Every team starts from scratch with zero wins and zero losses before Round 1 of the Top 16. Let’s take a look at some of the main storylines to keep your eyes on.
Aito back in Gran Canaria
ALBA Berlin head coach Aito Garcia Reneses travels to face Herbalife Gran Canaria, the last club he coached before taking over ALBA last summer. Aito was at Gran Canaria for two seasons, in 2014-15 and 2015-16 campaigns. He took those teams to the 2015 EuroCup finals and was named as 2015 EuroCup Coach of the Year. A year later, he guided Gran Canaria to the semifinals. The veteran coach knows the team well, as there are six current Gran Canaria players who remain from Aito’s time there and they all have significant roles, each of them playing at least 16 minutes per game this season: Albert Oliver, D.J. Seeley, Eulis Baez, Anzejs Pasecniks, Oriol Pauli and Pablo Aguilar. Another coach going into familiar territory is Sasa Obradovic, who takes his undefeated Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar to visit Buducnost VOLI Podgorica, a team he played one season for at the turn of the century. Obradovic played for Buducnost in the EuroLeague in 2000-01 and helped the Montenegrin powerhouse win its first-ever domestic double-crown. It was a mighty Buducnost team back then, featuring the likes of Igor Rakocevic, Dejan Milojevic and Dejan Tomasevic.
An All-Turkish delight
All signs point to an exciting derby in Istanbul on Tuesday when Galatasaray Odeabank hosts Darussafaka and regular season MVP and leading scorer Scottie Wilbekin. The two teams obviously know a lot about each other and Darussafaka has beaten Galatasaray in their last four meetings, including a 69-67 decision in October of this season behind 22 points from JaJuan Johnson and 16 from Wilbekin. Darussafaka also enters the Top 16 as its regular season group winner, however, their previous meetings or the status they carry over from the regular season are not much of an indication what to expect in their Top 16 opener. Galatasaray is a totally different team compared to last season, and they are even a much different squad than the one from October. Coach Ermal Kunter’s men have been on a tear in the EuroCup recently with an active four-game winnings streak and all five of its EuroCup wins having come in the last six rounds. Four of those wins have been by double digits; the average margin of victory for Galatasaray in the EuroCup is 13.8 points. Darussafaka sports the third-best record in the competition, but Galatasaray intends to continue on its streak.
What will Roberson do next?
Apart from Lokomotiv’s 10 wins in a row, the second-longest winning streak belongs to ASVEL Villeurbanne, which has now won five straight and travels across the continent to face UNICS Kazan. The last of ASVEL’s wins in Round 10 was a EuroCup all-time classic in which ASVEL point guard John Roberson set the single-game competition record by hitting 11 three-pointers (on only 16 attempts). He also tied the mark for the fourth-most points scored in a EuroCup game with 42, all of which came in the second half and three overtimes to lead his team to 128-129 road win at Gran Canaria. Roberson already once made 8 triples in a game this season, and also set the competition record for most threes in the regular season with 42. He is 21 triples shy of catching Chris Lofton, who holds the single-season record with 63 threes from 2013-14 season. Roberson would need 3.5 triples per Top 16 game to catch that mark before the end of this stage. He has made 4.2 per contest so far.
Some firsts, and not so firsts
In 241 games combined in the competition, UNICS and ASVEL have never faced each other before in EuroCup action, but they do have one official meeting between them from the final round of the 2014 EuroLeague Qualifying tournament, which UNICS won. ASVEL will visit Kazan for the first time in club history, similar to Fiat Turin, which will play its first-ever official game against a German team when it welcomes FC Bayern Munich. Fiat will also play its first-ever Top 16 game, as the only EuroCup newcomer still in the field and the only team that previously has not played in the second stage of the competition. On the other hand, Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius and Zenit St. Petersburg will meet for the third consecutive season in EuroCup action. Rytas won the last game, in Vilnius in February of last season, after Zenit won the first three. Other teams that have played before in the EuroCup are Gran Canaria and ALBA, which traded home wins in the 2015-16 regular season; and Lokomotiv and Buducnost who play in Podgorica. Lokomotiv will go for its third win in the Montenegrin capital after its 54-72 win in the 2013 quarterfinals and a 63-77 victory in a regular season visit in 2014. Of the current players on two teams, Buducnost playmaker Nikola Ivanovic played in the 2013 loss and swingman Suad Sehovic took part in the 2014 loss.
Streaks, Records & Milestones
Last week one of the longest EuroLeague streaks was broken when Kyle Kuric did not make a three-point shot for the first time in 41 EuroCup games. The new longest streak now belongs to Jamar Smith of UNICS, who has scored at least 1 three-pointer in each of his last 28 EuroCup games. Next behind him is Sasha Vujacic of Fiat Turin who has hit at least one three-pointer in 18 EuroCup consecutive games, which dates back to 2002-03 season. Albert Oliver of Gran Canaria has made his last 39 free throw attempts in EuroCup action; the last time he has missed a free throw was in Round 6 of the regular season – last year. This week UNICS is set to become only the third team to score at least 13,000 points in the competition; it stands at 12,962 going into the Top 16. And Galatasaray will become one of 15 teams to reach the 7,000-point mark; it stands at 6,974 going into the game against Darussafaka. Meanwhile, last week ASVEL tied the EuroCup single-game record with 20 three-pointers made and is averaging a league-best 11.2 triples per contest. There have been only five teams in competition history that have averaged more than 11 triples per game for an entire season, and only two – Dinamo Sassari (11.67 per game) in 2013-14 and Avtodor Saratov (11.25) in 2015-16 – did so while playing in at least 10 games.