Regular Season Round 9: Decision time!
As we enter the penultimate round of the 7DAYS EuroCup regular season, there is much attention focused on Group B, where four teams are engaged in a battle for three open spots in the Top 16. And in the other three groups, there is still much to fight for as teams try to rank as high as possible before the Top 16.
Lietkabelis Panevezys (3-4) plays its final regular season game against group leader Herbalife Gran Canaria Las Palmas (5-1), which can clinch first place with a win. If Lietkabelis loses, it will finish the regular season in fourth place. Gran Canaria (96.5 ppg.) boasts the EuroCup’s top-ranked offense, with an average of 17.5 points scored per game more than Lietkabelis. Granca also leads the EuroCup in steals (9.8 spg.). The fans of winless MZT Skopje Aerodrom (0-6) will bid farewell to the competition for this season when their club hosts Nizhny Novgorod (3-3). A victory for the visitors would not only secure at least a third-place finish, but would give Coach Stalbergs’s men a shot at second when they host Cedevita Zagreb (5-2) in Round 10. Cedevita is idle in Round 9.
It can’t get much closer than this group, where one game separates second-place Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius (3-3) from fifth-place RETAbet Bilbao Basket (2-4). The key game wees RETAbet face fellow Spanish side Montakit Fuenlabrada (3-3). Fuenlabrada has yet to win on the road, but a victory in Bilbao would not only propel it to the Top 16, but also bring Rytas and ALBA Berlin (3-4) too. Thanks to marksmen like Rolands Smits and Pako Cruz, Fuenlabrada leads all teams in three-point accuracy (42.4%), which could be key to its chances. Rtyas, which has won three in a row – all of which were at home – will look to remain undefeated at home when it hosts ALBA Berlin (3-4). A victory would send Rytas to the next phase regardless of other scores. There will be an interesting battle inside where the EuroCup’s second-ranked scorer, Elmedin Kikanovic (21.3 ppg.), squares off against the EuroCup’s top-two rebounders: Drew Gordon (11.2 rpg) and Arturas Gudaitis (9 rpg.). ALBA has allowed more points than any other team (94.3 ppg.) and must reduce that number to enhance its chances in the Lithuanian capital.
Two Spanish League foes duel when Unicaja Malaga (3-3) hosts UCAM Murcia (4-3). Unicaja can still finish as high as second in the group, but will be fourth if it loses. For UCAM, this will be the final game of the regular season. Buducnost VOLI Podgorica (0-6) will make its final EuroCup appearance at home this season when Zenit St Petersburg (4-2) comes to town. Zenit is led by the competition’s top scorer, Ryan Toolson (24.4 ppg.), and its top assist man, Stefan Markovic (11 apg.), controls its own destiny in the fight for first place. Zenit will finish ahead of FC Bayern Munich (5-2), which has a Round 9 bye, if it wins both of its remaining games.
Union Olimpija Ljubljana (1-6) will bow out of the EuroCup after facing group leader Valencia Basket (5-1). The visitors need to win to remain atop the group, since Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem (4-2) owns the head-to-head tiebreaker between them. There could be some interesting action in the Slovenian capital because both Valencia (8.8 spg.) and Olimpija (8 spg.) are among the EuroCup leaders in steals. However, while Valencia has allowed the fewest points in the competition (70.2 ppg.) and committed the second-fewest turnovers (11.7 per game), Olimpija has chalked up the second most turnovers (16.6 per game). Jerusalem faces a tough test when it visits Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar (2-4) in a clash of former competition champs. A Jerusalem victory would mean Lokomotiv finishes the regular season in fourth place. Lokomotiv guard Matt Janning played for Jerusalem last season and will get to welcome some of his former teammates.