There is an undeniably distinct flavour to this year's edition of the EuroChallenge, so we delve into the stat sheets and compare them to those of last season in order to determine the reasons.
The EuroChallenge Regular Season concluded on Tuesday and only half the field of initial competitors remain alive in the title race.
While this first stage represents a small part when compared to the business end of the competition which includes the Last 16, the Quarter-Final Play-Offs and of course the Final Four, its analysis provides us with some very interesting conclusions for the road that lies ahead.
A MORE BALANCED AFFAIR
|Aaron Miles is the leading assistant in the EuroChallenge, but his Krasnye Krylia side has not been as impressive as one year ago|
The first glaring observation about this year's EuroChallenge is that, unlike last season, there cannot be a flawless, perfect winner.
Reigning champions Krasnye Krylia Samara, who conquered the title on an all-time best 15-0 record last year, have suffered two defeats in the Regular Season, the first one already on the opening day of the competition.
In stark contrast, three teams last year finished the Regular Season undefeated - Krasnye Krylia, EWE Baskets Oldenburg and BK Ventspils - and the first two of course reached the Final Four in Izmir.
Six teams failed to advance to the Last 16 this year despite winning half of their six games in the Regular Season.
A 50% record might not sound like something to write home about, but in last year's edition there was one side, Norrköping Dolphins, that qualified on a 2-4 record.
In the 2012/13 edition, only three clubs on a 3-3 record were left out of the second phase, although there was also the particularly unlucky case of Port of Antwerp Giants, who actually won four of their six games but were the odd team out in a three-way tie at the top of their group.
While things near the top were a bit too close for comfort this time around, the least successful sides in the Regular Season also converged and were more competitive.
In last year's edition, there were two teams that finished the Regular Season without registering a single win, while this season only one team (Fortress Jaszberenyi) waved goodbye to the competition without tasting victory.
More importantly, the combined record of the 16 teams that did not manage to qualify to the second phase this year was 31-65, which means they collectively won three games more than the teams which were left out of the Last 16 in last year's edition.
The three Russian sides that take part in this season's EuroChallenge were the best teams in the Regular Season on the offensive end, as the only ones to score more than 80 points per game on average.
Triumph Lyubertsy concluded the Regular Season with the highest offensive output of any other team, scoring 82.3 points on average.
However, Okapi Aalstar averaged 87.2 points per game at this stage of the competition in the 2012/13 edition and even the second-best offensive team last year, EWE Baskets Oldenburg, scored 86.2 points per encounter in the Regular Season.
Naturally offensive output dropped somewhat as games got more tight in the following phases but still, Gravelines Dunkerques, which finished as the best offensive team in EuroChallenge 2012/13 after its completion, averaged 83.7 points per game, despite two below-par offensive displays in the Final Four.
THE MAGINOT LINE
|Claude Marquis and his Cholet Basket teammates have built a wall around the their basket, allowing only 66.2 points per game|
The two French teams that take part in the EuroChallenge, JDA Dijon and Cholet, put up some solid defensive displays to reach the Last 16 as they only allowed 66 and 66.2 points per game, respectively.
A very close third-best team in terms of defence in the Regular Season has been Krka Novo Mesto, who gave up 66.3 points to their opponents on average.
Still these figures do not compare to the stinginess of Pinar Karsiyaka, which had allowed only 62.5 points on average throughout last year's Regular Season.
Karsiyaka achieved this in great part thanks to the fact that they allowed their opponents to shoot only 43.7% from two-point range.
Interestingly, the team which fares better this year in that respect is not among the afore mentioned top-three defensive teams.
Szolnoki Olaj have denied open looks to their opponents from close to the basket more efficiently than any other team, allowing them to shoot only 44.7% from two-point range.
The defensive facet brings up another interesting difference with last year, which has to do with the reigning champions.
Krasnye Krylia are almost as productive offensively as they were in their triumphant 2012/13 season, but on the other end of the floor they now concede 74.5 points per game.
Last year, the Samara side gave up only 69.6 points on average during the Regular Season and remained so remarkably consistent throughout the year that they finished the competition having conceded 70.7 points per game.
SOLID AS A ROCK
|Janar Talts and Tartu Rock might not have been impressive so far, but they do several things pretty good, good enough for a Last 16 berth|
Krasnye Krylia, Pinar Karsiyaka, EWE Baskets Oldenburg and Gravelines Dunkerque, the teams that made it all the way to last year's Final Four, had one thing in common.
All four title contenders were in the top-six of the EuroChallenge in three crucial statistical categories, namely Points Scored, Points Allowed and 2-Point Field Goal Percentage.
There has been only one team to match that description in this year's Regular Season and, perhaps surprisingly, its name is Tartu University Rock.
The Estonian side might have advanced to the Last 16 only courtesy of a big 76-72 win over Sodertalje BK on the road on the final day, but averages 79.7 points on offence (5th-best), 68 points on defence (4th-best) and 54.7% from two-point range (2nd-best).
While this is definitely a noteworthy feat for Tartu, who have not enjoyed any success in Europe since claiming fourth place in the Eurocup in 2008, it does not automatically convert them to Final Four contenders.
Last season was an exception in that the competition evolved in a quite linear fashion, and yet there were teams such as Okapi Aalstar and BK Ventspils which impressed during the early stages, or even dominated main statistical categories in the Regular Season, but failed to advance past the Last 16.
On the other hand, in 2012, Triumph Lyubertsy came below the radar to overturn a 0-3 start in the Last 16 and then knock out that year's second-hottest favourite in Baloncesto Fuenlabrada, to make the Final Four.
Which way will the EuroChallenge go this season? Stay tuned to the Last 16 which tips off on 14 January to find out.