With only six rounds in the Top 16, every game takes on increased significance as the Round 1 winners look to forge forward and the Round 1 losers see seek to bounce back quickly. Let’s take a look at some of the main storylines to keep your eyes on this week.
Special night in Limoges
Emotions will be running mighty high in the Round 2 opener in Limoges on Tuesday night. It will be UNICS Kazan that comes to town, but the game will mark the club’s first home fixture since the sudden passing of French basketball legend and Limoges president Frederic Forte at the age of 47. Forte helped lead the club to a historic EuroLeague championship in 1993 as a player, then as his long playing career ended, served as a club president since 2004. He even took over as Limoges head coach for two years from 2006 to 2008 and led the club’s revival as Limoges rose from the French lower leagues to winning back-to-back French League titles in 2014 and 2015 and competing in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague after a long absence, too. As a long-time regular on the French national team, too, Forte will forever be remembered in the hearts of French basketball fans. It will be a very special night and a very special game in Limoges on Tuesday night.
In the shadow of those sad events, Limoges will also witness the return of Jamar Smith, who will face his former team for the first time since leading it in scoring in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague during the 2014-15 season. Smith, who won the 7DAYS EuroCup crown with Unicaja Malaga last season, played one season for Limoges, but it was a historic one. It was the season Limoges returned to the EuroLeague for the first time in 16 years. Smith led the team in scoring with 14 points per game as Limoges finished its EuroLeague journey in the regular season, but then went on to play one of the key roles in Limoges’s defense of the French League title. It is the last trophy Limoges has won to date. A pair of returns is set to take place in the German capital too when Galatasaray Odeabank Istanbul playmakers Alex Renfroe and Jordan Taylor return to face their former team, ALBA Berlin. Renfroe was a fan-favorite in 2014-15 when he was one of the leaders in on of ALBA’s most competitive EuroLeague season this century; the team made the Top 16 and registered a record 11 wins before missing the playoffs on a tiebreaker. Taylor was one of the key players for ALBA a season later and helped the team win its last trophy, the 2016 German Cup.
The Battle of Two Scorers
Two of the EuroCup’s best scorers, John Roberson of ASVEL Villeurbanne and Amadeo Della Valle of Grissin Bon Reggio Emilia, are set to square off in France. Della Valle is the EuroCup’s leading scorer this season with 19.1 points per game and has scored 20 or more points six times this season. That includes last week when he torched Limoges with 22 points on 4-for-5 three-point shooting. He added 9 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals for good measure. Roberson ranks third in scoring this season with an average of 17.6 per game. The ASVEL guard netted 20 points in an overtime loss at UNICS Kazan last week, and also had a good all-round performance with 7 assists and 4 steals. Roberson nailed 4 of 8 three-point shots a week after breaking a competition record by making 11 triples on 16 attempts. Roberson has five games of 20 or more points this season and has made at least 3 triples in a game eight times this season. With both currently playing on a high level, it will be quite a showdown.
Hot Italians in Cold Russia
In an interesting development, Round 2 on Wednesday features a pair of clashes that will see Italian teams travel to Russia. First in Group G, red-hot Dolomiti Energia Trento (1-0) face unbeaten Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar (1-0). Trento is on a five-game winning streak and is coming off a win over Cedevita Zagreb in which it came back from 18 points down. Lokomotiv, on the other hand, is 11-0 this season. If the hosts remain undefeated, it will mark only the fifth time in competition history a team opened a season with 12 consecutive wins. The last to have done it was Valencia Basket in the 2014-15 campaign. An hour and a half later in Group F, Zenit St. Petersburg (1-0) will welcome Fiat Turin (1-0), which is the only newcomer among the Top 16 teams. Zenit has now won three in a row and comes into this Round 2 contest with the third-best scoring offense, which averages 87.3 points per game and has scored at least 80 points in each of its 11 games this season. Fiat, on the other hand, is coming off a resounding 90-76 win over FC Bayern Munich, despite playing without its starting center and top rebounder Trevor Mbakwe, and despite veteran sharpshooter Sasha Vujacic connecting on only 2 of 11 three-point attempts. With so much room to improve and so much veteran leadership, Fiat is a very dangerous team.
Did You Know?
It’s been a long time coming for ASVEL and Reggio Emilia, who are set to square off for the first time in more than 12 years. In those two 2005-06 regular season meetings, the teams split home wins. Reggio Emilia won 82-66 behind 20 points from Ricky Minard, and ASVEL triumphed 81-73 in the game on its floor as Rickey Paulding netted 24 points. Darussafaka Istanbul (1-0) is set to host its first non-regular season game in the competition when Herbalife Gran Canaria (1-0) arrives. For Darussafaka, this is its third go in the competition, after playing in the 2002-03 and 2004-05 ULEB Cup and both previous times it did not get past the regular season. Two Adriatic League foes clash in the Croatian capital when Cedevita Zagreb (0-1) welcomes Buducnost VOLI Podgorica (0-1). It will be their first of three head-to-head meetings in the next four weeks and already their third clash this season, but first-ever in the EuroCup. Buducnost has won the last two road games against Cedevita.