Though several teams have gotten off to a fast start in this season's 7DAYS EuroCup, it is too early to make any firm predictions about which teams will make it to the 2019 EuroCup Finals. However, there are still some things to be learned from looking at the teams that have made it there in the past. What it took for them to make it to the competition's biggest stage can provide a clue as to which 2018-19 teams area headed in the right direction.
Offensive Firepower as a Route to the EuroCup Finals
The EuroCup has had no shortage of prolific, efficient offensive teams in recent years. 25 different teams over the last eight seasons have eclipsed the 1-point per possession threshold — a universal standard for offensive excellence in the Synergy Sports Technology database — despite regular changes to the competition format, the graduation of top clubs to the EuroLeague, and the year-to-year parity in qualifiers. Five of those 25 teams made it to the EuroCup Finals. In the early part of the decade, it was often the competition's most efficient offensive clubs that had the inside track to championship glory. As the graph above shows, between 2011 and 2016, five teams ranked in the top two in the EuroCup in points per possession ultimately won the championship.
The tide has turned to some degree over the last three seasons. In 2016, Strasbourg's offensive efficiency fell to the middle of the pack overall as the inclusion of eliminated EuroLeague teams made for an ultra-competitive environment. Still, Strasbourg overcame that fact with a long, timely hot-streak to finish as runner-up. Both 2017 champion Unicaja Malaga and 2018 champion Darussafaka Instabul ranked 12th in offensive efficiency, but earned their tickets to the EuroLeague nonetheless. Those two clubs averaged a nearly identical 0.95 points per possession in their championship seasons, significantly fewer than the 1.01 points per possession averaged by the six previous EuroCup champions. Overall, the runners-up across the same eight-year period averaged 0.97 points per possession.
Defensive Prowess as a Route to the EuroCup Finals
Offense has seemingly become less relevant to earning a championship bid in the EuroCup over the last two years, the value of an elite defense has undergone a resurgence. The graph above can be split into three distinct eras, two sets of seasons separated by the period from 2014 to 2016 during which teams eliminated from the EuroLeague joined the latter stages of the EuroCup.
Of the 16 champions and runners-up over those eight seasons, 11 finished in the top five in defensive efficiency, including all 10 in the seasons that did not feature EuroLeague clubs. Though a top-five defense has meant different things different in seasons — particularly as the points-per-possession allowed average has shifted in response to the evolution of offensive basketball — elite defense has been more of a staple of the finalists than efficient offense. Interestingly, EuroCup champions have allowed 0.89 points per possession, the exact same average as the runners-up.
In the early part of the decade, the eventual EuroCup champions were typically combined elite offensive and defensive efficiency. That trend gave way to a period of championship teams driven by dynamic offenses, but buoyed by defenses good enough to adequately weather EuroLeague-caliber opponents. Over the last two seasons, that trend has flipped, with defense driving any club with the chance to lift the trophy. It's worth monitoring this season to know for sure if spectacular defense has become the new championship standard.
As of the end of Round 2, many teams fit one of the championship molds alluded to above. It is extremely early and many of these teams are sure to fall off their current pace, but it is an interesting exercise to see who looks the part of a contender, on paper, at this stage:
Over 1 point per possession scored (8):
Tofas Bursa, Unicaja Malaga, UNICS Kazan, Zenit St Petersburg, MoraBanc Andorra, Valencia Basket, Partizan NIS Belgrade, ALBA Berlin
Under 0.89 points per possession allowed (5):
Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar, AS Monaco, Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade, Valencia Basket, Cedevita Zagreb
Over 0.95 points per possession scored and under 0.89 allowed (3):
Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar, Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade, Valencia Basket