By Aris Barkas/ [email protected]
Virtus Bologna hosts Bursaspor tonight (21.30 local time) in a game that will make history no matter what and will also help shape the future of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague.
If Monaco couldn’t make the EuroLeague playoffs, then both EuroCup contenders would have secured a spot in next season’s EuroLeague. But after Monaco made the playoffs, they also kept their spot as EuroCup entry to the EuroLeague also for next season, according to the competition bylaws.
So there can be only one new EuroCup entry and that’s why the stakes are more than high. And the contenders couldn’t be more different.
On one hand, there’s Virtus Bologna, a traditional Italian powerhouse that seeks to return to prominence.
Bologna was home to the 1966 EuroLeague Championship Game. More than 35 years later, another EuroLeague final was played in Bologna, this time in a best-of-five playoff format. Virtus, then known as Kinder Bologna, faced Tau Ceramica Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz and finally prevailed in Game 5 (82-74) having a team that included Antoine Rigaudeau, Manu Ginobili, and Marko Jaric.
In 2002, the city was the host of the EuroLeague Final Four with Panathinaikos upsetting the hosts in the final, which ended up being the last game of Ginobili in the competition before his jump to the NBA.
And 20 years later, having survived bankruptcy in 2003 and starting almost from scratch, Virtus with an all-star roster that includes among others Milos Teodosic, Marco Bellineli, Toko Shengelia, and Daniel Hackett has the chance in front of a sold-out gym to return to the EuroLeague.
On the other hand, Bursaspor, a club that was instituted just eight years ago, is a bonified cinderella story, getting full advantage of the new March-Madness-like EuroCup format and reaching the final after three straight road wins, including a huge upset against heavily favorited Partizan in Belgrade.
So not only the stakes are high, but after this game, we will get a clear picture of the teams which will compete in the EuroLeague next season.
There are in total 14 clubs that have a long-term license, including CSKA. Those are Real Madrid, Barcelona, Baskonia, Anadolu Efes, Fenerbahce, Zalgiris Kaunas, AX Armani Olimpia Milan, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Olympiacos, Panathinaikos, LDLC ASVEL, Bayern Munich and ALBA Berlin.
The winner of the EuroCup will also get one spot, leaving three wildcards up for grabs. It’s safe to assume that one of those three wildcards once more will end up in the hands of the ABA League champions.
For the other two, the prime candidates include Partizan, Valencia, and also Virtus Bologna. However, at this point, it’s also a logical assumption that the final number of wildcards may end up being four since the EuroLeague future of CSKA is in question for next season. Despite the report about the possibility of CSKA losing its license, a possible scenario is for CSKA to stay part of the joint venture between EuroLeague and IMG, even if they are suspended for next season due to the war with Ukraine.
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