CSKA face major battle in title defense in expanded EuroLeague
CSKA Moscow will face a major battle as they attempt to defend their crown in a EuroLeague competition that is bigger than ever before with some major star power. The EuroLeague grew this season from 16 to 18 teams with the additions of Alba Berlin of Germany and French side ASVEL Villeurbanne, making the journey to a ninth continental title all the more difficult for reigning champs CSKA. CSKA head coach Dimitrios Itoudis has overhauled his team as Cory Higgins, Nando De Colo and Sergio Rodriguez were major leaders to leave. But of course CSKA have re-stocked with stars such as Mike James, Darrun Hilliard, Kostas Koufos, Janis Strelnieks, Johannes Voigtmann and Ron Baker, who join returnees Kyle Hines, Will Clyburn and Daniel Hackett.
CSKA’s top competition may be FC Barcelona Lassa with the Spanish giants putting together a super team in search of the club’s first trophy since 2010. The Catalans opened their coffers and dished out the cash to bring in Nikola Mirotic, Alex Abrines, Higgins, Brandon Davies and Malcolm Delaney. Add that quintet to the likes of Adam Hanga, Victor Claver, Ante Tomic, Kevin Pangos and injured Thomas Heurtel and Barca are loaded.
But other teams have brought in big names as well.
Khimki Moscow added Dairis Bertans and Jonas Jerebko from the NBA as well as Stefan Jovic, Devin Booker and Sergey Karasev. And Khimki already had the star scoring ace Alexey Shved.
Fenerbahce management gave legendary head coach Zeljko Obradovic more toys to play with in signing reigning champ Nando De Colo, Derrick Williams and Leo Westermann. Oh, and the Turkish powers kept Jan Vesely, Luigi Datome, Ali Muhammed, Joffrey Lauvergne, Kostas Sloukas and Nikola Kalinic.
The team that reached the final last season Anadolu Efes meanwhile is relying more on continuity, adding “only” Alec Peters and Brock Motum. The Turks kept their superstar guard comb of Shane Larkin and Vasilije Micic as well as Bryant Dunston, Tibor Pleiß and Krunoslav Simon.
Another team that has remained much the same is Real Madrid as the Spanish giants picked up versatile big man Jordan Mickey and Nicolas Lapprovitola. Head coach Pablo Laso still has the veteran core of Anthony Randolph, Sergio Llull, Jaycee Carroll, Walter Taveras, Facundo Campazzo, Fabien Causeur, Jeffery Taylor and Rudy Fernandez.
Of course, what’s the EuroLeague without talking about the Greek sides? Panathinaikos re-stocked by adding Jimmer Fredette, Wesley Johnson, former Final Four MVP Tyrese Rice, Ben Bentil, Jacob Wiley and Rion Brown. That group coming to join Nick Calathes and Deshaun Thomas makes Panathinaikos a strong challenger. Olympiacos Piraeus meanwhile are one of the most interesting stories in European basketball this season. No surprise, they added some star talents with Wade Baldwin, Brandon Paul, Mindaugas Kuzminskas, Kevin Punter, Augustin Rubit and Will Cherry. And the core four of Vassilis Spanoulis, Georgios Printezis, Kostas Papanikolaou and Nikola Milutinov are back. But, this group of stars will only be playing in the EuroLeague. That’s because the club was forced to be relegated to the Greek second division after last season due to a nasty dispute regarding referees and their arch-rivals Panathinaikos. Olympicacos will have a second team playing in the second division.
Those are just some of the bigger favorites to hoist the trophy on May 24, 2020 in Cologne, Germany. Until then, there is a long time and one or the other team might make a push for the title. But the Road to Cologne will be long and windy.
by FIVE Magazine #162 – NBA Preview 2019/20
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