|Been there, done that - Aaron Miles aims to lead reigning champions Krasnye Krylia to a second consecutive Final Four |
All four EuroChallenge quarter-final play-off series tip off on Tuesday and there is hardly margin to fail in Game 1 for any team that aspires to reach the Final Four.
Since the EuroChallenge quarter-finals are determined in best -of-three series, the four teams that lose Game 1 on Tuesday would need to win the remaining two games, one of them on the road, in order to advance.
Game 2 takes place on Thursday while any series that goes to Game 3 will return to the home arena of the team that has the home-court advantage next Tuesday.
We break down the four Tuesday quarter-final encounters:
TARTU UNIVERSITY ROCK vs. SZOLNOKI OLAJ
How They Arrived Here: Tartu topped Group I in the Last 16 with a 5-1 record, Szolnok finished second in Group J with a 3-2 record.
Key Match-Up: Vilmantas Dilys vs. Péter Lóránt
Dilys arrived at Tartu midway through the EuroChallenge Regular Season and revolutionised their offensive plays as he took over a huge load, averaging 13.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game going into the play-offs. Lorant is averaging a more discreet 10.3 points and 5.4 boards per contest, but thanks to Szolnoki's depth in the frontcourt he will be able to count on help from his team-mates in this intriguing battle of power forwards.
Key Stat: Tartu are perhaps the most balanced team in the EuroChallenge and the only side to feature in the top-three of the competition both on offence (scoring 80.4 points per game) and on defence (allowing 68.8 points per game). Szolnok have scored 75.1 points and given up 73 points per contest so far in the competition.
Game Notes: Scouting videos from the Regular Season and the Last 16 are of little use to Tartu, as Szolnok's style of play has undergone a significant overhaul since their previous game in the EuroChallenge. Point guard Willie Warren, who used to slice opposing defences and dice to the Szolnok's big men has parted ways with the club. He has been replaced with 27-year-old Serbian Radenko Pilcevic, who will make his EuroChallenge debut on Tuesday, and the familiar figure of Obbie Trotter. The American had led Szolnok to the EuroChallenge Final Four in 2012 and returned to the Hungarian club in January, while still recovering from a long-term injury.
GRISSIN BON REGGIO EMILIA vs. KRASNYE KRYLIA SAMARA
How They Arrived Here: Reggio Emilia finished with 3-2 in Last 16 Group J and edged out Szolnoki Olaj in the two-team tie at the top; Samara took second place in Group I, with a 4-2 record.
Key Match-Up: Andrea Cinciarini vs. Aaron Miles
The individual match-up between two of the best playmakers in the EuroChallenge might not prove the decisive factor in the outcome of the clash, but it will still be a highly enjoyable sub-plot to this series. Both the Italian international and the Krasnye Krylia captain are the type of selfless player who aims at making his team-mates look good. Cinciarini dishes out 6.3 assists per game and Miles averages a competiton second-best 6.9 assists per contest.
Key Stat: Reggio Emilia enjoy the highest two-point shooting percentage (53.9%) among all quarter-finalists, but attempt only 39 two-point shots per game, while Krasnye Krylia convert 52.3% of their shots from that range, but on 46.8 attempts per game, which means they are in actual fact more effective from within the arc.
Game Notes: Despite the fact he is only playing in his third season in the EuroChallenge, Miles has already dished out 195 assists, which means he is more than likely to reach the landmark of 200 during this series and enter the Top-5 of the all-time list of players with more assists in the competitions. Krasnye Krylia have a long history in the EuroChallenge but have not faced an Italian team since taking on Scavolini Pesaro in the 2010 semi-final, a clash the Russian side won 73-70.
|Dejan Borovnjak is facing a surprise opponent and Royal Hali Gaziantep need him to adapt quickly and without getting into foul trouble|
ROYAL HALI GAZIANTEP vs. TSMOKI MINSK
How They Arrived Here: Gaziantep finished in first place in Group K with six wins in six games, while Minsk took second spot in Group L, with a 4-2 record.
Key Match-Up: Dejan Borovnjak vs. Jason Washburn
Washburn made his debut with Minsk at the weekend in VTB league action and has the advantage of being a largely unknown quantity for Gaziantep. Borovnjak is the frontcourt reference for the Turkish hosts, averaging 14 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, but is prone to committing fouls on defence (fouled out in 4 EuroChallenge games) and if he fails to deal with the surprise element of Washburn, he might end up spending considerable less time on the court than his team and himself would like to.
Key Stat: On paper, Gaziantep are facing a nightmare on the glass as they bring down less boards than any other quarter-finalist, only 31 per game, while Minsk lead the EuroChallenge in rebounds, with 43.6 per game. The Belarusian side however owed much of their air supremacy to the injured duo of Keith Benson and Vincent Hunter, who combined for 27.6 points and 13.9 rebounds per contest.
Benson is highly unlikely to feature in either Game 1 or Game 2 of the series for Minsk, while Hunter is a confirmed absence for the entire series, even if it goes into a third game. Gaziantep were the only team to complete the Last 16 phase undefeated, in what is their first season in a European competition in the club's history.
URAL EKATERINBURG vs. TRIUMPH LYUBERTSY
How They Arrived Here: Ekaterinburg Topped Group L with a 5-1 record while Triumph finished in second spot in Group K with four wins in six games.
Key Match-Up: Aaron Mc Ghee vs. Kyle Landry
The clash between the two experienced north-American big men will determine to a great extent which team assumes control under the basket on both ends, as both players lead their respective teams in rebounds and are among the best players in the competition in creating space in the paint for their team-mates.
Key Stat: Ekaterinburg have the lowest field goal percentage among all eight quarter-finalists, as they convert 41.5% of their shots from the floor. Triumph shoot at a much better 47.2% from the floor and will need to maintain their accuracy levels high on Tuesday, as they are unlikely to get any second-chance points against their hosts: Ekaterinburg bring down a EuroChallenge second-best 42.9 rebounds per game, Triumph average only 33.7 boards per night.
Game Notes: This all-Russian quarter-final is far from a novelty as teams from the same country have faced each other on several occasions in the past, the last being the all-French match-up between Elan Chalon and Roanne in 2012. It is however the first time in history that two teams from the same country but from a different domestic/regional league will go up against each other in the quarter-finals of a European competition. Also in 2012 and in another quarter-final series, Triumph overturned a Game 2 loss at home to win the series against favourites Fuenlabrada and reach the Final Four in what was Vasily Karasev's first couple of months in charge of the team.