Back in the EuroCup Quarterfinals for the first time since 2012, Rytas Vilnius is the top rebounding team in the competition and brings a balanced and deep squad into this stage.
It was a do-or-die game for both teams; only the winner would have a chance to reach the quarterfinals. The Top 16 Round 5 showdown between Partizan NIS Belgrade and Rytas Vilnius turned into an instant classic, a back-and-forth battle in which both teams left everything on the floor. A layup by Jock Landale gave Partizan a 77-76 lead with 10.2 seconds to go, but Rytas had a final chance to stay alive. Art Parakhouski's catch-and-shoot jumper found the bottom of the net to keep Rytas alive - and eliminate Partizan.
Rytas needed a point guard when Chris Kramer got injured and found the best player available in Rok Stipcevic. Not only is Stipcevic an experienced and determined playmaker known for making clutch plays, but he is also playing some of the best basketball of his career and quickly becoming a fan favorite in Vilnius. Stipcevic, a silent leader with a great work ethic, earned Regular Season Round 9 MVP honors and is averaging 9.7 points and 3.2 assists in 10 games thus far. When Kramer returned, backcourt depth play suddenly became a major strength for Rytas.
Back to title contention
Rytas is back in the EuroCup Quarterfinals for the first time since 2012. Before that, Rytas reached this stage five teams from 2004 to 2012. The recent Lithuanian Cup winner has been to the semifinals four times, reached the championship game three times and lifted the trophy twice (2005, 2009). Oddly enough, after playing dozens of two-game series and single-game elimination showdowns throughout its 11 years in the competition, Rytas is set to compete in its first playoff series.
Why this team can win
Center Art Parakhouski has been unstoppable since he arrived prior to the Top 16; he led that stage in PIR with 21.2 per game). His physical presence in the paint balanced a team full of good scorers (Rok Stipcevic, Eimantas Bendzius, D.J. Seeley) and reliable youngsters (Martynas Echodas, Deividas Sirvydis). Rytas is also the top rebounding team in the competition for the season (36.8 rpg.) and was even better in the Top 16 (40.7 rpg.) thanks in part to the addition of Parakhouski (8.7 rpg.). If Rytas keeps rebounding and getting its scorers involved in transition, it is a tough team to beat.