Round 9 saw five teams qualify for the Top 16, leaving four spots open for the final week of the regular season. Here's a review of the current 7DAYS EuroCup landscape through the lens of statistics.
Without a single team qualified for the Top 16, Group C had the most at stake coming off a two-week break for Round 9. Nanterre 92 scored perhaps the most improbable victory of the round to eliminate Cedevita Olimpija Ljubljana and bolster its own Top 16 hopes. Averaging 0.55 points per possession over the first 11 minutes to fall behind by 21, Nanterre came storming back to score 79 points over their final 60 possessions and secure a three-point victory. Making 16 of a club-record 17 three-pointers in the final three quarters, Nanterre will look to take its momentum in a critical Round 10 matchup with Germany Brescia Leonessa.
Darussafaka Tekfen Istanbul and Joventut Badalona did enough to become the group's first qualifiers. Ranked as the EuroCup's top defense to this point, allowing only 0.85 points per possession, Darussafaka leads those teams already qualified for the Top 16 in defensive efficiency. Only six teams of the current top 10 teams in offensive efficiency have qualified. It has not been altogether uncommon for the best five teams in either offensive or defensive efficiency to miss the Top 16 in recent history, as balance is often key to getting ahead in the EuroCup. Round 10 will decide the fate of many of those teams despite their strong performances at one end of the court or the other.
One noticeable trend in the EuroCup tactically has been the steady rise of full-court pressure in recent years. This season, 10.7% of all defensive possessions have included defenders picking up the ball at the opposite end line, which is more than double the rate that teams employed such a strategy during the 2015-16 season.
Some teams have relied on full-court pressure far more than others, but even the median frequency of pressing this season would have ranked third in 2015-16 season. What's more, the four teams pressing most frequently now sit ahead of the EuroCup record. It is not especially hard to figure out why this has become a trend. The average possession against full-court pressure is converted for just 0.86 points – well behind the league average of 0.94 points per possession. Much of that lower scoring rate is traceable to the turnovers against pressing defenses, who force opponents to give up the ball 19.8% of the time, significantly higher than the 15.9% rate on all other possessions.
The main challenges for teams pressing full court are the toll it takes in terms of fatigue, the extra personnel required to stay with athletic guards, and the quality of shots opponents get when the pressure fails. Sometimes used as a means of speeding up the game, teams that consider they have a talent advantage often press to increase the numbers of possessions. However, in the EuroCup it is more frequently used as a change of pace to disrupt opposing offenses coming out of timeouts or after free throws, when coaches have had a chance to call or draw up a play.
Unicaja Malaga and AS Monaco are the EuroCup's most aggressive pressing teams at the moment, which helps take some pressure off of their half-court defenses.
Tyler Larson's Timely Shooting
Although he didn't play in a Round 9 loss at Unicaja Malaga, scorer Tyler Larson, a mid-season acquisition for EWE Baskets Oldenburg, has otherwise been a difference-maker despite in his first three EuroCup games. He leads the EuroCup by scoring 11.0 points per game in short shot-clock situations. Just 17% of all possessions are used with the shot or game clock under 4 seconds, but on slower-paced teams, many guards get as much as a third of their possessions in such situations. Even so, no other player is averaging more than 4.6 points per game when the clock is a factor. Converting for a dismal 0.78 points per possession on average, Larson has scored a sensational 1.94 points per late-clock possession, drilling deep, contested pull-up jumpers in his abbreviated regular season stint. By frequently making something out of nothing to bail his team out of broken possessions or to overcome great defense, Larson's performance certainly benefits from a small sample size. But given that he has scored 19 points above expectations in such situations over just three games – all victories for Oldenburg – it's hard to overlook the value of his clutch play.
Looking Ahead to Round 10
Group A is the only one with no Top 16 spots up left to fill, meaning there's plenty to keep an eye on during Round 10 in the other three. The games between Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar and Tofas Bursa in Group B and Germani Brescia Leonessa and Nanterre 92 are the contests with the most direct implications, but several teams will be monitoring the results table closely, with four spots up for grabs and as many as eight teams in the running for them.