Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Dominant FC Barcelona Eyes First Football-Basketball European Cup Double

With the stunning four-goal performance by Lionel Messi against Arsenal on Tuesday, FC Barcelona is within striking distance of becoming the first club to win the European Cup in both soccer and basketball in the same year, as they have advanced to the semifinals in both football's Champions League and basketball's Euroleague.

Barça are heavy odds-on favorites to take home trophies in both sports, as lists them with 9-10 odds to win the Champions League (followed by Inter Milan at 4-1 and Manchester United at 5-1), and with 7-10 odds to win the Euroleague Final Four (a strong Olympiacos team is next at 5-2).

Indeed, both FC Barcelona teams have been dominant this season. I should say that I understand this to be the case in soccer as I can't claim any expertise in the sport. I defer to lifelong football fan Steve Nash, who retweeted this note from reporter Oliver Kay of The Times last week, with commentary of his own:
    RT @oliverkaytimes: my Dad, very good judge, said this Barca team play best football he's seen since "Total Football" Dutch of 70s.([Nash:] mine too)
I can speak to the basketball side of the club, as this Barcelona team has the potential to be the best European club I've seen since I started watching Euroleague basketball in earnest in 2002.

With an 18-2 cumulative record in Euroleague play, FC Barcelona - should they win the Final Four - would establish the best overall record in Euroleague play since the current format was created in 2000-01 following the FIBA/ULEB split.

Further, Barcelona leads the Spanish ACB with a 26-2 record, and also went 3-0 to win the Copa Del Rey in February. That means that the Barça basketball team is a stunning 47-4 overall this season. What's more, of the four losses, two were by 1 point, and another one was by 2 points. They are four points away from being 50-1!

Two main obstacles stand in the way of the basketball team at this point. One is an Olympiacos team which is stacked in its own right, with the likes of Josh Childress, Linas Kleiza, Milos Teodosic and Yiannis Bourossis. My fingers are crossed for a titanic Barcelona-Olympiacos matchup in the final.

The other is the ridiculous system of egalitarian minute distribution which is often custom in European basketball. You may have seen it in the Olympic final in Beijing, when it may have cost Spain a gold medal, as Pau Gasol played just 28 minutes even though the U.S. struggled mightily to contain him.

Barcelona coach Xavier Pascual uses a guard rotation of Ricky Rubio, Juan Carlos Navarro, Gianluca Basile, Jaka Lakovic and sometimes Victor Sada, plus swingman Roger Grimau, who gets a little time at the 2.

This insane system limits the court time of the two best guards on the team by far - Rubio and Navarro.

And it is Gianluca Basile who especially stinks. Basile led the Italian national team to the silver medal in 2004 when he was 29 years old, but now he is 35 and he has flat-out stunk in Euroleague play.

Basile is averaging 4.3 points and 0.8 assists in 18 minutes per game in Euroleague play, shooting a robust 30% from the floor. His advanced numbers show a PER of 5.0 and a 44% true shooting percentage. Just awful across the board.

Yet, Pascual continues to trot him out there as if he's on par with Rubio and Navarro. Here's the guard minute breakdown for Barcelona's 67-66 loss to Partizan in the Top 16 stage:
    Basile 29
    Lakovic 24
    Rubio 21
    Navarro 19
    Grimau 6
Here it is for Game 2 of the best-of-5 Euroleague quarterfinal series vs. Real Madrid, which Barça lost 70-63:
    Navarro 23
    Basile 19
    Rubio 17
    Sada 12
    Lakovic 11
    Grimau 11
And here it is for Game 4 vs. Madrid, which Barcelona won 84-78 to win the series 3-1, though they were perilously close to blowing the game and facing a winner-take-all Game 5:
    Navarro 25
    Basile 23
    Rubio 23
    Lakovic 17
    Grimau 12
    Sada 1
This game was especially crazy as Basile had 6 points on 2-7 shooting, with 0 rebounds and 0 assists, while Rubio and Navarro combined for 40 points in 48 minutes. Rubio shot more FTs (11) in this game alone than Basile's earned (8) in 16 Euroleague games played!

Coach Pascual is keeping these games unnecessarily close by treating a washed-up Basile as if he is a peer of Rubio and Navarro. Barcelona is so overwhelming talented that they've survived to date, but against a team as good as Olympiacos or even CSKA Moscow, their semifinal opponent, they may not be so fortunate if Pascual sticks with this insanity.

Lakovic can be effective in providing scoring punch off the bench, but that's it. It should be a three-guard rotation of Rubio, Navarro and Lakovic, period, with the majority of the minutes going to Ricky and Juan Carlos.

It may be the European way, and I may just not understand it, but I'm sorry, it's still a losing strategy to send Basile out there for so many unproductive minutes.

We'll see what happens on May 7-9, when the Euroleague Final Four takes place in Paris. I can't wait. By then, we'll know if FC Barcelona's football team has booked a spot in the May 22 Champions League final in Madrid; their semifinal legs vs. Inter Milan take place on April 20 and 28.

Perhaps 22-year-old Lionel Messi and 19-year-old Ricky Rubio will both reign atop their respective sports in Europe.


At 4:05 AM, Blogger Cucharadepalo said...

It's true that he's shotting awful this year, and that he has more playing time than he deserves by this standards, but he's a very agressive and experienced defender and he's normally paired to the best rival guard. You know this is highly appreciated by european coaches. Sada's only reason to be in this roster is that also…

At 4:06 AM, Blogger Cucharadepalo said...

I was talking of Basile in the previous comment

At 9:23 AM, Blogger Not That Much, Really said...

I think one of the main reasons for the larger minutes distribution is that there are way less tv timeouts and less timeouts used by the teams. You definitely get a lot more tired when you can't get a 3 minute rest once every 5 minutes.

Granted, there could still be a better minutes distribution between the players who don't suck, but if you're wondering why the stars don't play much more than 25 mins in international ball that could be a big reason.

At 3:19 AM, Anonymous warsaw said...

I agree with the first poster.

Basile can defend the 2 better than anybody else in the team, while Navarro leaves plenty of holes and has a fragile body to defend. He also has high IQ and decent ball handling.

Basile's low fg% is the product of him only shooting 3s

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