Top 16, Group E analysis

Jan 13, 2021 by Print
Top 16, Group E analysis

Group E is comprised of teams competing in two different domestic leagues. Joventut Badalona and Unicaja Malaga are both from Spain and AS Monaco and Nanterre 92 play in the French League. The two former teams are past EuroCup champions; Joventut, one of the inaugural teams in the competition in 2002, lifted the ULEB Cup – as it was then known – in 2008. Unicaja recorded its EuroCup triumph in 2017. Monaco is playing in just its third EuroCup campaign and looking for a second consecutive quarterfinals appearance, while a spot in the round of eight would be a first for Nanterre in its fourth EuroCup season.

Offense vs. Defense

It is safe to expect some high-scoring showdowns in Group E with Unicaja ranked second in the regular season in scoring (87.5 ppg.), Joventut fifth (86.0 ppg.) and Nanterre ninth (82.9 ppg.). Unicaja leads the EuroCup in three-point shooting (42.1%) and Nanterre (40.2%) is fourth. Joventut is second in assists (20.5 apg.) and third in two-point shooting (58.9%). Joventut is also third in average PIR (103.0) and Unicaja fourth (96.4). In every round, however, one of these teams and their prolific numbers will be challenged by Monaco, which allowed the fewest points (72.4 ppg.), lowest three-point accuracy (29.2%), fewest three-pointers made (6.1 per game) and third-lowest PIR (75.8) in the regular season. The group will provide matchups of a classic high-powered attack against an elite, iron-clad defense, which promises to be highly entertaining.

Winning in Spain

Protecting one's home court will play as big a role as ever in Group E, which has two of the best teams in terms of winning at home in the EuroCup. Both Joventut and Unicaja have mounted 12-1 records at home over the past two seasons, which each loss coming this season. Monaco is 3-2 this season after winning six of eight last season. Nanterre is also 3-2 in 2020-21, but went 2-3 the season prior. Nanterre's next EuroCup victory in Spain will be its first since 2015 when it edged Bilbao. Coach Pascal Donnadieu's men have since lost road games at Joventut last season and Herbalife Gran Canaria earlier this season. Monaco has never played a EuroCup game on Spanish soil, though it is 1-2 in the Principality of Andorra, which borders both France and Spain. Joventut's last victory over a Spanish team on the road in continental action was 66-68 in the EuroLeague in Malaga in November 2006 on an alley-oop tip-in by Rudy Fernandez at the buzzer. Unicaja drives home the point about how important it can be to win on the road in Spain; its last EuroCup road win in its country was over Valencia in Game 3 of the 2017 EuroCup Finals to win the trophy.

Stud sixth men

The teams of Group E are all blessed with depth, though some rely a little more on aces off the bench than others. Unicaja combo-guard Dario Brizuela is one of the best scorers off the bench in the competition this season with 14.3 points per game; his 24.9 points prorated over 40 minutes ranked 11th in the regular season. He is matched by Joventut point guard Nenad Dimitrijevic, who came off the bench in six of his eight appearances this season. Dimitrijevic leads his team with 14.1 points per game and his 25.3 over 40 minutes is sixth in the EuroCup. Nanterre big man Brian Conklin provides power and experience off the bench with 9.7 points and 3.4 rebounds in 17:26 per game. Coach Zvezdan Mitrovic has made constant changes with his Monaco lineup, using 11 different players as starters so far this season. Big men Mathias Lessort, Darral Willis and Wilfried Yeguete have each started five times and come off the bench almost as often. That trio is averaging 25.5 points on 55.3% two-point shooting, 15.3 rebounds, 2.8 steals and 1.2 blocks per game this season, so whoever isn't starting is sure to be a boost when he comes in.

You ain't seen nothin' yet

These teams not only made the Top 16, but they are only getting stronger. Each team figures to be even better in the Top 16 whether because of new signings or the returns of others from injuries. Joventut's Ante Tomic and Pau Ribas each missed four regular-season games and Shawn Dawson could be a bigger part of the rotation after only playing four regular-season games. Alberto Diaz should be back for the start of the Top 16 after injuring his hamstring last month. Gal Mekel and Jaime Fernandez also missed most of the regular season. Monaco welcomes Rob Gray to the backcourt and he should make an instant impact because the combo-guard has already been with the club for some time, though not yet eligible for EuroCup play until now. Nanterre's backcourt has gotten strong with the signings of guards Nikola Rebic and Marcquise Reed, the former of whom arrives from Monaco.