|21 January 2013|
Gaz Metan Medias and Joensuun Kataja both had to go through qualifiers just to earn a place in the EuroChallenge Regular Season and have, in a way, already exceeded expectations.
Advancing to the Last 16 of the competition is in itself an accomplishment either team can be proud of, but the Finns are the ones who are enjoying themselves the most right now.
Kataja registered their fourth win in a row and 18th this season in the Finnish Korisliiga over the weekend to climb to first place in the standings with one game in hand over co-leaders Tampereen Pyrintö.
Last week, they kicked off EuroChallenge Last 16 Group I action with a victory over BK Ventspils, a side that had previously put together a 19-game winning streak across three competitions.
A win in Romania on Tuesday night could give them a considerable advantage for a top-two finish in the group, whilst dealing a serious blow to Medias' hopes in the process.
The hosts however, who went through a rough patch in the last month or so, are coming off a morale-boosting victory in the Romanian LNB on the weekend and have every reason to believe they can rediscover their form.
Medias started the EuroChallenge Last 16 on the wrong foot last Tuesday, with a heavy 89-59 loss, away to Pinar Karisyaka.
Despite the extent of the defeat, losing on the road to group favourites, and one of the most solid teams across the entire competition, was not exactly a result that derailed their season.
The Romanians proved that on Saturday in their domestic league, when they rose to the occasion and triumphed 76-63 over second-placed BC Mureș Târgu Mureș to keep their hopes for a play-off spot intact.
Bulgarian guard Ivan Lilov, who only joined the team recently, started the game and contributed 10 points, three rebounds and two assists.
More importantly, the frontcourt duo of Ivan Ivanovic and Zoran Krstanovic, another new addition to the roster, looked to be in great shape as they combined for 35 points and 20 rebounds.
If Medias' frontline players replicate this kind of performance on Tuesday, Kataja could be in trouble as they are one of the smallest teams in the EuroChallenge and their game is more perimeter-oriented.
|Joensuun Kataja's Daniel Coleman has showed a fine vein of form late and will be hoping for it to continue on Tuesday night|
Power forward Daniel Coleman, who was brought in to bolster the frontcourt, might be a key player for coach Jukka Toijala in changing this and he looked the part on Saturday.
Kataja cruised past UU-Korihait 90-59 at home as the 2.06m forward went 8-for-11 from the floor to collect 18 points alongside nine rebounds.
Shooting guard Antti Kanervo demonstrated that sharp outside shooting will always be there when Kataja need it, as he made seven of his 10 attempts from behind the three-point line and led all scorers with 29 points.
SEASON SO FAR
When Kataja manage to make the most of their strengths they are barely troubled by their lack of size and part of the reason for their success against Ventspils was the fact they could match the Latvian side's aggressive defence and transition game.
At 1.96m, small forward Jermaine Flowers is agile and plays a big role in that direction, as he is the best pickpocket in the competition with 3.22 steals per game.
The Finnish side rely heavily on Flowers and guard Petri Virtanen on the offensive end, as they combine for 41.6% of the team's offensive output in the EuroChallenge.
Medias are bigger, but not slower for that matter.
They enjoy a fast-paced tempo as much as their opponents, and tend to feel more comfortable in high-scoring games.
So far they have won every time they scored more than 80 points while they have picked up only one win (70-68 away to Tartu Rock in November) by virtue of out-defending their opponent.
The Romanian side score 77.7 points-per-night on average in the EuroChallenge, while Kataja are close by, with 76.9 per contest.
As expected, Kataja force their opponents to more turnovers and are the fourth-best team in the entire competition in steals, with 9.1 per game, while Medias have 8.4.
The difference on the glass is not substantial, as Medias average 32.3 rebounds per-night compared to Kataja's 30.8.
The Finns however rarely fight to earn a second chance after a missed shot, as they rank among the teams that collect the least offensive rebounds, 8.7 per-game, in the EuroChallenge.
With their game rhythm being quite similar, the two sides are evenly matched in field goal attempts per-game, taking 60.8 and 61.1 shots, respectively.