|13 January 2014|
EuroChallenge action resumes on Tuesday after an almost month-long break with the opening day of the Last 16, which inaugurates the business end of the season.
All 16 remaining contenders start the second phase of the competition with a clean slate, divided into four groups of four teams each.
We break down the four games on the opening night of the Last 16 in Group K and Group L.
|Dejan Borovnjak is Gaziantep's leading scorer in the EuroChallenge|
Royal Hali Gaziantep vs. BK Ventspils
Recent Form: Gaziantep LLWWW - Ventspils WWLWW
Key Match-Up: Dejan Borovnjak vs. Ronalds Zakis
The Serbian power forward was sidelined for a brief period in December but has returned to action looking every bit as effective as before his injury, when he was averaging 14.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game for Gaziantep. Zakis is the most reliable option for Ventspils inside and averages similar to Borovnjak figures in the EuroChallenge, as he scores 14.5 points and brings down six boards per game.
Key Stat: This clash presents us with a very interesting contrast in shooting selection. Gaziantep shoot the ball better than any other team in the competition from three-point range at 41.8% and score 25.5 of their points per game from downtown. Ventspils on the other hand are the best team in the EuroChallenge in two-point field goal percentage, converting 58% of their shots from inside the arc.
Game Notes: Gaziantep won the four Regular Season games in which Serkan Erdogan played in, and lost the two which the veteran shooting guard missed. On Tuesday however they will be able to count for the first time in the EuroChallenge on another former Turkish international in their backcourt, Baris Ermis, who had a very promising debut with his new team at the weekend in the victory over Tofas Bursa in Turkish BEKO TBL action.
JDA Dijon vs. Triumph Lyubertsy
Recent Form: Dijon WWLWL - Triumph LWLWW
Key Match-Up: Mykal Riley vs. Courdon Higgins
Riley is an excellent defender who averages a competition second-best 2.4 steals per game and will almost certainly assume on Tuesday the mission-impossible of limiting the impact of the relentless scorer that is Higgins. Triumph's guard averages 19.7 points per game on an amazing 48.8% from the floor and 90.9% from the free-throw line.
Key Stat: Simply put, unmovable object meets irresistible force on Tuesday in Dijon. The French team can rely on the stingiest defence in the entire EuroChallenge, as they concede only 66 points per game to their opponents, but no team scores more than Triumph, who averaged a competition-best 82.3 points per game in the Regular Season.
Game Notes: Dijon, who are currently co-leaders of the French Pro A, last won a game against Russian opposition almost 10 years ago, when they defeated Ural Great 99-68 in the EuroChallenge. They've lost all three games they played against a Russian team during the last decade.
Ural Ekaterinburg vs. Bakken Bears Aarhus
Recent Form: Ekaterinburg WWWWW - Aarhus LWLLL
Key Match-Up: Aaron McGhee vs. Chris Christoffersen
The two veterans roll back the years in almost every game in the EuroChallenge and their clash in the paint will have all the makings of an epic battle. Ekaterinburg's American center averages 16.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game while the Danish international puts up 10.7 points and 7.7 boards per night.
Key Stat: Perhaps influenced by the fact that they bring down 28.8 defensive boards per game, Ekaterinburg players take a rather relaxed approach at the sight of an opponent rising for a two-point shot, having allowed a competition-worst 53 shots from within the arc during the Regular Season. Bakken convert a decent 47.9% of their shots from two-point distance, but waste 16.3 possessions per game on average, as the most turnover-prone team of all that made the Last 16, together with Tsmoki Minsk.
Game Notes: Both sides have added depth to their roster during the winter break. The 26-year-old Russian point guard Anton Voskresenskii could make his EuroChallenge debut for Ekaterinburg after featuring four minutes in last week's league game against AltajBasket. Aarhus on the other hand have signed Nigerian-born American center Afamefuna Okolie, who has yet to debut with his new team.
|Parrish Petty has scored in double digits in five of Minsk's six EuroChallenge Regular Season games|
Team TEHO Sport Kotka vs. Tsmoki Minsk
Recent Form: Kotka LWWLW - Minsk LWLLL
Key Match-Up: Sharaud Curry vs. Parrish Petty
Kotka's diminutive point guard can wreak havoc if left to his own devices, and leads the EuroChallenge in scoring with 22.6 points per game. Petty might have to overlook his offensive duties on Tuesday (he averages 11.8 points per game) and focus on trying to keep his compatriot at bay by forcing him to make hasty decisions - Curry commits 4.2 turnovers per game, more than any other player in the competition.
Key Stat: Vincent Hunter and Keith Benson Jr, Minsk's twin towers, terrorised the opposition throughout the Regular Season and the Belarusian team dominated battles on the glass, averaging a competition-best 45 rebounds per game. This puts Kotka in a quite precarious position as they only grab 22 defensive rebounds per game, the lowest among the teams that made it to the Last 16.
Game Notes: Minsk are competing in the EuroChallenge for a fifth consecutive season and will mark the best start in their history should they manage to win on Tuesday (previous record was 5 wins in 12 games). With the three victories they clinched during the Regular Season, Kotka have already established a new club record in European competitions, in what is their reappearance on the international stage after a 19-year long gap.