably too late to re-ignite their season.

Zenit St Petersburg (7-17) and Bayern Munich (7-17) currently prop up the table and will likely still be doing so in ten rounds’ time.

And finally, ALBA Berlin (8-16). They’ve had some great wins this season, played a lot of exciting basketball and have a star in Rokas Giedraitis.

Considering they got to face Efes, Barcelona and CSKA in the next five games, bar some major upsets, the post-season will elude them.

Photos: Mansoor Ahmed


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