After a few weeks off, the 7DAYS EuroCup returns with the start of the Top 16. A Round 1 victory could be significant for some teams, including in one group with three former champions. Read about Top 16, Round 1's top storylines.
Road starts matter
Home court has not been much of an advantage in Top 16 openers over the past three seasons; the home teams have won just 14 of 24 games. More importantly, Round 1 road wins have proven to be quite valuable because every single one of the 10 opening-round road winners in that time has eventually made it through to the quarterfinals. Moreover, of the 24 quarterfinalists in the last three seasons, only six have started the Top 16 with a loss and four of those defeats have come against a team that eventually also made it to the quarterfinals. Only twice has it happened that a team that went on to make the quarterfinals lost its Round 1 game against a team that finished its season in the Top 16. Yes, there is plenty of time to make up for a loss at the start of the Top 16, however, history and stats say wins this week are very important.
Sasa Djordjevic is one of the greatest legends in the rich and proud history of Serbian powerhouse Partizan Belgrade. The man who hit one of the most memorable shots in EuroLeague history - a three-pointer with 3 seconds left to lift Partizan over Joventut Badalona and bring home the 1993 EuroLeague title - is a hero for every Partizan fan. Djordjevic now returns to the Serbian capital to lead another former EuroLeague champion, Segafredo Virtus Bologna, against Partizan in their Top 16 opener. It is going to be an emotional game for the Virtus coach, but expect nothing but pure professionalism from Djordjevic. The only other time he previously faced Partizan in Belgrade was as a player in 1997 when he dropped 39 points in leading FC Barcelona to a thrilling double-overtime win. This Wednesday, Djordjevic is not the only Virtus man coming home; playmakers Stefan Markovic and Milos Teodosic return to Belgrade, too. Unlike Djordjevic, EuroCup regular season MVP Teodosic is not expected to receive a warm welcome from Partizan faithful as he is a die-hard fan of their archrival Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade.
Group of champions
Top 16 features six former EuroCup champions and three of them are in Group G, assuring there will be one clash of former champs in each Top 16 round. In the opener on Wednesday, Rytas Vilnius welcomes UNICS Kazan in the first such contest. Last season during the regular season, UNICS swept Rytas and now pays a visit to the Lithuanian capital with the same goal of snatching another win. In the other game in this group, an ambitious AS Monaco hosts Galatasaray Doga Sigorta Istanbul and, interestingly, Monaco also swept Galatasaray last season. There have been changes to all the teams since then, but three teams still have a few core players and the same coaches in charge with Rytas's Dainius Adomaitis, UNICS's Dimitris Priftis and Galatasaray's Ertugrul Erdogan. In those clashes little over a year ago, Errick McCollum led UNICS in Vilnius scoring with 26 points in 24 minutes, while Jamar Smith had 9 points and 6 assists in that 81-87 win. On the other side, Martynas Echodas was one of five double-digit scorers for Rytas with 14 points. Monaco went through the most changes since last year with Sasa Obradovic taking over as head of bench in the meantime, but Paul Lacombe was the best player with 13 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists in leading his team to 76-71 win over Galatasaray. The Turkish side had Tai Webster and Aaron Harrison scored 18 apiece and Zach Auguste amassed 10 points plus 13 rebounds in the loss. It will be interesting to see what will be the outcomes when all these names face each other again this Wednesday.
If any team would like to carry over into the Top 16 what it has been doing during the regular season, it is Umana Reyer Venice. The Italian champion is the winner of eight straight games, the longest streak this season. Joventut Badalona is undefeated at home and will try to continue that streak against MoraBanc Andorra, which is on a five-game winning streak of its own. The two teams faced each other in the Spanish League on December 29, little over a week ago, with Andorra taking a 90-76 home win behind 23 points from David Jelinek, who knocked down 6 triples. Andorra has scored at least 80 points in each of its last seven games. Brescia might want to make sure guard Deandre Lansdowne gets going. In Brescia wins, he's averaged 15.5 points, but in games the team has lost, Landsdown posted just 6.6 points. Similar is the case with Alessandro Gentile who scored 19.8 points when Dolomiti Energia Trento won during the regular season, but 12.0 points in Trento's defeats.
Tofas veteran forward Sammy Mejia could make a bit of history on Tuesday. Mejia is ranked seventh on the EuroCup all-time scoring chart with 1,163 career points, only 20 behind sixth-place E.J. Rowald and just 25 behind fourth-place Marko Popovic. Mejia has scored more than 20 points twice in the last four regular season games, including a 26-point effort against Partizan. A repeat of that performance would catapult him into the fourth place all-time while keeping in mind that Alex Mumbru is third (1,192), Rafa Martinez is second (1,240) behind runaway leader Bojan Dubljevic (1,445). McCollum has 1,110 career points and needs just 17 more to catch Radoslav Rancik and enter the top 10. Joventut's Alen Omic needs 1 rebound to move into sole possession of third place on the all-time charts; he currently stands at 519 career rebounds.