Top 16 Round 3: The pressure ratchets up!
Round 3 of the EuroCup Top 16 starts with a pair of Tuesday encounters to begin the first of the middle-two rounds of the six-game stage. All the visiting teams in Round 3 will host their same opponents next week in Round 4, so this is where the serious battles for playoff implications take place. There is a possibility for first place to change hands in every group, especially in Group H, where the two undefeated teams tied for first place, Unicaja Malaga and Valencia Basket, meet head to head.
Group E action starts on Tuesday with a clash between Spanish League foes Herbalife Gran Canaria Las Palmas (0-2) and UCAM Murcia (1-1). No team has won more EuroCup games over the past two and a half season than Gran Canaria, so look for the team to come out hungry to revive its chances. Gran Canaria has been dominant this season before its recent slipups; Coach Quintana’s men led the Eurocup in scoring (90.4 ppg.) and steals (10.3 spg,), are tied for the most assists (21.6 apg.) and have committed the fewest turnovers (11.9). UCAM Murcia, which is led by one of this season’s top individual performers, Facundo Campazzo, plays an aggressive brand of basketball; It has made the most free throws (174) in the EuroCup this season and allowed the fewest offensive rebounds (8.3 per game). In their lone meeting in the Spanish League this season, Gran Canaria pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 57-76 road win. On Wednesday, Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar (2-0) hosts Montakit Fuenlabrada (1-1). While Lokomotiv is known for strong defense, Fuenlabrada has excelled with its outside shooting. Lokomotiv has made the fewest free throws (136) and second-fewest three-pointers (65) in the EuroCup, but is also one of only four teams allowing 75 points or less per game and has allowed the fewest rebounds (29.5). Fuenlabrada has made the second-most threes (106) at the second-best shooting accuracy (41.6%), but is worst in the competition at free throws (67.0%s).
FC Bayern Munich (2-0) looks to remain atop this group when Lietkabelis Panevezys (1-1) comes to town. This a game that could well come down to rebounding and taking care of the ball; Bayern has committed the most turnovers in the EuroCup with season (160), but Lietkabelis has made only 2 fewer! On the other hand, while Bayern is the EuroCup’s top-rebounding team (39.2 rpg), Lietkabelis is second-worst among Top 16 teams (31.2 rpg.) in that area. Bayern also stands out defensively for allowing the fewest points (71.4 ppg.) and lowest three-point accuracy (30.9%) to opponents. ratiopharm Ulm (0-2) will seek its first win against Khimki Moscow Region (1-1), which is third in scoring (89.0 ppg.) in the EuroCup. This will be the first ever game between these sides.
Round 3 opens with this Tuesday encounter between Nizhny Novgorod (1-1) and Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius (0-2). Rytas features a tough frontline, which has the team ranking best in offensive rebounds (13.3 rpg.), blocks (3.9 rpg.) and free throws attempted (230) this season but they will be challenged by a clever Nizhny side that is tied for the second-fewest blockks allowed (1.9 bpg.). That said, defense is not top on Nizhny’s agenda as it has allowed the second-most points (90 ppg.) in the competition. Wednesday’s first game will be in Russia, where Zenit St. Petersburg (1-1) takes on Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem (2-0). While Zenit is the EuroCup’s second-best team on offense (89.4 ppg.), Jerusalem is one of only five teams allowing less than 80 points per game this season. While Zenit stands out in guard play, leads the EuroCup with 115 three-pointers and is tied for the competition-lead in assists (21.6 apg.), it has also allowed the most rebounds (38.8). Jerusalem, whose balanced attack features nine players averaging at least 5 points per game, boasts the third-most accurate three-point shooting attack (40.7%) in the EuroCup.
There can be only one team with a perfect record in Group F after Round 3 and it will be either Unicaja Malaga (2-0) or Valencia Basket (0-2). This game could be a chess match as it features two Spanish teams that know each other well and two of the three best defenses in the competition. Valencia is ranked second with just 73.6 points allowed per game, while Unicaja is third at 74.8. Valencia has committed the second-fewest turnovers (12.2) in the EuroCup and is second in both free throws made (172) and accuracy (79.6%). Unicaja led by 1 after three quarters when these teams met earlier this season in the Spanish League, but Valencia scored 30 in the fourth quarter to win. Rebounding will be among the keys when ALBA Berlin (0-2) hosts Cedevita Zagreb (0-2). While ALBA is the worst rebounding team (29.3 rpg.) to reach the Top 16 and allows the most offensive boards in the competition (13.3), Cedevita is ranked second in rebounding (38.4 rpg.). ALBA has also allowed the most points so far (91.9 ppg.), but remains dangerous in part because it leads the EuroCup in three-point (41.7%) and free-throw accuracy.