The fifth week of action in the EuroChallenge Last 16 presents four teams, that currently stand at 3-1 in their respective groups' standings, with the chance to punch their ticket to the quarter-final play-offs.
Szolnoki Olaj, Triumph Lyubertsy and the winner of the Ural Ekaterinburg vs. Tsmoki Minsk clash are the teams that will go into the final day of action in the Last 16 with ease of mind provided they do their homework on Tuesday.
In the second part of our Last 16 Week 5 preview, we break down the match-ups in Group K and in Group L.
| Courdon Higgins (pictured) will be facing tough opposition in Gaziantep's guard Baris Ermis|
Recent Form: Gaziantep WWWWW - Triumph WWLWW
Key Match-Up: Baris Ermis vs. Courdon Higgins
The two guards had poured in 23 and 20 points, respectively, in the reverse fixture in Russia, which Gaziantep won 78-74. Both Ermis and Higgins lead their teams in scoring but while the American is a natural-born scorer, the Turkish point guard is just as happy to create shots for his team-mates and averages eight assists per game in the EuroChallenge.
Key Stat: Gaziantep have the best defence in the EuroChallenge, allowing their opponents to score only 68 points on average, but Triumph are not far behind, as they give up 68.8 points per game. If the so far perfect Turkish side have one weakness it's on the glass, as they collect only 30.9 rebounds per game, the second-lowest among the teams that take part in the Last 16.
Game Notes: Gaziantep have already secured quarter-final status and will clinch top spot in the group if they win. Should Triumph win, they will accompany them in the play-offs. Triumph could actually punch their ticket to the next phase on Tuesday even in case of a loss, as long as Ventspils lose at Dijon in the other game in the group.
Recent Form: Dijon LLWLL - Ventspils WWWLW
Key Match-Up: Mykal Riley vs. Janis Timma
The two small forwards are both expected to perform more than one job on the court and in the reverse fixture they cancelled each other out with each delivering one of their most discreet displays this season, which perhaps explains why both teams struggled offensively. Riley is coming off an injury while Timma is undergoing a relative dip in performance, so the Tuesday clash provides them with the perfect opportunity to draw a line and recover their previous form.
Key Stat: If Dijon's inability to take care of the ball is the main reason behind their losing streak in the Last 16, against Ventspils they might stand a chance to get off the mark. Dijon average an eye-watering 16.2 turnovers per game, more than any other team at this stage, but the Latvian side are only marginally more careful as they turn the ball over 14.6 times per game.
Game Notes: Ventspils will already know the result of the other game in the group when they line up for tip-off. In case Triumph win at Gaziantep, Ventspils are eliminated from contention even if they go on to beat Dijon. Should Triumph lose and Ventspils win, the two teams will face off in a do-or-die direct clash next week. In case both Triumph and Ventspils lose on Tuesday, the Russian side advance to the quarter-finals as second from the group.
|Keith Benson Jr (pictured) and Vincent Hunter pull down a joint team-high 7.1 boards per game for Minsk|
Recent Form: Ekaterinburg WWLLW - Minsk LWLWL
Key Match-Up: Aaron McGhee vs. Keith Benson Jr
The two big men, who lead their respective teams in both scoring and rebounds, should offer us another epic duel in the paint on Tuesday. In the reverse fixture, Benson finished with a game-high 25 points and added seven boards while McGhee collected a double-double of 23 points and 10 rebounds. Ekaterinburg edged out Minsk 97-96 in overtime.
Key Stat: This is really a clash of titans as the two teams match each other for size. Minsk score more points (86.2 ppg) and pick up more rebounds (43.7 rpg) than any other team in the EuroChallenge and Ekaterinburg are right behind them in second place in both categories, as they score 83.4 points and collect 43.2 boards per game.
Game Notes: The winner of this encounter will automatically secure passage to the quarter-final play-offs. However, the losing side could also qualify this week, if the result of the other game in the group goes their way. Ekaterinburg will advance in case Team TEHO Sport Kotka lose, while Minsk will advance in case Bakken Bears Aarhus lose.
Recent Form: Kotka WWWLL - Bakken WWWWW
Key Match-Up: Sharaud Curry vs. Thomas Laerke
Curry is leading the EuroChallenge in scoring for the simple reason that he's not dropped below double-digit figures in any game this season, and the young Danish shooting guard is recently emulating that example. Laerke poured in 18 points in the reverse fixture and is averaging 17 points per game in Aarhus' last three encounters.
Key Stat: Kotka are the worst rebounding team in the EuroChallenge as they bring down only 30.8 boards per game and in the reverse fixture in Denmark, the Bears out-rebounded them 40 to 28. Yet Kotka prevailed 90-86, largely because they went 14-of-28 from three-point range, which was their best mark this season from beyond the arc in a game where they attempted more than 22 triples.
Game Notes: The team that loses this game is definitely out of contention for a spot in the play-offs, but the winner is not guaranteed survival either. Even if they win, Kotka will be eliminated from the qualification race in case Ekaterinburg beats Triumph in the other game. Similarly, Bakken Bears will be knocked out in case that Minsk prevails in the other game on Tuesday.