Euroleague enters second stage

Panathinaikos, Olympiakos and Aris continue their Euroleague quests this week with opening games in Europe’s premier club-level basketball competition second-stage group play. Panathinaikos, through to the Top 16 as one of the tournament’s strongest performers with an 11-3 record and first place in its group, hosts Efes Pilsen on Thursday. The Turkish club – drawn in Group F with Panathinaikos as well as Barcelona and Prokom – proved an omen for Olympiakos in the first stage with wins in Greece and Turkey that severely hampered the Piraeus team’s bid for top spot in its group. Olympiakos lost just two more of its 14 group games for a 10-4 record and third place, which affected its seeding for the second stage’s draw. Efes Pilsen appears to relish playing in Greece. Besides its recent win here against Olympiakos, the Turkish team also defeated Panathinaikos in Athens last season when the clubs clashed in the Euroleague’s second stage of group play. Panathinaikos, however, struck back in Istanbul for victory and a better head-to-head record. Efes Pilsen, which reached this season’s second stage with an 8-6 record, is a well-balanced team. Based on a statistical analysis of the competition’s first stage of play, Efes Pilsen is ranked 11th. Olympiakos, which begins its second-stage campaign on Wednesday, away, against Partizan Belgrade, should, theoretically, face a stiffer challenge than Panathinaikos on opening night. The Serbian club, which sneaked through to the second stage of play as the first round’s sixth-placed team with the best record – the other 15 advanced with top-five placings in three groups – is the Euroleague’s youngest club. Aris, opening its quest Thursday in Group G as Dynamo Moscow’s host, will need to deal with two of the Russian team’s Greek stars, Antonis Fotsis and Lazaros Papadopoulos. The young Russians made the Top 16 boasting one of the first stage’s most solid records. The top two teams from the second stage’s four groups advance to the quarterfinals.