Eight teams are vying for the same prize this week, a place in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Top 16, but the stakes are not as high for all of them.
|Fenerbahce Ülker hold their fate in their own hands, as they only need a win to go through to the Last 16|
Fenerbahce Ulker began the season as one of the favourites to go all the way and are the contender that stands to lose the most, should it fail to advance to the next phase of Europe's elite competition.
The Istanbul powerhouse play host to Mapooro Cantu on Thursday in Regular Season Group A and the side that emerges victorious will clinch fourth spot in the group and the coveted ticket to the Top 16.
The historic Italian club had to go through the qualification round to earn the right to play in the Regular Season.
A Cantu win on Thursday would constitute a huge step in their renaissance process and provide everyone in the basketball-crazy north Italian town with a fantastic excuse for a party.
But it could be a devastating blow for Fenerbahce.
The Turkish giants went back to the drawing board in the summer, after failing to even reach the play-offs last season, when the Final Four was held in Istanbul.
Once again, they invested heavily, and they opted to go for tried and tested solutions.
They handed the reins of the team to Simone Pianigiani, the architect of Montepaschi Siena's mini-imperium on Italian soil over the past decade and head coach of the national team.
Pianigiani brought in two top players that played under him with excellent results at Siena.
EuroBasket 2011 All Tournament Team member Bo McCalebb, provided true star power at the point guard position and center David Andersen, who has won Euroleague titles with Virtus Bologna and CSKA Moscow, brought experience and quality in the frontcourt.
Fener then added the cherry on top by signing Euroleague title multi-winner Mike Batiste and winger Romain Sato, who had been there and done that with Panathinaikos.
The new recruits joined on the roster a formidable core of players that includes the likes of Turkish international Emir Preldzic, Omer Onan, Kaya Peker and Oguz Savas, along with Croatian sharp-shooting prodigy Bogdan Bogdanovic.It is a team built to win titles and things are looking fine so far in the Turkish BEKO Ligi where Fener are tied at the top with Galatasaray, but it has not paid dividends in the Euroleague.
Fenerbahce have won four of their first nine games in the group, with an average output of 70.1 points per-game despite not lacking in weapons on offence.
They slumped to a 69-55 defeat at Panathinaikos in Week 8 action, their lowest mark on the offensive end in the last four seasons.
Perhaps more worryingly, especially for a team of their size, they collect a mere 28.8 rebounds per-contest, the worst in this respect in the entire competition.
To make things even worse, local rivals Abadolu Efes and Besiktas have already punched their respective tickets to the Top 16 and like their chances of advancing further.
As ever in professional sport however, a win on Thursday could cover all the weaknesses and perhaps even spur this excellent team to a run that takes them all the way to the Final Four in London
|Vladimir Lucic and Partizan Belgrade are still in the mix for the Last 16, but have to hope the result of Besiktas-Rytas works in their favour|
BAMBERG, PARTIZAN OR VILNIUS?
In Regular Season Group D, Partizan mt:s Belgrade, Bamberg and Lietuvos Rytas all remain in the fight to claim the fourth and final ticket to the next round.
If Bamberg, who take on Partizan at home win, they will claim the spot. However, should they lose and Partizan win, they will watch the remainder of the tournament from their living rooms, whilst Partizan will claim the spot, as long as Lietuvos Rytas lose. Should Lietuvos Rytas and Partizan win, then Lietuvos Rytas will advance at the expense of the other two.
The German champions were certainly hoping to finally break into the Top 16 this season, but at the same time they are aware of the limitations of their budget, compared to those of the established European powerhouses.
If Bamberg fall on Thursday, they will dust themselves off and concentrate on retaining the domestic title and then return next year to the Euroleague with renewed aspirations.
For the young Partizan side, advancing to the Top 16 would be an unexpected gift after a poor start to the competition but, if they fail, the project of the club and Dusko Vujosevic will continue along the exact same solid lines.
The veteran coach has under his orders the youngest roster in the Euroleague and with the experience his players have accumulated this season, fighting against the likes of Barcelona and CSKA Moscow as equals, they will return as a force to be reckoned with next year.
The team that is ready to pick up the slack in case Partizan beats Brose Baskets in Germany, is Lietuvos Rytas.
The Lithuanians however have to pull off a feat that is by no means minor and beat Besiktas in Istanbul, a team that defeated them in the reverse fixture in Vilnius.
That said, the Turkish 2012 EuroChallenge Champions have already qualified to the Top 16 and have no extra motivation, as they will finish third in the group regardless of what happens on Thursday
|Maciej Lampe and his Caja Laboral teammates will advance if they beat Cedevita at home|
CAJA LABORAL, MILANO OR CEDEVITA?
In Group C, Caja Laboral Vitoria got off to such an uncharacteristically poor start that just two weeks ago even their most faithful fans thought their European campaign was over.
The club replaced long-serving coach Dusko Ivanovic with Zan Tabak and won two-in-a-row, but even if they miss out on the Top 16 now, their demanding fanbase will not be demoralised, and is prepared to see the whole affair as a chance to focus on the race for the Spanish ACB title.
The Basque side is playing host to Cedevita Zagreb and simply need to win, by any margin, to complete their unlikely comeback.
The Croats on the other hand, have only a slim chance of staying alive as they need to win by at least 36 points to see them sitting favourably in a three-way tie.
If Caja Laboral succeed, it will be at the expense of EA7 Emporio Armani Milano.
The Italians started this season with the double target of dethroning Montepaschi Siena in Serie A and reach, if not the Final Four, at least the play-offs of the Euroleague.
While certainly abandoning their European goal so early in the season would be a huge disappointment, Milano are off to such a troubling start to their domestic season that they are quickly adapting to the idea they might have to rearrange their priorities.
Milano have failed to find their rhythm on either front and are in eighth place in the Italian league standings with a 6-5 record.
They have only won three of their nine games in the Euroleague, but if they take advantage of the relative indifference of reigning champions Olympiacos, who have already qualified, and perform close to their true potential, they can clinch the win in Greece.
It will not be enough to qualify if Caja Laboral defeat Cedevita at home, but it will be a first indication this season that they are heading in the right direction and might help them bounce back domestically.