Can Olympiakos three-peat as Euroleague champions? Do Spanish giants Real Madrid have what it takes to come back with a vengeance? Will the transfers Fenerbahçe Ülker made in the off season pay off?
These and many other burning questions will be answered when the Turkish Airlines Euroleague season officially starts on October 16 with Bundesliga Basketball League champions Brose Baskets Bamberg taking on visiting Strasbourg, the French League runners up, with 2000 GMT the time set for the opening tip of the season.
The 14th season of the modern era of Euroleague Basketball and the fourth under the title sponsorship of the Turkish Airlines will feature the 24 best teams from Europe fighting to win the championship.
23 of the 24 participating teams in the 2013-14 Euroleague regular season are already determined. The 24th team will be decided after eight aspirant teams (Banvit, Rytas, Oldenburg, Oostende, Nymburk, Riga, Khimki, Varese) clash in a single-elimination tournament which will be held in Vilnius, Lithuania between October 1-4. The last standing team will earn the right to play in the regular season.
In the regular season the 24 teams are divided into four groups of six and the top four from each group will advance into the last 16, where they will be divided into two groups of eight.
The top four teams from each of those groups, operating on a round-robin home and away system like the regular season stage, will progress into the play-offs. After playing a best-of-five series in the play-offs, the winners of each series will qualify for the Final-Four in Milan, Italy from May 15 to 18 in 2014.
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The upcoming season promises a finely balanced battle between a myriad of contenders and aspiring teams.
After winning back-to-back Turkish Airlines Euroleague crowns, one must wonder: Can it get any better for Olympiacos Piraeus? The Reds proved they were tough, smart and experienced while showing off the hearts of champions to get to London and to defend the crown. After such performances, the Greek side can never be doubted again.
Olympiacos Piraeus players celebrate with the trophy after winning their Euroleague 2013 Final Four gold medal basketball game against Real Madrid at the O2 Arena in London, on May 12, 2013. (Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)
Especially after renewing the contract of their leader Vassilis Spanoulis, who is arguably the best player in Europe. The winner of two consecutive Euroleague Final-Four MVP awards, 'V-Span' is once again determined to carry his team to the top. Although they lost the undersized but powerful center Kyle Hines and 2013 Euroleague Rising Star Award winner forward Kostas Papanikolaou to free agency, Olympiakos still has the necessary tools for a three-peat.
Coming off its best season in almost two decades, Real Madrid returns to the Turkish Airlines Euroleague as one of the top candidates to win the competition. Madrid has been acclaimed by both fans and basketball experts in recent years due to its run-and-gun game. Jaycee Carroll, Felipe Reyes and All-Euroleague selections Nikola Mirotic and Rudy Fernandez were its main weapons last season under Coach Pablo Laso and will continue to be the vital players for "Los Blancos".
Sergio Rodriguez of Real Madrid shoots a basket during the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four semi final game between against FC Barcelona Regal (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
Madrid reached the 2013 Final Four before anyone else by sweeping Maccabi Electra in the playoffs and topped arch rivals Barcelona Regal to reach the title game for the first time since 1995. Even though Madrid had a 17-point lead in the final after 10 minutes, Olympiacos walked away with its second consecutive Euroleague title. Madrid bounced back by winning its first Spanish League crown in six years after defeating Barcelona in a thrilling five-game series.
Real Madrid's biggest rival Barcelona battled injuries to compile another great season and now looks forward to 2013-14 with ambition to do even better. Barcelona stayed competitive in all competitions, especially in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague, where it won its regular season and Top 16 groups before downing Panathinaikos in a thrilling five-game series to advance to its fourth Final Four in five years.
Panathinaikos' Greek guard Dimitris Diamantidis (L) jumps to score as he vies with Regal Barcelona's Australian center Nate Jawai (Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images)
Barça, however, lost Pete Mickeal midway through the season and Nate Jawai also went down right before travelling to London. Real Madrid defeated Barcelona in the Euroleague semifinals and also in the Spanish League finals, which came down to the last game.
After a lot of heart breaks Barcelona decided ti re-shape its roster and took the necessary steps to form a new and a competitive nucleus. They let players like Sarunas Jasikevicius, Joe Ingles, Nate Jawai, Pete Mickeal, C.J Wallace, Xavier Rabaseda and Loukas Mavrokefalidis go and signed Kostas Papanikolaou, Joey Dorsey, Maciej Lampe, Bostjan Nachbar, Jacob Pullen. Under the direction of coach Xavi Pascual, Barça will once again be one of the contenders for the Euroleague crown.
