Credit: AFP - Scanpix, Roman Kruchinin - Getty Images, V. Mikaitis | BasketNews illustration
Credit AFP - Scanpix, Roman Kruchinin - Getty Images, V. Mikaitis | BasketNews illustration

BasketNews continues the 3x3 EuroLeague edition, where three of our colleagues give three answers to three questions.

This week, Orazio Cauchi, Giorgos Kyriakidis, and Miguel Lois Vidal will look at the referees' performance in the Efes-Barcelona rematch, a tight situation in the standings, and upcoming El Clasico.

Is criticism towards refereeing in the rematch between Efes and Barca fair?

Orazio: While the game between Efes and Barcelona was entertaining, the same cannot be said about the quality of the refereeing during that game.

Some of the calls looked terrible, especially at the end of the fourth quarter and overtime. The fifth fouls called on Mirotic first and then on Larkin were very poor calls and didn't respect the spirit of the game.

The one on Larkin, especially, looked completely non-sense to me because the referee raised his arm even before any contact. I can understand why Larkin decided to vent on social media after the game because that foul call was really bad.

Of course, this is not the first time that something like this has happened. And personally, I often stated that the level of refereeing is one thing that doesn't have the quality of EuroLeague product.

There's no easy fix because even at the FIBA level, the referees are not exactly perfect, but there must be some improvement because the risk alienates a good portion of fans from the game.

Giorgos: If I could answer in just one word, yes. But it shouldn't be focused on referees being biased or one-sided. Mistakes were made against both teams who put on the season's greatest show so far.

Overall, officiating has been far from satisfactory throughout the current EuroLeague season - one of many. Italian Luigi Lamonica, Serbian Ilija Belosevic, and French Mehdi Difallah were in charge of the overtime thriller that got all the attention last Friday night.

In the case of the Efes-Barca clash, the Turkish side raised a very strong outcry. To begin with, I think that Nikola Mirotic getting called his fifth foul was the right decision, as he seems to grab Moerman, preventing him from claiming the rebound. However, earlier in the game, the Spanish forward was wrongfully called the fourth foul that got him into trouble.

Larkin made a crossover trying to play one-on-one. Mirotic clearly touched the ball, but referees awarded Efes' star with two free throws. The score was 78-80, and 20 seconds were left on the game clock. The hosts tied at 80 points, and the game went to overtime.

When Shane Larkin got fouled out for no reason at all, Ergin Ataman -deservedly- followed. The thing got a bit blown out of proportion when both Larkin and Ataman's wife took to Instagram criticizing the referees' decisions, using some strong language.

Well, I can grant the point to Larkin for being the one who actually stood on the court when those calls were made.

So, I wouldn't describe the case as a "scandal in the Euroleague" as Ataman's wife did. Still, I would surely agree that the EuroLeague basketball product deserves much better officiating than its management has allowed thus far.

Miguel: First of all, it is really tough to referee a match like this. Both teams were aggressive and had great players, so defenses suffered. As a consequence, there was a lot of activity.

I genuinely think Larkin and Mirotic shouldn't have been fouled out, but this is a decision the referees must take in just a few seconds. Efes went to the free-throw line many times in the first half. Then in the second, maybe Barcelona received some kind of compensation.

I don't really like people who use referees as an excuse or as an easy weapon to create a discussion around a game. What's a bit weird is to read an official statement from a club regarding the refs in a regular-season game. 

Two wins separate 4th and 11th places. A prelude to a wild regular-season finish?

Orazio: Yes, I do believe that from the fourth place going down until the 15th spot, where Fenerbahce currently sits, there's going to be a lot of competition for the playoff area.

All those teams for me, more or less, can get a playoff spot. While I still believe that both Milan and CSKA Moscow belong to a higher level, especially when they'll be without injuries, all the other teams will fight for the other 3-4 spots available.

Zenit are a virtual lock for the playoffs, Kazan is getting better after a slow start, and they have a deep roster combined with one of the best defense in EuroLeague. Maccabi are a very talented team, and when they click offensively, they're tough to contain.

Credit ZUMAPRESS.com-Scanpix

Efes are currently out of the first eight teams, but they're the reigning champs, and they still have one of the best teams in Europe. Both French clubs, ASVEL and Monaco, are now in a bit of a slump, but until a few weeks ago, they were the talk of Europe, and they still have the potential to get back on track.

It's going to be a very interesting battle for the last playoff spots, so many teams in the hunt, yet so few places available.

Giorgos: Not quite. Of course, the last couple of places that lead to the playoffs could be decided at the last minute. But overall, a state of things has started to consolidate. FC Barcelona and Real Madrid will hardly miss out on the home-court advantage.

Olympiacos, Armani Milan, Zenit Saint Petersburg, and CSKA Moscow have brought important home wins that allow them to hope for a good spot.

Everything is open to debate looking down. 7th-placed UNICS are on the rise, and they can stay in playoff contention for a while. Maccabi Tel Aviv have been inconsistent, which means that another team could easily overshadow them.

