Big guns await Mac TA in Euroleague Top 16

New Maccabi TA head coach Guy Goodes (right) and new assistant coach Pini Gershon. (photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
New Maccabi TA head coach Guy Goodes (right) and new assistant coach Pini Gershon.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Despite having to face three European basketball powerhouses in the Euroleague Top 16 in Real Madrid, Barcelona and Panathinaikos, anything but progress to the quarterfinal playoffs will be regarded as a disappointment for defending champion Maccabi Tel Aviv.
The yellow-and-blue ended Group B of the regular season in second place with a 7-3 record and found out the identity of all seven of its Top 16 rivals when the regular season officially came to a close on Friday night.
Besides Real Madrid, Barcelona and Panathinaikos, Maccabi will also play Red Star Belgrade, Zalgiris Kaunas, Galatasaray and Alba Berlin.
Maccabi visits Panathinaikos in its group opener next Tuesday, December 30.
The top four teams will advance to the playoffs.
“Our Top 16 group has a lot of quality sides, headed by Barcelona and Real Madrid,” said Maccabi coach Guy Goodes.
“We are facing some very difficult and interesting games. Our clear goal is to finish among the top four in the group and advance to the next stage.”
Real Madrid will be aiming to avenge its defeat to Maccabi in the Euroleague final last season. Real has held on to the core of last season’s roster, including Spaniards Rudy Fernandez, Sergio Llull and Sergio Rodriguez.
Madrid won Group A with an 8-2 record, while Barcelona finished first in Group C at 9-1. Veteran shooter Juan Carlos Navarro remains the star of the side, with Barca beating Maccabi eight times in a row since the 2008/09 season.
Panathinaikos is not the dominant force it used to be, qualifying for the Top 16 from third place in Group C with a 5-5 record.
However, playmaker Dimitris Diamantidis is still leading the way for the Greeks, who are especially strong at home, going 4-0 in Athens before Friday’s loss to Barcelona.
Maccabi will be a favorite against the four other sides it will face in the Top 16.
Galatasaray of Turkey is set to struggle after its financial meltdown, while Red Star Belgrade, Zalgiris Kaunas and Alba Berlin are just happy to have made it past the regular season.
“Our Top 16 group will be very tough because a lot of teams will play without much pressure,” said Barca coach Xavi Pascual. “Those teams can do really well because they are really talented. The biggest teams will be under a lot of pressure.
It will be a really tough group with a lot of talent and tradition.”
Until the Top 16 gets underway, Maccabi will focus on local action, starting with Sunday’s BSL game at Hapoel Holon. Maccabi (10-2), which will also be in action in the State Cup later this week, has won six straight league games since losing two in a row, while Holon (6-5) is coming off a 74-72 setback at Hapoel Gilboa/Galil.
Also Sunday, Ironi Ness Ziona (8-4) hosts Bnei Herzliya (4-8), while Hapoel Tel Aviv (7-5) visits Ironi Nahariya (3-9).
On Monday, the struggling Hapoel Jerusalem (9-2), which has lost four consecutive games over all competitions, will look to end its slump when it hosts Maccabi Haifa (4-8), while Gilboa (5-7) visits Hapoel Eilat (5-7) and Maccabi Rishon Lezion (8-4) welcomes Maccabi Ashdod (3-9).