|18 February 2013|
Two of the three best defensive teams in the EuroChallenge face off in the eagerly anticipated and decisive Game of the Week on Tuesday, in Last 16 Group I action.
Pinar Karsiyaka play host to BK Ventspils in an encounter which the balance on the defensive end might, surprisingly, result in a high-scoring affair and will no doubt define both teams' future in the competition.
The hosts will clinch first place in the group and secure their passage to the quarter-final play-offs if they emerge victorious, while their Latvian visitors, who started the Last 16 with two defeats, will turn the group table upside down if they escape from Turkey with a six-point win.
Neither of the teams will be eliminated should they lose, and while they will be aware of the result of the other Tuesday Group I game between Joensuun Kataja and Gaz Metan Medias shortly after tip-off, they both have the luxury at this stages of being the masters of their own destinies.
In the reverse fixture on Latvian soil, the rock solid defence demonstrated by both teams effectively cancelled out that of their opponent as Karsiyaka threw caution to the win in recording an 86-81 win.
Point guard Robert Dixon made 10 of his 16 shots from the floor and had a game-high 32 points to lead the Turkish side to victory, but right now big man William Thomas is going through a great run of form for Karsiyaka and could be the biggest threat for the relatively under-sized Ventspils frontcourt on Tuesday.
Karsiyaka delivered another fantastic defensive display and put an emphatic end to a two-game losing streak at the weekend, with an 85-64 win on the road over TÜRK Telekom in the Turkish BEKO Ligi.
Thomas followed up on his EuroChallenge career-high 28 points in last week's game against Medias with a 19-point performance, on 9-for-10 shooting from the field.
Jon Diebler had 17 points and Turkish shooting guard Can Mutaf added 15 points and seven rebounds for the winners.
Ventspils are also coming off a comfortable victory, albeit at home, 95-60 over Latvijas Universitate in Latvian domestic league action.
Coach Roberts Stelmahers did not need to keep any of his players on the floor for more than 25 minutes and saw six of them scoring in double digits, as Janis Timma led the way with 16 points and six rebounds.
|Folarin Campbell is one of five players averaging in double figures for BK Ventspils|
SEASON SO FAR
Karsiyaka are ranked the best defensive team in the EuroChallenge on account of only giving up 66.2 points-per-game on average, whilst Ventspils are third-best (EWE Baskets Oldenburg are in second), in conceding 67.9 points on average.
Both teams base their defensive success on aggressiveness and good rotations rather than an intimidating presence in the paint, although statistically this is more apparent in the case of Karsiyaka, who average 8.2 steals per-game to their guests' 5.9.
The Latvians depend instead on constant hassling and fighting for the loose ball, somehow always managing to put a hand in front of the opposing shooter's face and forcing them to hit a meagre 40.3% of their shots from the field, the best for any team in the EuroChallenge.
To make things even worse for whoever crosses paths with Ventspils, no other team shoots the ball better than them from the floor (53%) or the charity stripe (80.3%), despite the fact that Karsiyaka are better at finding the open man (17.7 to 18.3 assists).
Dixon's 32-point showing in the reverse fixture was not a flash in the pan, as the American is Karsiyaka's top scorer in the EuroChallege with 19 points-per-game, and the fourth-best scorer amongst players whose teams have made it to the Last 16.
Scoring duties are shared for Ventspils with all five starters averaging in double digits, with Folarin Campbell leading the way
The shooting guard averages 12.6 points on excellent shooting percentages and also dishes out 3.4 assists per game.
Perhaps surprisingly considering their size, Ventspils are better on the glass than Karsiyaka and average 36.7 rebounds to the Turkish side's 35.
The main difference though is that while all Ventspils players, regardless of position, contribute to bringing down the boards, at Karsiyaka the responsibility falls upon the frontcourt personnel mainly, with Thomas leading his team with 6.8 boards per game.