By Simon Dresden
And the there were four. From the quarterfinal on the teams are paired in do or die series depending on their results from the pre rounds group phase. The winners of those series are then participants for the Final Four event in Madrid next month.
Surprisingly two of the youngest squads qualified for this round. With Partizan pulling the biggest upset of all in ousting the defending champions Panathinaikos.
CSKA was paired with Olympiacos, Maccabi hosted Barcelona, Siena took on Fenerbahce and Tau Ceramica faced Partizan.
CSKA won the series against Olympiacos but had to come from behind after a first game upset, as Piräus stole the opening match in the Moskau gym by two points. CSKA responded by gaining their home court back with a ten point win in Olympiacos and then totally crashed their opponents in the decisive game three in Russia. Milos Teodosic was a non factor in any game of the series finishing no better than 3 points in any contest. CSKA’s youngsters were glued to the bench except for the last blowout win, where some of them got some spare minutes.
Siena handled Fenerbahce easily. Two and out was the result for Istanbul’s young squad. Semih Erden, Gasper Vidmar, Emir Preldzic came up big in the first game while Oguz Savas and Omer Asik took the night off to some extent. In game 2 it was only Asik who could provide some help while all the other youngsters seemed to be affected facing elimination.
Tau Ceramica needed all of their veteran poise to hold off feisty Partizan in this series opener. Nikola Pekovic and Novica Velickovic were as always pacing Belgrade with Milenko Tepic and Uros Tripkovic providing some relief. Pekovic gave the NBA bound Splitter fits in every aspect and even fouled him out of this game. Anyway Tau survived, only to get manhandled by Partizan and their raucous crowd in Pinoir Arena in game 2. Pekovic, Velickovic, Tripkovic and Tepic all came up big and again one had to wonder how scouts can be so high on Splitter while Pekovic dominated him seemingly at will. Splitter responded in the way of a champion. In the decisive game three he was at his best and that was a lot to handle for Pekovic who was held to single digits scoring and fouling out of this game. Tepic, Tripkovic and Velickovic all did their thing but it just wasn’t enough to solve a veteran team. A great season has finished for Partizan’s youngsters and if they can stick together for a few more years, they could be poised to draw comparisons to the famous Split squads, which also had some promising youngsters who emerged to have prosperous careers.
Maccabi Tel Aviv took out Barca in a hard fought series that went back and forth. Maccabi won their home court game to take a one game lead in the series and Omri Casspi played well from start to finish. Scoring 5 points and grabbing 5 boards in 18 quality minutes. Barca took revenge in the second encounter. Casspi paced Maccabi in this one scoring 18 points and grabbing a mind boggling 10 boards in 30+ minutes, all team highs. But it wasn’t enough to avoid a game 3 in Tel Aviv, had just one veteran stepped up for Maccabi in this one, the series would have been over. Casspi played only 6 minutes in this game, only his coach knows why I guess, and had no production but Maccabi prevailed and went on to the final four. Albert Moncasi never saw the floor in any game this series.
In the final 4 there will be not many youngsters to be seen actually playing out on the floor. Best chance seems to be for Omri Casspi to see one or the other minute since he seem to have what it takes in some games, see game 2 in the last round. But sometimes he just dwells on the bench. Tau and Sienna are veteran teams that don’t built on youngsters. CSKA may have the best assembly of high priced youngsters in the whole competition but they are poised to have the best seat in the house for this weekend, since CSKA will go for the crown and with a team as deep as this there is not much time to spare on the Artem Zabelins, Alexey Shveds or Anatoly Kashirov s of the world. But maybe they can take in some of the atmosphere and experience.