The FIBA Eurochallenge Final 16 tips off tonight with seven games to played among the whittled-down field. Among the survivors are two Cyprus-based squads, three German teams and at least two red-hot circus offenses (BC FMP Belgrade and Banvit BC). The round-robin play continues through February, with the last games scheduled for March 9.
The games going down tonight are the following.
Group I: BG Göttingen vs. Proteas EKA AEL. It was a good news/bad news scenario for Göttingen in group play. While the German side managed to go 2-0 against seemingly tough BCM Gravelines Dunkerque and thus squeak into the Final 16 via tiebreaker, Göttingen lost both matches against eventual group winner Buducnost. Proteas backed in to the Final 16, dropping their last game to Elan Chalon, 81-74. Key stat for this game: At 3-3 in Eurochallenge group play, Proteas won all three games in Cyprus and lost all three away; tonight, they’re in Germany. I’m just saying is all.
Group J: BC FMP vs. Artland Dragons. This one’s possibly the best match of the night, if past results are indicative of future results. FMP mostly crushed its group in the first round, going 5-1 while averaging over 87 points per game and ending the six-game run with an emphatic 109-89 victory over Riga; these guys can score. Better yet, this balanced act is statistically topped by Miroslav Raduljica (15.5 ppg), who can also protect the boards (8.2 rpg).
Artland Dragons went into the tournament as a favorite to take it all and certainly looked it through the first six games. At 5-1, the Dragons’ sole loss was a one-point squeaker at Raiffeisen Wels. As for balanced attacks, here’s another: Artland sports five players averaging double figures in Eurochallenge play and a sixth – Nathan Peavy – at 9.8 ppg.
Group J: Belgacom Liege vs. KK Zagreb. The most monstrous individual force remaining in Eurochallenge ball may well be Will Thomas of Liege: At 9.7 boards per game in the first six games, Thomas is by far the leading rebounder remaining (nearest is Banvit’s Charles Davis at 8.3). What’s even scarier about Thomas’ prowess is that full on *8.2 rebounds per game* are coming on the defensive end.
Meanwhile, the biggest news for Zagreb leading into the Final 16 is the loss of 22-year-old Croatian force Ante Tomić to Real Madrid. Gone for Eurochallenge play is Tomić’ average line of 17.5 ppg/8.2 rpg, not to mention a 7’2” presence in the middle. How Zagreb will adapt to this gaping hole remains to be seen, but the smart money tonight is on Thomas tearing it up for Liege. (Is there Eurochallenge fantasy basketball…?)
Group K: KK Buducnost vs. Elan Chalon. Buducnost did well enough in group play, essentially defeating Göttingen and Lokomotiv Kuban twice each to advance. The man to watch here is Vladimir Dragicevic, who has put together some very nice statistics in eight Eurochallenge games for Buducnost: 13.8 ppg and 5.4 apg to go along with 1.4 blocks and 1.3 steals, making him team leader in all four statistical categories.
Elan Chalon did just enough to take its group in pool play, winning its final two games at home by single figures. One thing you can be sure about with this French side: It’ll be a shootout directed by Blake Schilb (14.8 ppg, 3.6 apg), as Chalon averaged 78 points per game in the first round while giving up more than 75 per.
Group K: Apoel Nicosia vs. Scavolini Pesaro. Sheesh, who turned on the scoring machine in Nicosia? After closing out November on a three-game run in the Eurocup tournament of 72, 62, and 67, Apoel ran up 79 ppg in Eurochallenge pool play. And what’s up with Milan Dozet, who’s turned 8.8 ppg in last year’s Eurochallenge into a ridiculous 19.3 this time ‘round to give Apoel two nightly 20-point threats (center Lewis Hopkins has gone for 19.1 per game thus far)? Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Pesaro finished the previous round at 5-1, the sole loss an aberrant 70-58 showing against Krasnye Krylia in early December, and enter this one on a 3-0 run. The Italian team boasts a roster evenly spread with talent and a deadshot’s eye in shooting 59% on two-pointers and 36.7% on threes. How evenly-spread is it? Not one Pesaro player has averaged six shots per game in Eurochallenge thus far. P.S. Pesaro also leads all Eurochallenge teams in fewest points allowed (66.3 per game).
Group L: Banvit BC vs. Antwerp Giants. Look out, because here comes the bucket-a-minute offense! We’re talking the ultra-speedy Banvit BC here, a team good for just under 90 points per game in its last six. These guys look very difficult to beat with an arsenal that includes 44.8% team shooting from beyond the arc (including Baris Özcan with a crazy 23-for-46); three players combining for 20-plus rebounds a game (Charles Davis, 8.3; Lance Williams, 6.3; Keith Simmons, 5.7); and whirlwind Baris Ermis (3.4 assists and a Eurochallenge-leading 3.0 steals per game). It would be surprising not to see Banvit in this competition’s final four.
They’ll have to get past Antwerp first, however (and they should). The Giants have had something of a disappointing Eurochallenge outing this season, going just 3-3 in group play, managing just 73 points per game, and backing into the Final 16.
Group L: Enisey Krasnoyarsk vs. Roanne Basket. Enisey also squeaked into Final 16 play by compiling a 3-3 record; on a 1-3 run, we shouldn’t expect this Russian side to go very far. Of note, however, is the Eurochallenge season former Los Angeles Clipper Lionel Chalmers is putting together: His 19.8 ppg (62.2% on twos, 47.1% on threes), 4.8 rpg, 4.5 apg and 1.5 spg all lead the team.
After closing 2009 on a 5-1 run in Eurochallenge play, Roanne stumbled out of pool play by narrowly topping BC Kyiv and losing to Zagreb, a team they’d thrashed in December. As though the entire team has lost its touch, Roanne (just plain “Roanne,” because these guys have been mostly without the “Basket” part) shot just 42% on a 53-of-126 combined performance in those two games. Re-find the touch and Roanne might “miraculously” return to the level of the early season hype.