The 2020-21 7DAYS EuroCup Semifinals are upon us with Virtus Segafredo Bologna and AS Monaco hosting Game 1 on Tuesday, before UNICS Kazan and Herbalife Gran Canaria play hosts in Game 2 on Friday. With plenty of intrigue and some competition history in the making, here are a few things to watch in this week's games.
Offenses and defenses
This year's worthy semifinalists have something in common that has not happened since this best-of-three series format was introduced in the 2016-17 season. Virtus Segafredo Bologna, UNICS Kazan, AS Monaco and Herbalife Gran Canaria all rank in the top 10 in scoring this season as well as among the best 10 teams in points allowed. All four semifinalists average at least 81.4 points per game, which is UNICS's average entering the semifinals, and all four teams allow fewer than 77.8, also what UNICS has allowed this season. Each other semifinalist has scored more per game, with Virtus topping the chart at 88.4 points per game. Each semifinalist has allowed fewer points than UNICS; Monaco ranks the best among the four teams allowing 75.4 per game. The EuroCup Semifinals have never had all four teams excel as much on both ends of the floor, as these strength-on-strength matchups in each semifinal series promise for quite some drama.
Virtus flirting with history
It is not as big of a deal as it would be winning the first game of the semifinal series, or sweeping the series and reaching the EuroCup Finals, but Virtus is in line to make EuroCup history for the longest unbeaten streak in competition history. Coach Sasa Djordjevic's men enter the semifinal series having won all 18 games this season - after winning their last Top 16 game of last season. That puts its winning run at 19 games, one shy of the all-time record, which Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar achieved – twice. Lokomotiv first had 20 consecutive wins by triumphing in the 2013 championship game before winning 19 consecutive games to open the 2014-15 season. Lokomotiv repeated the run in the 2017-18 season, but by winning the first 20 games of that campaign. If Virtus wins Game 1 on Tuesday, it will tie the mark. If it wins both Games 1 and 2 this week to sweep UNICS, Virtus will set a new record for consecutive EuroCup wins and also tie Lokomotiv's 2017-18 mark for winning the first 20 games of the season.
Three of the four semifinalists got a massive boost from their mid-season additions and will need them to keep performing this week. That's especially the case in the series between Monaco and Gran Canaria, where each team has a guard who was not with the team before the start of the season and has been its leading performer since joining his respective club. Veteran point guard A.J. Slaughter joined Gran Canaria in mid-December and in 10 appearances since has been the team's top scorer (17.2 ppg.) and second-best in assists (4.1 apg.). Gran Canaria is 7-3 with Slaughter in the lineup and on a five-game winning streak. On the other side will be Rob Gray, who started the season with Boulogne Metropolitans 92, but transferred to Monaco. In nine games during the Top 16 and quarterfinals, Gray leads the team with 17.1 points per game and has knocked down 47.7% of his shots from long range. In the other series, one such player is Virtus swingman Marco Belinelli. Virtus was undefeated before Belinelli joined, but he has met the expectations as a nightmare for opposing defenses and the team's top scorer in his eight appearances so far. Belinelli is averaging 14.9 points on 53.6% three-point shooting in just 19 minutes per game. UNICS's late addition to the squad, playmaker Jordan Theodore, has not made as big of an impact, but still brings much-needed veteran depth and contributed 5.7 points and 5.2 assists during the Top 16; He will try to bounce back after a sub-par performance in the quarterfinals.
Inside the paint
The collision between the Virtus perimeter trio of Milos Teodosic, Stefan Markovic and Marco Belinelli on one end and the UNICS backcourt duo of Jamar Smith and Isaiah Canaan on the other draws the most attention in that series. However, frontcourt battle figures to be at least equally important. Big men Jordan Morgan (11.2 ppg. 7.6 rpg.) and John Brown (10.2 pg. 6.4 rpg.) carry a big load inside for UNICS and a rebounding contribution also comes from forward Okaro White (9.8 ppg. 5.7 rpg.). Virtus will need to match that effort with Vince Hunter and Julian Gamble who combined to average 24.0 points and 9.0 rebounds in the quarterfinals. In the other series, Matthew Costello (10.0 ppg. 7.0 rpg.) carried a big load in the quarterfinals for Gran Canaria, while Aleksander Balcerowski and John Shurna contributed by combining for 8.5 rebounds during the series. They will need all that against Mathias Lessort who was a monster against Buducnost with 18.7 points and 7.7 rebounds and had a big helping hand in J.J O'Brien (9.0 ppg., 5.3 rpg.). Monaco's X-factor on the boards is its starting guard Marcus Knight, who despite his 1.88 meters has averaged 4.9 rebounds for the season and pulled down 7.0 per game in the quarterfinals.
Record-setters look to carry on
UNICS is coming off a quarterfinal series during which it made 37 three-point shots, which is one shy of an all-time record for triples made in a single series. However, more than half of those came in Game 1 of the series when UNICS made 19 triples - an all-time single-game competition record in elimination games. Four different players made at least 6 three-pointers during the three-game quarterfinals against Lokomotiv, including Jamar Smith and his 10-for-16 shooting from long range. Moreover, UNICS attempted 90 threes in the series and made them at 41.1% accuracy, the best of all teams in the quarterfinals. On the other hand, Monaco pulled down 52 offensive rebounds in its three-game series against Buducnost VOLI Podgorica, an all-time single-series record. Those 17.3 offensive rebounds per game helped Monaco increase its season-long average to 13.8 offensive rebounds, the best in the EuroCup, led by Lessort who ranks second with 3.0 per game this season. Look for UNICS to keep firing from downtown and for Monaco to keep crashing the offensive boards.