Although this the first season of the FIBA Europe League, as winners of last season’s Champions Cup, Aris Thessaloniki are the de facto champions. This year the Greek side have had a more difficult competition and a win in their final game over Polish side Polonia Warbud saw them qualify to the play-offs. The addition of US guard William “Smush” Parker in December was a key one for the team, and he has averaged 18.6ppg and 5.6 apg since his arrival.
Anwil have been consistent than their Greek counterparts and cruised to a 9:3 record and first place in Group B. Both teams have been among the best in their domestic leagues and occupy 3rd place in the standings of their respective countries.
Aris Thessaloniki is one of the most decorated clubs in all European basketball. Under the legendary Nick Gallis and Panagiotis Yiannakis (who is currently coaching Maroussi) they qualified for 3 consecutive EuroLeague Final Fours in 1988, 1989 and 1990. They won the EuroLeague title in 1993, a Korac Cup in 1997 and the Champions Cup in 2003.
Anwil have also been regular partipants in Europe, reaching the semi-finals of the Saporta Cup in 2002 (they lost to Spanish side Valencia) as well as the quarter-finals in 2001.
The inside battle will be key during the series. Ryan Stack played an absolutely vital role in his side’s Champions Cup triumph last season averaging 14 ppg and 17 rpg in the final 2 games. This year his numbers are down considerably and he is contributing 8.9 ppg and 5.8 rpg.
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He will need to find his top form against Anwil’s powerful center Sharone Wright. Wright arrived just after the halfway point of the season and has led the team in rebounding (7.7rpg) and is second in scoring at 11.4ppg.
At a total of 83 ppg, Aris outscore their Polish opponents by 8 points per contest. More importantly, the Greek side have shown that when it really counts, they can light up the scoreboard quickly. Their highest scoring game of the season was also the most vital, as they hit Polonia for 111 points in a must-win contest that saw them qualify to the play-offs.