In this vein, Bayern Munich (6-7) got the wins they were supposed to according to their schedule and can aim higher now. Anadolu Efes have lost important ground for which they must make up to compete.

It's not unlikely since we're talking about the team with the highest potential among those not currently in a playoff spot. I would repeat the same for Fenerbahce, but 4 wins in 13 games don't allow much optimism.

Credit BasketNews.lt/D.Repečka

Finally, ASVEL Villeurbanne have surpassed expectations but are losing steam lately. The derby against Monaco was crucial because had they lost, they would now be joining the next cluster of teams at 6-7, which would also include the "Roca Team".

To me, ASVEL will remain the big question mark. Anything is possible if they can even remotely return to their early form.

Miguel: The Euroleague is savage. We are moving into another exciting regular-season finish, and we are not even in the midterm. Some teams are performing higher than expected (like UNICS), and some are below their level (Efes, Fenerbahce, Baskonia).

If you add Olympiacos and Maccabi comeback after a disappointing last season, you find out what's going on. Differentials will play an important role at the end of the season. As it happened last year, 20 wins will be needed to make the playoffs. 

El Clasico takes the stage this week. Who do you got?

Orazio: The Spanish derby between Barcelona and Real Madrid is always a must-watch, but this one will be even more interesting than usual.

Barcelona and Real are both leading the standings with 11 wins and just two losses, so far, they've been almost unstoppable. Real Madrid has the best defensive rating in the EuroLeague, while Barcelona has the best offensive rating.

The team coached by Jasikevicius is the best three-point shooting team, while Real Madrid is the best when it comes to percentages from two-point. We're really talking about the best of the best in Europe as of right now.

I believe that Real Madrid has a slight advantage, mostly because their defense is probably the best suited to limit Barcelona's crazy offensive numbers.

Barcelona will have shorter rotations because of Calathes and Higgins' absences, which might also become an important factor to consider. It's going to be a lot of fun, and hopefully, it won't be ruined by poor refereeing as it happened in the Efes vs Barcelona game.

Giorgos: I'll start with one fact. In the Super Cup final, FC Barcelona dominated for the most part, but Real Madrid came back, snatching victory.

It's always very risky to make any predictions ahead of those types of games. Now, the fact that both teams are sharing the EuroLeague top of the standings at 11-2 makes it even more difficult.

Real Madrid had a rather unimpressive start in the season, but they have been picking up wins all over Europe lately. Laso takes pride in watching and guiding his men, holding down opponents, while Yabusele and Tavares are having a great season individually as well.

On the other hand, FC Barcelona has won three games (Olympiacos, Monaco, Anadolu Efes) in overtime, and they're likely to keep doing so. It's not a matter of luck but of making the right plays and decisions at the right time. Although Nick Calathes and Cory Higgins are invaluable tools, Sarunas Jasikevicius has sought - and found- consolation in Rokas Jokubaitis and Nicolas Laprovittola.

Both stood up tall in Istanbul and, especially the Argentinean, will have a strong motivation to win this one. Of course, the same can be said of Adam Hanga or Thomas Heurtel. The two current Madrid players didn't leave Barcelona with the best of feelings, and they might be looking for some payback against their former team.

Overall, I would give a slight edge to the hosts, who will definitely attempt to bounce back from a horrible performance against Baskonia in the recent ACB game.

Jasikevicius called out his players, noting that some of them "are still in vacation mood, while others don't play at the same high standards every night." Most certainly, the El Clasico is a contest that any player would crave to be a part of.

Miguel: One of the best games of the year, even though both teams know this is not a final. Although, they will probably face each other in the Spanish Cup (5 of the last 8 finals).

Talking about Friday's game, FC Barcelona will have their supporters' help. It is a special day for the Blaugrana fans, so Palau will burn-in.
 
Without Calathes, Higgins, or Abrines, Barcelona's rotation is less deep than Madrid's. That could be a key. Laso has recovered Anthony Randolph this weekend, so he can be helpful to open the court.
 
Credit Scanpix
 
Saras will need to give Mirotic a break on defense or introduce some innovative line-up as he did in Istanbul with Davies, Smits, Mirotic, and Hayes-Davis. More length, taking risks in the 1vs1... but also forcing the opponent to think in different defensive strategies.
 
Madrid has been extremely solid so far. It has won many games from the defense. Despite lacking freshness in some games, Laso is doing a great job once again.
 
He found a comfortable spot for Yabusele, one of the best additions of the season, and Heurtel is taking the ball in crunch time. The French guard was the key factor against Maccabi, and he will play again at Palau Blaugrana one year after leaving the Catalan club. 
 
In the only preceding game between them, at the Supercup, Madrid was able to overtake Barcelona in an incredible final rush. Let's see if this could be another mental factor and extra motivation for Barcelona's players, who may be thirsty for revenge. 
 
My bet is FC Barcelona. 
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2022-01-10
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