October 29, 2022
EuroLeague Week 1 overreactions: Fenerbahçe down, Praha up
Let's make bold predictions based on the first week of EuroLeague results!
The EuroLeague tipped off last Wednesday, and it’s time to overreact to what happened during the week that was! Is any team already out of the running for the title? Does an underdog look threatening? Are the newcomer teams good? Is the MVP field already settled?
Let’s review what happened on Wednesday and Thursday and offer some (bold) predictions about what is ahead of us this season!
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Fenerbahçe will never, ever win the EuroLeague
I don’t think Fenerbahçe needs any introduction. The Turkish side was the favorite to lift the trophy last season (it even hosted the Final Four in Istanbul) and is the favorite again this season. Or, at least, it was until Wednesday night.
Fenerbahçe started the season by putting up a dud against Polkowice, losing 73-46. The Turkish side was playing away from home without Satou Sabally, Breanna Stewart and Emma Meesseman. But Fenerbahçe still had the likes of Natasha Howard, Kayla McBride, Kiah Stokes, Olivia Epoupa and Alina Iagupova.
The Polish side enjoyed a ridiculous game by Stephanie Mavunga, as she put up 23 points and 21 rebounds for a double-double along with three blocked shots. Yvonne Turner contributed six points, six boards and three dimes, and Zala Friskovec added 14 points, the only other player from the Polish team in double digits.
Fenerbahçe did a little bit of everything but not a lot of anything: Stokes grabbed 12 boards but could only score four points; Howard scored 15 points but didn’t contribute on other fronts; and Iagupova was a mess with only five points, four rebounds, and two assists against four turnovers and two personal fouls.
This was an unexpected loss and a letdown for everybody involved with Fenerbahçe. It is also the final nail in Fenerbahçe’s coffin. There it is; I said it. The Turkish side had a great chance to win a title last season and squandered it. It will have another one this year, but it couldn’t have had a worse start. So Fenerbahçe is never, ever winning the EuroLeague.
One debutant will make the Final Four
Polkowice destroyed Fenerbahçe and Tango Bourges defeated Olympiacos while returning to the EuroLeague after missing out in years past, so let’s not consider them newcomers to the competition.
What about Valencia, Kangoeroes and DVTK, though? Valencia started its campaign and first-ever EuroLeague season with a victory against Virtus Bologna, while the latter two newcomers lost to Famila Schio and Sopron, respectively.
In a field of 16 teams, with three of them entering the competition for the first time, there is a reasonable chance that at least one of those three squads makes the Final Four, right?
Valencia’s 73-71 win over a strong Virtus Bologna side was a fantastic collective performance by the Spanish side. Four players finished with double-digit points while Angela Salvadores scored eight. Only Leticia Romero played more than 28 minutes for Valencia while Virtus opted for a more top-heavy approach, handing 29-plus minutes to four starters.
Cheyenne Parker (19 points) and Kitija Laksa (20) led the Italians in scoring while Cecilia Zandalasini put up a 12-point, 10-rebound double-double that just wasn’t enough to outlast Valencia. Iliana Rupert logged 29 minutes but finished the game with a plus/minus of minus-11.
The reigning EuroLeague champion, Sopron, easily dealt with Belgian side Kangaroes Mechelen, defeating the newcomers 91-62. It was a true no-contest after Mechelen lost a 23-22 lead before the half. Five players from Sopron scored 10 or more points, with Brittney Sykes scoring 24 in 28 minutes. Sykes also contributed seven assists, committed only two turnovers, and shot nearly 77% from the floor. Ezi Magbegor put up a double-double to the tune of 12 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks, two steals and one assist.
Mechelen might be in for a long season, but with three players scoring at least 14 points and Laure Resimont finishing with 14 points, seven rebounds and three assists, the team at least had some bright performances to keep its hopes up.
DVTK, the third new team in the EuroLeague regular season this year, came incredibly close to winning its debut against Famila Schio. The Hungarian team lost 90-82 against the Italians but forced overtime and showed enough to potentially turn into a threat once it gets used to the competition.
Schio’s trio of Rhyne Howard (24 points), Marina Mabrey (19) and Astou Ndour (17) was too much to handle for DVTK. But the Hungarian side got 17 points from Arella Guirantes to go with Milica Jovanovic’s 16 and Reka Bernath’s 15.
Here’s the (perhaps overreacting) bet: Valencia will crack the Final Four. You heard it here first!
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Cukurova will finish above Tango Bourges
Tango Bourges, fresh off winning the European SuperCup against Sopron, defeated Olympiacos 67-61. Although Bourges closed the first half leading by 12 points, the second half saw Olympiacos close the gap to just two. The run ended there, though, with Tango wrapping things up in the final moments.
The Turkish side Cukurova dropped its first game to Avenida, losing 83-66 in Spain. Cukurova, though, didn’t have Jonquel Jones, DeWanna Bonner and Chelsea Gray for that game. Tiffany Hayes was as good as advertised, as she scored a team-high 21 points (along with two rebounds, two steals and one assist), but Briann January was disappointing with 10 points but only one assist.
Although Avenida started its domestic-league season in a very shaky way with two consecutive defeats, it seems like the Spanish side was only waiting for the bright lights of the EuroLeague to hit its stride. Ask Aleksandra Crvendakic and her extraordinary 23-point, 11-rebound outing, or the six Avenida players finishing with between seven and 12 points.
Tango Bourges looked lucky in getting the win against Olympiacos, while the best from Cukurova is yet to be seen. This might be a reverse overreaction, and right now the records might favor the French team, but by the end of the regular season, I think their positions in their respective groups will be flipped, with the Turkish side boasting more wins than Bourges.
Praha will lift the trophy; Girona’s Rebekah Gardner will crack the All-EuroLeague team
Nobody is stopping Praha from winning the EuroLeague this season.
The magnificent duo of Alyssa Thomas and Brionna Jones has returned to Praha this year. The former is coming off a 15-point, 10-rebound, 10-assist, five-steal performance in Week 1. The latter has yet to play this season in Europe. Oh, and don’t forget about Teja Oblak (28 points, six rebounds, four assists) and Maria Conde (14 points, four rebounds, three assists, two steals) welcoming teammate Valeriane Vukosavljevic to the Czech side. Vukosavljevic ended with 17 points and 12 rebounds in the first-game victory of Praha over KSC by an 82-71 score.
Kudos to Victoria Vivians and Ruthy Hebard for pulling down eight rebounds each and scoring 27 and 20 points, respectively, for KSC against Praha. KSC didn’t win a single game last season, ending with a 0-14 record, but this might be the year it gets its first win in the top-tier European competition.
Girona, fresh off qualifying for the regular season last week, debuted with a close 58-53 victory over French side Basket Landes. After three competitive games (including the qualifying playoffs against ESBVA), I’m confident enough to say that Rebekah Gardner will be one of the five players to make the All-EuroLeague team at the end of the year.
Gardner put up eerily similar stat lines in the two games against ESBVA (15 and 12 points, five rebounds, three assists, and four steals), and she proceeded to rack up 11 points, eight boards, four assists, three steals and one block against Basket Landes to kick off her regular season.
Mind you, those are Thomas-like numbers (which, by the way, speaks volumes of Thomas’ talents). If Gardner can keep up that production, there will be nothing blocking her way to that accolade.