After reaching back-to-back Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Fours, CSKA Moscow starts a new season with one ambition: lifting its seventh continental crown. Last season, CSKA won the Russian League and the VTB United League titles and reached the Euroleague Final Four for the 10th time in 11 years.
CSKA Moscow's Sonny Weems (L) drives to the basket against Olympiacos Piraeus' (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)
What would have been an amazing season for any other club left a bittersweet taste for CSKA fans. CSKA could not overcome Olympiacos in the semifinal and finished third overall. CSKA kept its core during the summer and added players like Kyle Hines, Jeremy Pargo and Sonny Weems to bolster its chances for another Final-Four berth.
One of the modern heavyweights of basketball, Panathinaikos Athens navigated major changes to record another successful season now sets its sights on adding more silverware to its already silver laden trophy room. The Greens overcame major changes on the bench and the roster last summer but the new-look Panathinaikos proved its status among European elite. After a rough start, the Greens turned into a 2012-13 Euroleague title contender late in the season, before being ousted in a classic five-game playoff series against Barcelona.
Panathinaikos' James Gist jumps for a rebound during the Euroleague playoff against Barcelona at the Athens' Olympic Indoor hall on April 18, 2013 (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)
However, Panathinaikos went all the way at home, winning the Greek league-and-cup double, both against its archrival and reigning Turkish Airlines Euroleague champion Olympiacos. Moreover, the Greens took the finals series 3-0.
The marquee transfer of "Pao" during the off season was resigning its biggest star Dimitris Diamantidis. "The Diamond" made sure that all the best years of his career will be spent wearing a Panathinaikos Athens uniform after agreeing to a two-year extension with the club through the end of the 2014-15 season. Pao also brought back the fan favourite Mike Batiste, who won 3 Euroleague titles and 8 Greek League championship with the club during his first stint between 2003-2013 and signed veteran players Antonis Fotsis, Ramel Curry, Loukas Mavrokefalidis and th 23 year old Vladimir Jankovic.
Perennial Italian champion Montepaschi Siena comes off an exciting season that ended with a historic accomplishment and enters a new season looking to extend its dominance and impressive streaks of six consecutive Top 16 appearances, seven Italian League and five Italian Cup titles. The 2012-13 season was another impressive one, in which the club won its fifth consecutive Italian double by beating Cimberio Varese in the cup final and downing Acea Roma 4-1 in the best-of-seven series for the league crown. The Green-Blacks became the first team in the 64-year history of the Italian League to win the title seven years in a row.
Montepaschi Siena's Bobby Brown (C) goes to basket during the 2013 Euroleague Top 16 against Besiktas JK (Photo by OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
The results were not quite as strong in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague, where Siena opened its Top 16 group with 5-0 record, but picked up only two more wins the rest of the way and missed the playoffs for only the second time in six seasons. This season the squad will be eager to taste the playoffs again and to battle for what would be Siena’s fifth Final Four appearance.
When even a disappointing season includes winning the Turkish Cup and reaching the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Top 16, it is clear that Fenerbahce Ulker has lofty ambitions. The tested powerhouse endured an uneasy 2012-13 season, which included a midseason coaching switch, but heads into a new campaign eager to continue challenging to be the best in every competition. The future looks bright, especially with home games at the stunning Fenerbahce Ulker Sports Arena, which the club hopes to use as a launching pad to greatness.
Fenerbahce's Bo McCalebb (C) drives to the hoop during his side's 2013 Euroleague Top 16 match against BC Khimki (Photo by KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)
But the main reason for optimism in the club stems from the signing of Serbian mastermind Zeljko Obradovic. After a one-year break, coaching legend Obradovic will once again be roaming the sidelines of Euroleague. The 53 year old has agreed to a two-year deal to become the head coach of Fenerbahce Ulker. The winningest coach in European basketball history, Obradovic has won eight continental crowns with four teams. He is a two-time Euroleague Basketball Alexander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year winner and in 2008 was named by Euroleague Basketball as one of the 50 Greatest Contributors in competition history.
Fenerbahçe Ulker also found its go-to scorer this off season in signing fLithuanian forward Linas Kleiza to a two-year contract. Kleiza who last played in the Euroleague for the 2009-10 season for Olympiacos was a player for the Toronto Raptors of NBA for the past three seasons.
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