Group G features two former EuroCup champions, Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem of Israel and Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius of Lithuania, in addition to Group C winner Zenit St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod, both from Russia.
If we look at 15 clubs with the most games played in the competition since 2013, nine of those teams are featured in the Top 16 this season. Among them are all four from Group G. Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius is a two-time champion, with titles in 2005 and 2009, and Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem is the 2004 champion. Both teams have another semifinals appearance to boot, as does Nizhny Novgorod which reached that stage in 2014. Zenit might never have gotten past the eighthfinals, but its 27-17 EuroCup record over the past four seasons, including this one, says plenty about the company it keeps.
Regular season leaders clash here!
No Top 16 group features as productive a bunch of players as Group G. It starts with their overall contributions, where Zenit's point guard Stefan Markovic is the competition leader with an average performance index rating (PIR) of 22. Rytas veteran guard David Logan ranks third in that category (20.8 PIR), Nizhny Novgorod backcourt threat DeAndre Kane is fourth with 20.1, and Rytas big man Arturas Gudaitis fifth with an average PIR of 19.6. The domination of players from the four Group G clubs does not stop there. Zenit sniper Ryan Toolson is the EuroCup's top scorer with 23.7 points per night. Logan is the third-best scorer (18.1 ppg.), Nizhny forward Janis Timma ranks fourth (18 ppg.) and Jerusalem guard Curtis Jerrells is enters the Top 16 as the fifth-best scorer, averaging 17.1 points per night. Markovic is also the runaway assists leader after the regular season (10.3 apg.) and Logan is fourth (6.8 apg.). Rytas has the two best rebounders in the competition, with Drew Gordon posting 10 boards per night, and Gudaitis collecting 8.3 on average. Kane, even though he is a guard, ranks third in rebounding with 7.6 per game. Gudaitis leads the league in blocks (2), and on that chart, Jerusalem forward Amar'e Stoudemire is fourth, blocking 1.3 shots per contest.
Starters (not) set in stone
Jerusalem is one of only two teams that had the luxury of starting three players – Curtis Jerrell, Bar Timor and Amar’e Stoudamire – in each game so far this season. Coach Simone Pianigiani used only four other players in his starting lineups. Rytas coach Tomas Pacesas has had two players – David Logan and Drew Gordon – play in every single game from the opening tip-off. Pacesas has used a short rotation throughout the regular season, and has given minutes to only 11 players so far. Meanwhile, the other two teams in the group have taken – not always by choice – an opposite approach. While Jerusalem had three players start each game, Zenit has only three players that played in each regular season game, and no player has started more than six games. While Rytas had only 11 players appear in EuroCup games so far, Nizhny had 13 different starters in eight games. Both Zenit head coach Vasily Karasev and Nizhny Novgorod Coach Stalbergs have used 16 different players up to this point, and the two teams combined have featured 24 different starters. Even though it worked for them so far, both teams hope to find more stability – and avoid injuries – in the next stage of the competition.
Relying on experience – and age
With his next appearance, Zenit playmaker Stefan Markovic is set to become only the fifth player in competition history to play in 100 games. Markovic, who is still only 28 years old, is one of a few key veterans on a young Zenit’s team, along with 31-year old Toolson and a 30-year old big man Kyle Landry. Markovic and Toolson have carried that team, as much as Logan carried Rytas. The point guard, who turned 34 years old this week, leads the team in points, assists and minutes played. Nizhny depends on its young core of players arguably more than any other team in the competition, as it does not have a single player in his 30s. Still, four of team’s five oldest players – Kane, Kenny Boynton, Siim-Sander Vene and Petr Gubanov –are the only players that average double-digits in scoring. However, no team depends on its veteran core as much as Hapoel Jerusalem. Stoudamire, Lior Eliyahu, Yotam Halperin, Tarence Kinsey, Dijon Thompson and Travis Peterson are all in their 30s, and the team’s top scorer Jerrells will turn 30 before the end of the Top 16. And each of them is an important cog in Jerusalem’s system.