A former champion and a playoffs newcomer will clash in what promises to be an exciting quarterfinals series when UNICS Kazan takes on Partizan NIS Belgrade.
The Trinchieri effect
There's no doubt that coach Andrea Trinchieri brought new energy to a Partizan bench that traditionally had been led by Serbian coaches. The Italian Trinchieri took over at Partizan with a 1-4 in the regular season last season and he started right away with a win against Trento. They won three of their last five games and made the Top 16, but could only win two of the six games and were eliminated. Now, in his first full season in Belgrade, Partizan and Trinchieri have been a force to be reckoned with; together they have totaled 12 wins and just 4 losses. In fact, Partizan was the only team to lose just one game in the Top 16 and now, having that homecourt advantage in this series can be crucial for the Belgrade team. There's no doubt that Trinchieri has brought his famous character to a team traditionally built with young warriors and his formula is working. Again.
Progressing to the finals?
UNICS Kazan has been one of the major contenders in the EuroCup since it made its debut in the competition. The Russian squad normally makes it far and it even won the trophy in 2011. However, the last time UNICS played in the finals was in 2014 when it lost 2-0 to Valencia Basket, even if before that it had a 20-2 record in the season... with Andrea Trinchieri as head coach! Since then, UNICS has seen its season stopped early in semifinals, quarterfinals or even eighthfinals. In his first season as coach, Dimitris Prifitis led UNICS to the quarterfinals and last season they made the semis. If the team follows that same progression, the finals will be waiting for Priftis and his players, but the road is long and the first obstacle is not a small one. Also, UNICS gets to this point of the season with a 9-7 record, which is tied for its second-worst number of losses in its 13 EuroCup seasons so far.
UNICS can play the experience card
UNICS Kazan normally presents a roster with talent on both ends and, also important, experience to deal with pressure situations like a quarterfinals series. In this aspect, the three main contributors for UNICS - Errick McCollum, Jamar Smith and Raymar Morgan - combine for 15 seasons of EuroCup experience, the three have played together in Kazan the last two seasons. McCollum was a 2016 EuroCup champ with Galatasaray, the season MVP in 2015-16 and was also named to the All-EuroCup First team for the 2015-16 and 2018-19 seasons. Smith was a 2017 EuroCup champ with Unicaja Malaga and ranks third all-time in the EuroCup in three-pointers made (206), just one more shot short of tying for second place with Marko Popovic. Morgan is not a EuroCup champ, but is just 4 points away from entering the all-time Top 30 of best scorers in the competition (876 points). Plenty of talent and experience that will try to lead UNICS into the next round against a relatively inexperienced Partizan team. And we haven't even counted former EuroLeague champion Alex Tyus!
Uneven battle under the glass
Entering the series, one would think that the main factor that could make it go one way or the other would be rebounds. In the Top 16, Partizan led the competition in that department with 39.8 rebounds per game, tied with Promitheas Patras. On the other side of the spectrum, UNICS struggled under the boards with just 30.0 rebounds per game, occupying the next-to-last position in the Top 16 rankings. It's curious to see that Partizan doesn't have a single player among the top 24 rebounders of the Top 16, but then four players in the following five spots: Rashawn Thomas and William Mosley (both with 4.7 rpg.), Rade Zagorac (4.6 rpg.) and Nikola Jankovic (4.5 rpg.). On the other side, UNICS has Alex Tyus ranking 16th overall in the Top 16 (5.5 rpg.) but then no other player in the Top 30 in that category. The outcome in the battle under the glass will be a key factor in the series and UNICS will definitely have to turn the tide if it wants to improve its chances to advance to the semis.