Newcomers at this level
Both teams are shining in the Eurocup and only one of them will write an even better page in the club's history books. CAI Zaragoza needed three Eurocup seasons to advance to the eighthfinals for the first time. CAI had made it to the Last 32 in the last two seasons, but a combined 3-9 record stopped it from going further. This time, CAI won four Last 32 games – or more than it its last two seasons combined! Trento is in its first Eurocup season and qualified for the eighthfinals in style by winning a tough Last 32 group that featured more-experienced teams like Karsiyaka, Trabzonspor and Reggio Emilia. It is a golden opportunity for both teams!
Spain vs Italy in the Eurocup
History doesn't score baskets, but if you looked back and took that into account, CAI would be the heavy favorite. Every time a Spanish team has faced an Italian squad in a two-game Eurocup series, the Spaniards came out victorious. Estudiantes downed Eurocellulari Roseto Basket (on points) and Metis Varese (sweep) in the 2002-03 season. A year later, Joventut Badalona beat Breil Milan on points and Real Madrid swept Varese in the quarterfinals. Only once has a Spanish team faced an Italian squad at a higher stage; Cajasol Sevilla bested Benetton Treviso 63-75 in the 2011 semifinals. Spanish teams are 45-22 against Italian teams in Eurocup action, having won 19 of 22 showdowns over the last two seasons.
Frontcourt: old school vs new school
The outcome of this series will arguably depend on what goes on in the paint. Both teams rely on very different frontcourts and whoever is more loyal to its playing style will have an edge. CAI has improved with rock-solid center Slava Kravtsov (11.3 ppg., 6.8 rpg.) in the middle, who has become a great complement to Henk Norel (10.2 ppg., 4.9 rpg.). Both Kravtsov and Norel like to execute their moves in the paint and combine for just 1 three-point attempt this season. With Filipo Baldi Rossi sidelined, Trento relies on Davide Pascolo (14 ppg., 5.4 rpg.) and Julian Wright (13.8 ppg., 5.3 rpg.) at the frontcourt positions, with that duo combining for 49 three-point shots. Expect Trento to spread the floor and get their star big men involved.
Home is where the wins are
Both teams can claim they got this far in the competition due to their strength in front of their fans. Trento has a 6-2 home record in the Eurocup, but one of its losses came in Last 32 Round 6 against Trabzonspor Medical Park when the team was mathematically first in its group, and the other came against Bilbao Basket, which finished this Eurocup season with a whopping 7-1 road record. CAI has been equally strong at home, winning its last six games and only losing once against three-time Eurocup champion Valencia Basket, which was in the middle of a 28-game winning streak that kept the team unbeaten for more than 2 months. In order words, it is hard to win on the road in the Eurocup, but even more so in this series.
CAI shoots better, Trento shoots more
The addition of Kravtsov helped CAI dominate the boards in the Last 32 and rank second in total rebounds (39.2 rpg. to Trento's 34.2). Trento is well-known for putting a lot of pressure on the ball on defense and has the numbers to prove it. Indeed, Trento led the Last 32 in steals (10.3 spg. with CAI 20th at 6.3 spg.) and forced more turnovers than anyone else (19 per game). CAI was last at forcing turnovers, just 10.8 per game, in what could be a key to this series. Trento took 40 more two-point shots that CAI in the Last 32 (271-231) but shot just 47.6% from that range, with its opponent doing much better at 54.6%. Trento also struggled at the free throw line (68.6%, CAI 76.3%), which could be important if the series comes down to details.