It all comes down to this, Virtus Bologna vs Tenerife for one of the biggest prizes in European basketball. Rather than just do a straight preview, Emmet Ryan has a primer for those unfamiliar with the Basketball Champions League (BCL) or indeed the teams
After two lopsided encounters in the semi-finals on Friday, both Virtus Bologna and Tenerife should come in fresh for Sunday’s decider in the Sportpaleis in Antwerp. Let’s look at what you need to know.
European basketball is, at its best, confusing to the outside eye. Between the spread of national leagues (37 champions alone play in the BCL including its qualifying rounds) and the competition itself is not the first generation of its kind.
Right now, the BCL is the third tier continental competition in Europe after Euroleague and Eurocup. This is FIBA’s top club competition on the continent and certainly has a healthier mix of teams than its immediate predecessors. Those were Eurochallenge (2003-15) and, briefly, FIBA Europe Cup (2015-16). In the case of the latter, it’s more complicated as it was never meant to be FIBA’s top competition but filled a hole as it remodelled the old Eurochallenge. That competition still exists as the fourth and bottom tier of pan-European competition, with the BCL coming in for the 2016-17 season. It’s all very confusing and you can learn a lot more here where you well get even more confused and in our Civil War series which covers a lot of the history but still isn’t close to getting you over the line.
The important thing to know is that, in terms of direct access, this is the biggest competition any of the teams that want to enter it can win.
It’s more important than you think
As the qualification for this competition is purely merit based, Sunday’s final actually counts for a whole lot more than just the crown for Bologna and Tenerife. Virtus are going to miss the playoffs in Italy, essentially assuring them of missing this competition through direct access. Tenerife are borderline, currently on the outside looking in. Both have one other way of making next year’s BCL: Win this game.
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Yes, that is Mario Chalmers but…
…the dude playing for Bologna you want to watch is Kevin Punter. He’s all confidence and has been the guy for Virtus throughout the season. He’s built for big games and is going to be the man setting the tone for the Italian side. Chalmers, despite his tremendous pedigree for this level through two NBA titles and his NCAA success, hasn’t really been a factor since joining the club to much fanfare a couple of months back.
Tenerife aren’t here for aesthetics
They took the crown in 2017 in front of their home fans and made the locals in Antwerp go home frowning by taking apart the local side. This is a grind out it, defence first, outfit that can make big plays but will be far from giving you highlight reel basketball for the 40 minutes. Their job is to win, not entertain, and they really take that to extremes.
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About the crowd
There were 17,289 people in the Sportpaleis on Friday night. At least 16,000 of them were there purely for the local Antwerp Giants. The Belgian club were the underdogs going into this one having been a Cinderella throughout the campaign, getting this far having entered at the first qualifying round.
FIBA has opted to go with a host team from the Final Four participants in each of its first three seasons. The first two years, it went great. Tenerife filled the barn easily in 2017, and AEK Athens did likewise as they took the crown at home last year. Sunday has about 16,000 questions around its attendance.
The Giants will play first, tipping off 3 hours before the final in the third place game with Bamberg. That will leave about an hour gap. However many of those fans are bothered hanging about on a Sunday evening, likely a wet one at that, will decide how this place looks for the showpiece event of the season. At 6pm local time, Virtus and Tenerife might well be in front of a couple of thousand people in an arena that is downright cavernous. The capacity is 18.500 and it’s shape means that empty seats will be terribly obvious.
The Basketball Champions League title game between Virtus Bologna and Tenerife tips at 6pm CET on Sunday, 5pm Irish/British, 12 noon EST, and 9am Pacific.
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