This week: Knocking on the Top 16's door

Feb 03, 2020 by Print
This week: Knocking on the Top 16's door

The excitement will be at the all-time high for this phase of the competition because it is the first time that no teams have qualified for the quarterfinals with two Top 16 rounds to go. There are still 14 teams alive and each of those teams has at least two wins. Eight teams have a chance to book their quarterfinals tickets this week and there is a possibility we will know all the quarterfinalists on Wednesday night. There is also a possibility that no team will qualify and all eight quarterfinal spots will remain open. Let's see what to look for in This Week's games:

Copycat groups

The two teams in the best position are Partizan NIS Belgrade (3-1) in Group E and Tofas Bursa (3-1) in Group H. Both Partizan and Tofas would not only qualify, but clinch first place with wins this week. However, they go on the road to play against two other teams with 3-1 records and a pair of teams undefeated on their respective home floors this season: Segafredo Virtus Bologna and Unicaja Malaga. Both Virtus and Unicaja can also clinch home-court advantage with respective wins and some additional help. With all teams involved being 3-1, it is not only home-court in the quarterfinals, but potentially for all the elimination rounds that is at stake in those games. On the other hand, there are two groups where all four teams hold 2-2 records. The only time there was one such 2-2 gridlock was in the 2012-13 season, but now that number has doubled. In both Groups F and G we could also see every single basket turn out to be of great importance, but we could also have two teams from each group book their quarterfinal tickets this week.

Partizan in driver's seat

Virtus head coach Aleksandar Djordjevic welcomes a club where he is considered one of its greatest legends for this crucial game in which Virtus could have a lot more to lose than just its perfect home record. A lot of the stakes in this game will be pre-determined by the game on Tuesday between already-eliminated Dolomiti Energia Trento (0-4) and Darussafaka Tekfen Istanbul (2-2). A Darussafaka loss would automatically qualify Partizan and it would also give Virtus a chance to qualify if it beats Partizan. However, if Darussafaka wins and improves to 3-2, the stakes in Bologna will be upped. For Partizan, as long as it loses by fewer than 29 points, it will still hold qualification destiny in its hands and be able to qualify for the quarterfinals if it beats Trento in Round 6. However, if Partizan beats Virtus, it would not only clinch first place in this group and home-court advantage in the quarterfinals, but it would be in the driver's seat to hold home-court advantage throughout the EuroCup playoffs because of its +53 point-difference. A win for Virtus, meanwhile, would give it an 11-point cushion in the Round 6 decider against Darussafaka, while a loss against Partizan would put it in a do-or-die road situation in the Top 16 finale.

In Group H, Tofas is in Partizan's role of being able to clinch first place in the group with a win, but it goes against Unicaja which is undefeated at home and also has a chance to both qualify and clinch first place. Tofas could already be qualified going into this game if Joventut Badalona (2-2) loses on the road against MoraBanc Andorra (0-4) on Tuesday. Unicaja would benefit from it and be able to even clinch first place in the group with a win of 3 or more points in regulation. Unlike Darussafaka, which has three road wins this season, Joventut is winless on the road this season and has allowed 88.0 points on the road, which are the most in the Top 16.

Can the teenager deliver again?

Rytas Vilnius forward Deividas Sirvydis made his brief EuroCup debut in 2017 as a 17-year old and made noise in the season opener last season when he scored 17 points in a road loss at UNICS Kazan, become the first player born in 2000 or later to drop double-digit points in the competition. Sirvydis has had eight more games since then in which he scored in double figures, including in each of the last two rounds against AS Monaco in Group G, scoring 11 points in each. Syrvidis extending his double-digit streak would be a welcome help for Rytas, which will need all the help it can get in Kazan this week. The two teams had never met in the competition before last season and UNICS has won all three games so far. Can Rytas break the losing streak with help from its teenager?

Newcomer counting on - experience

This week is full of big games and high stakes and it is often said that it is experience that matters in such games. Some teams have more of it than others. One of the teams fighting for a place in the quarterfinals is a newcomer Promitheas Patras (2-2). Even though this club has never been in this position, its players have and two of them joined the team before the Top 16. One of them is former All-Eurocup center Loukas Mavrokefalidis with 72 appearances. Mavrokefalidis was Promitheas's hero last week with his MVP of the Round performance when he amassed 28 points plus 13 rebounds and he will be needed to deliver again. Another key piece is a 29-year old Vangelis Mantzaris who is running the offense and setting the pace on defense. Mantzaris is in his first EuroCup season, but is a two-time EuroLeague champion with four EuroLeague championship game appearances with Olympiacos Piraeus. Add to the mix the experience of another former Red, Dimitris Agravanis, and freshly-signed James Bell, who is a 2018 EuroCup champion with Darussafaka, and Promitheas is suddenly not your usual newcomer in a crucial Group F game against Germani Brescia Leonessa (2-2).

Keep an eye on top scorers

While on the topic of experience, UNICS is the most experienced team in the competition, having seven players with more than 65 appearances. One of them is Errick McCollum, a former EuroCup champion and MVP, and this season's leading scorer. McCollum is averaging 17.4 points this season and has increased his average to lead the Top 16 with 20.5 per game. He scored 20 or more points in three of the four Top 16 games and will be poised to keep that up in a key game against Rytas. On the other hand, no team has more experience in its backcourt than Virtus with Stefan Markovic and Milos Teodosic. While Markovic is the all-time leader in assists and also leads the Top 16 with 7.0 per game, Teodosic has been one of the greatest Turkish Airlines EuroLeague performers this decade with eight trips to the Final Four. Teodosic was also the EuroCup Regular Season MVP and is averaging a second-best 17.5 points per game in the Top 16. With Partizan coming to town, Teodosic will need to be on his game once again. However, no player might be more important to his team than center Rasid Mahalbasic of EWE Baskets Oldenburg (2-2), who is averaging 18.0 points, 9.3 rebounds and 6.0 assists over the last four games. It ranks him first in rebounds, second in scoring and third in assists in the Top 16 and his team will need another one of these performances from Mahalbasic when it visits Umana Reyer Venice (2-2) on Wednesday.