RIGA - With the rounds of 16 in Europe’s three major club basketball competitions entering their final weeks, the jury is still out on whether all four of the remaining Baltic teams will be moving into the quarterfinals. Beginning back in late September, when Europe’s third-tier competition, the Eurochallenge, tipped off, Lithuania and Latvia combined had five teams fighting it out for European glory across three competitions.
When the rounds of 16 began in January, that number was down to four following the departure of Lithuanian club Rudupis, which failed to make it out of the group stages of the Eurocup, Europe’s second-tier competition.
Now with the rounds of 16 approaching their final weeks, that number may be about to take another hit as some clubs find themselves on the verge of packing their bags.
As the only Baltic basketball team playing in Europe’s elite club competition, Eurobasket, Zalgiris Kaunas’ stay in Europe looks shaky at best. With three of six rounds of the round of 16 completed, the Lithuanian club is yet to register a win in the second stage of the competition and will need to win all three of their remaining Group E matches and have a number of other results go in their favor to have any chance of finishing in the top two in their group and advance to the final eight.
This should not come as any great surprise, given the fact that Aleksandar Trifunovic’s team won just four of ten regular season games, qualifying for the final 16 with the worst record.
Playing in the Eurocup, Vilnius club Lietuvos Rytas is perhaps best positioned to gain a place in the final 8 despite sharing the same two-win, one-loss record as fellow Group L teams Lokomotiv Kuban and Benetton Basket.
Playing into the favor of the red and blacks is the fact that they are still to play the bottom team of the group, Alba Berlin, one more time and Lokomotiv Kuban at home in Vilnius. The fate of Aleksandar Dzikic’s team may ultimately come down to their final game against Benetton Baskets, away from home on Feb. 28.
Also playing in the Eurocup, but with a little more work to do, is Latvian club VEF Riga. So far the men in black have won just one of three games to be sitting third in Group I. This week they travel to France to take on the winless BCM Gravelines. If they can win this game they will, in all likelihood, be tied with CEZ Nymburk which faces the difficult task of attempting to beat the previously undefeated Valencia Basket, a team that they lost to by nine points at home last week.
This could ultimately mean that when Ramunas Butautas’ team travels to the Czech Republic to play CEZ Nymburk on Feb. 21, the game could be acting as a virtual quarterfinal. When the two teams last met in Riga back in January, the hosts lost by 10 points.
VEF Riga is not the only Latvian team to still have their work cut out for them with Ventspils struggling to remain afloat in Europe’s third-tier competition, the Eurochallenge. With two games remaining, Gundars Vetra’s team currently shares a two-win, two-loss record with fellow Group I team EWE Baskets.
With their two remaining games coming away to bottom-of-the-group Leiden next week and back home against group leaders Roanne Basket on Feb. 28, the men in yellow need to win at least one of their two remaining games and hope for EWE Baskets to lose both of theirs if they hope to remain playing basketball in wider Europe in March.