19 September, 2017
06 May, 2018
Manny Harris (GRE)
to read

Experts break it down: Who is the MVP? Who will win the whole thing?

MIES (Basketball Champions League) - With Quarter-Finals just around the corner, it's time to round up the Experts. They review the season so far, and give their predictions about the Final Four.

The voice of international basketball, Jeff Taylor, joins the people behind the writing on our website. Diccon Lloyd-Smeath is responsible for all the X's and O's, breaking down the playbooks of the Basketball Champions League teams, and Igor Curkovic is the man who follows all the games in our Live Feed and does the Power Rankings to start your week, every week.

Everybody makes mistakes. Even the experts. This, I definitely did not see...

I didn't see defending champions Iberostar Tenerife missing out on the Quarter-Finals and certainly not losing at home to UCAM Murcia in the decisive second leg! Let's tip our hats to Murcia for their signing last summer of a true gym rat, Brad Oleson. He paid a handsome dividend in crunch time, drilling 6 3-pointers and scoring 20 points in that 83-72 second-leg triumph in Tenerife. We also have to ask coach Ibon Navarro what he did to light a fire under Augusto Lima because the Brazil international was downright nasty at Tenerife with 10 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 steals.

DLS: AEK. That's twice now. I didn't see them making the Play-Offs, then Dusan Sakota hit a shot on the buzzer against medi Bayreuth, to do exactly that. I didn't see them overturning a ten point deficit, away to CEZ Nymburk, then Kevin Punter hit another buzzer-beater and they did exactly that, again. Fate, it seems, is with the Queen this year. It's 50 years since AEK were the first Greek team to win a European competition. What a story it would be, for AEK to be the first Greek team, to win the Basketball Champions League - this year of all years. I was wrong twice before and I'm not about to make that mistake a third time. AEK are a very real contender.

IC: Pinar Karsiyaka getting this far. Hats down to Aleksandar Trifunovic and his players, their domestic struggles made me think that their campaign will end in the group stage, then that their campaign will end against PAOK, then... You get the point. I am sorry, guys! Tebrikler on making it this far! Oh, and thanks for all the minutes Berk Ugurlu is getting, that boy is special! 

There is no "I" in "team" - but there is an "I" in "win." Who's the best individual of the league so far? In other words, your favorite to win the MVP of the Season award?

I'm going the unconventional route and not going with the player whose name is flashing in bright lights because he's the leading scorer or rebounder. I'm going with a champion, a FIBA EuroBasket 2017 champion of Slovenia, Gasper Vidmar, because of his leadership, his character and at times his dominating play for a Banvit team that has once again had a terrific season. This is a risky pick because Banvit may not even reach the Final Four since they have to get past 15-win Monaco (including the Play-Offs), but Vidmar is a big reason why Banvit have a chance to make it. Who's going to the Final Four? Imagine Vidmar sitting on a motorcycle, leather jacket, sun glasses and all, and he says, "I'll be back!"

DLS: If you look at per game stats, this award has to go to DJ Kennedy. If you also look at his consistent performances all season, Kennedy is an even more outstanding candidate. The problem is, there are two other MVP candidates on that team and it's genuinely difficult to discern, who is the MVP of Pinar Karsiyaka, let alone which of them is MVP of the Basketball Champions League - so I am going with Thomas Walkup. MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg press for 40 minutes and play one of the most intense brands of basketball you'll see. As a by-product of this, nobody on the roster plays big minutes, or puts up huge numbers. Walkup leads the team in minutes and leads the team on both ends of the floor. He can guard positions 1 to 4 on defense, whilst playing PG on offense. Very rarely do you see a player lead their team in assists and record the same number of rebounds at the same time. Walkup also leads Ludwigsburg in efficiency and steals. The Giants have been one of the teams of the year across Europe and despite losing Johannes Thiemann, they have continued to stomp all over everyone. The one player they couldn't lose and keep stride, is Thomas Walkup. All this in his rookie season in Europe. Oh,... and he's also an MVP candidate in the German BBL, because he keeps doing stuff like this:

IC: Gabe York had 8 (of 16) games with 20+ points, he scored the most three-pointers in the league, but sometimes the numbers don't really paint the picture. I mean, if you look at the PER for players this season, out of the Top 10 rated players, only three have made the Quarter-Finals - Amara Sy, Gasper Vidmar and D.J. Kennedy. So, Gabe's efficiency goes beyond the stats, you won't find his real value in there. York is one of those players that just draws so much attention from the defense, that he makes things possible for his teammates. A game-changer. The MVP.

The most important question - Who is going to win the Basketball Champions League?

I like all of the Quarter-Finalists for different reasons and think there is an argument to be made for each winning. I really do believe that, so this is a tough one. But I think it will be the winner of AS Monaco's game against Banvit, and I think Banvit will spring the upset against the Principality club. I like Saso Filipovski's ability to make changes during games and I see in this team a handful of players that take responsibility in key moments - Adonis Thomas, Andy Rautins, Tony Taylor, Vidmar, Damian Kulig.

DLS: AS Monaco. With Iberostar Tenerife getting knocked out, we have a clear favourite. AS Monaco are the owners of the best Offensive Rating and the best Defensive Rating in the competition. Banvit was the worst and best draw they could get in the Quarter-Finals. The two rosters are very different to last season - when Banvit knocked Monaco out of the Final Four - but the coaches will know all about each other. The motivation for pay-back will be huge. If Coach Mitrovic and AS Monaco make it through to the Final Four, they will be very tough to stop. After saying all that, this season has been anything but predictable and if you are looking for a dark horse, MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg play unbelievable defense and they rebound the ball really well - a solid foundation for Play-Off success. They dismantle teams in very short periods of time and should they get past medi Bayreuth, MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg are the team nobody wants to face.

IC: AS Monaco would seem like an obvious choice. But they had a lot of trouble with Banvit last season, so the jury is still out on them making the Final Four. I'd go to the other part of the draw for the winner, though. With the season being full of surprises so far, I'd go with SIG Strasbourg or AEK, just to complete their fairy tale stories of this campaign. I mean, how could you bet against AEK and SIG after what they had been through in the Round of 16?!

Only eight teams are still in the mix. Out of those eliminated, who do you miss the most?

I miss Neptunas Klaipeda, the Lithuanian team that did its city and country proud in adverse circumstances this season. Hey Zelionis, Galdikas, Johnson, Seibutis, Delininkaitis, Kacinas - you were fun to watch and easy to root for this season. Come back strong!

DLS: Has to be Umana Reyer Venezia. The Italians were such good value in the Regular Season. Almost every game was complete carnage. Overtime games every week, Gediminas Orelik doing Gedimanas Orelik things, shooting themselves in the foot, then pulling something out of the bag to rescue it. They would have been a lot of fun in the Play-Offs. 

IC: I miss Kendrick Ray's Kung-Fu Kenny nickname that I used (way too much) in the Live Feed. I miss Jon Diebler's running without the ball. I miss Rickey Paulding's timelessness. I miss the Italians, as I'm the biggest LegaBasket fan you've met. (Don't tell anyone!) I miss Zielona Gora's traveling fans. I miss Nanterre's shooting. Don't make me do this, I'm getting sentimental...