EA7 Emporio Armani face defending champions Panathinaikos in Group G of the Turkish Airlines Euroleague on Thursday.
After skating into the Top 16 on the final day of the regular season, EA7 Emporio Armani knows the importance of keeping that momentum going with a home win over the defending champs to open the Top 16.
Armani is without leading scorer Malik Hairston, who underwent surgery on his left Achilles' tendon at the end of December.
For the first time in the Euroleague this season, Panathinaikos head coach Zeljko Obradovic has an entire roster to choose from after both Statos Perperoglou and Kostas Tsartsaris returned from lengthy injury layoffs.
Naturally two of the eye-catching match-ups in this game will be with the two players Armani signed from Panathinaikos over the summer, guard Drew Nicholas and forward Antonis Fotsis. Nicholas will be eager to outperform former teammate Nick Calathes.
Likewise Fotsis will match up against the Greens’ new stretch forward Steven Smith. Alessandro Gentile, who has made an impact since joining Milan last month, has big shoes to fill with Malik Hairston out. Gentile could find himself squaring off against Perperoglou, who has played well in the Greek League for the Greens since his return.
Of course the key match-up will be at point guard, where Panathinaikos boasts reigning Euroleague MVP Dimitris Diamantidis, and Milan features Omar Cook. Those two were first and second in the Euroleague in assists last season.
Since Obradovic is familiar with what it takes to stop three of Armani’s best players –centre Ioannis Bourousis played practically his entire career in Greece before this season – the visitors start the game with a bit of an edge, though Fotsis and Nicholas should help their new team prepare well too.
One area that could be crucial to the game’s outcome is in the paint. With Bourousis rarely playing more than 25 minutes in a game, Armani will need Mason Rocca and Leon Radosevic to produce against Panathinaikos’s experienced and bigger reserves – Aleks Maric and Ian Vougioukas. If the Greens control the paint during that stretch, it will be difficult for the hosts to overcome.