In Israel on Thursday evening (7:05pm UK), Maccabi Tel Aviv tip off their 2022-23 EuroLeague campaign,in hopes of turning in another strong regular season squaring off against Lithuanian side Žalgiris.
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Maccabi Tel Aviv team news
Maccabi Tel Aviv’s dominance in Israeli basketball is positively astounding. In the 69 seasons in which the Israeli Basketball Premier League has existed, 55 have ended with Maccabi as champions. Over the same time span, they’ve won the Israeli Cup 45 times. The Israeli Basketball League Cup is a model of parity by comparison, with Maccabi having won the competition just eight of the 17 times it’s been contested.
Unlike some of the other teams that we see in the EuroLeague (like, perhaps, the one further down the page here), Maccabi have been able to translate that domestic dominance into EuroLeague success. Six times the club has won Europe’s premier club basketball competition (including four times this century, most recently in 2013/14), with a further nine second-placed finishes, and 12 appearances in the Final Four – though also not since 2014.
During last season’s EuroLeague regular campaign, Maccabi looked as though they were setting the stage for a return to Europe’s top tier. In 28 regular season games, they posted an excellent 17-11 record, earning them the fifth seed, and was only a game worse than that of the #4 seed (and their first round playoff opponents), Real Madrid. However, come playoff time, a gulf in class was evident, as Madrid cruised past the Israeli champs by margins of 10 and 29 points in the best of five series’ opening two games in Spain, before going to Israel and securing the sweep with a comfortable nine-point win.
Despite some massive turnover on the roster, Maccabi still boasts an excellent lineup, with starters from premier NCAA programs including Kentucky, LSU Notre Dame, Vanderbilt and North Carolina State, features three players (guards Lorenzo Brown and Wade Baldwin IV, and power forward Jarrell Martin) who played multiple seasons in the NBA, and still features
New York-born veteran sharpshooter, John DiBartolomeo, who’s been a major contributor domestically for the better part of a decade, winning the Israeli league regular season and cup MVP awards in 2017, and the Israeli League Final for MVP in 2019.
Whether last season’s unceremonious EuroLeague playoff exit says more about just how good Real Madrid was (there were, after all, domestic champions and lost the EuroLeague final by a single point) or speaks to some Champions League-esque structural imbalance is impossible to say definitively. Whatever the case there, this Maccabi team is loaded with talent and a championship pedigree, and looks, if nothing else, extremely well-equipped to handle undermanned opposition throughout the regular season. Thursday night’s opener is one of these occasions.
Žalgiris team news
As tends to be the case in major European competition in other sports (the Champions League in football, for instance), the representatives from the smaller, less-resourced nations and leagues tend to be hilariously dominant on the home front. Lithuantian club Žalgiris’ case is no different. This is a side that prior to 1994 won 11 Lithuanian Championships (the name of the top flight title in Lithuania prior to the fall of the Soviet Union), and have won 23 of the 30 Lithuanian League titles contested since, including the last 11 in a row.
Like many of those domestically dominant Champions League clubs, though Žalgiris has made an impact on the European stage, that impact completely pales in comparison to that of their domestic work, and is largely non-existent in the recent past. Unsurprisingly, during the mid-1980s glory days of Arvydas Sabonis, Žalgiris reached the EuroLeague final in 1985-86, and made it to the semifinals the following season. In this more recent era, Žalgiris has reached the EuroLeague Final Four twice, once in 1998/99, when they actually won the competition, and most recently in 2017-18, when they finished third. There was absolutely no shame in any of this – it simply underlines the challenge in translating the dominance that comes with being the biggest big fish in a small pond into something greater.
A year ago, in the midst of monumental turnover at the club, Žalgiris posted not only the joint-worst regular season record in the EuroLeague, but the club’s worst record since 1990. With all due respect to Lithuania’s preeminent side, given the lack of stability, financial resources and even one transcendent talent on the roster, it’s tough to see them outperforming that this time around.