Paul Nilsen is a freelance basketball journalist writing for various websites and publications across Europe.
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Another EuroLeague Women regular season is in the history books and the final week of action didn't disappoint as several clubs kept us guessing right up until the last moments.
TANTALISING FOR TARGOVISTE
Yes, it's been a truly tantalising season for Targoviste who have reached for both the self-destruct button and flirted with success in a big way during a spectacularly bumpy first season back in the tournament after a long absence.
Eventually, it was success rather than self-destruction which prevailed and credit for that goes to the lengthy list of players who have made a contribution, to head coach Florin Nini and of course to George Dikeoulakos who was responsible for overseeing three of the four wins which allowed them to scrape into the post-season.
It's a real boost for Romanian women's basketball that they made it to the play-offs and a big accomplishment to shoot down group leaders Good Angels Kosice in front of their ecstatic and noisy supporters. They will be huge underdogs against Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje, but they would have probably been fine with their current scenario at the start of the season.
Incidentally, Good Angels Kosice has had an incredible season, but one of the last teams I would want to play right now is Avenida - a team with huge momentum and new-found confidence. I suppose Kosice will be confident with home advantage in the series, although that sloppy Targoviste loss could return to haunt them and that would be a shame after such a great four or five months.
TURNING THE CORNER (AGAIN)
|Jelena Skerovic and ZVVZ USK Prague recovered from a horror start to the season, assuring a play-off berth|
As the curtain fell on the regular season action, I couldn't help but cast my mind back to near the start of the campaign when the (relatively) mighty ZVVZ USK Prague and Wisla Can-Pack were both in turmoil at a combined 0-6. The big question at the time was whether they would both be able to turn the corner and make the play-offs?
Now they have of course, answered this question. But, having turned the corner once, I feel both teams now have another corner to turn.
In the case of Prague, I guess being paired with Galatasaray doesn't feel like too much of a reward, although it isn't exactly mission impossible. The improved defence of Prague must be sustained to stand any chance of the upset and this is the corner they must turn. Playing improved defence against Mondeville is one thing, but now they have up to three games when they have to continue in this vein.
Wisla meanwhile have to add some consistency to their game and to their season. It's effectively knockout time now and to get past a useful Bourges team, they need to really deliver and can't afford any lapses. It could be a really tight and defensively orientated series, meaning errors and off nights will be punished even more than normal. This one is far too close to call.
INSIDE PRESENCE FELT
Someone asked me to choose my ‘Team Of The Regular Season' but I just found it absolutely impossible if I am honest, due to the sheer number of outstanding contributions. I initially considered the four and five spots first and quickly appreciated the wonderful performances we have had under the hoop this season.
What about Tina Charles who exploded back onto the EuroLeague Women stage with Wisla and went on to land a string of MVP accolades? Candace Parker is (or was) having one of her best seasons in the competition; Jantel Lavender at Famila Schio has torn it up in a big way; and you have to really love the debut season of rookie Nnemkadi Ogwumike. There are also those players who have had great individual seasons even if their team hasn't, such as Melisa Can at Tarsus.
Don't even get me started on the wings and the guards!
PLAY-OFF PAIRINGS REACTION
|Jenifer Nadalin and Famila Schio need to stop their current rot if they are to advance to the Final Eight|
It's nice to look forward in Paulball as well as reflecting. My initial reaction to the play-off pairings are, as you might expect, fuelled by anticipation and excitement. The starting point is perhaps concerned with whether any so-called shocks may materialise and I think that looks unlikely, but you just never know - even in a three-game series.
When we all sit and have a bit of fun trying to predict the eventual line-up for the Final Eight in Ekaterinburg, we probably focus too heavily on the personnel involved, statistics and key match-ups.
I'm a firm believer that the dynamics of chemistry and momentum are significant factors in basketball, with the latter sometimes overlooked ahead of the post-season.
Teams like Avenida and CCC Polkowice have considerable momentum behind them and this should be cautiously noted by their opponents. Players at each of these clubs will feel that it's now their time to punch a ticket for Ekat because of the way they have been playing in the last month and due to the confidence and belief they now have.
Other teams like Schio for example, have been on a real skid lately and therefore must pull the situation around. There have of course been mitigating factors in their mini-slump, and perhaps the lure of successive Final Eight appearances will provide the spark to re-ignite their season.
However, turning good performances and wins back on like a tap, isn't the reality of the situation. Those teams finishing the regular season on a lower ebb than they might have liked, must now take on the considerable challenge of wrestling back the momentum and making sure the pendulum swings back in their favour.
It's going to be an absorbing play-off season.