The Eurocup has never been more competitive than this year. From the first stage, we had some incredible decisive games, ending with clutch shots. Teams, such as Bayern, Lietuvos Rytas, Gran Canaria, and Khimki, got knocked out down the road.
Nobody cares about the losers at this stage of the tournament. We are down to four best teams, and the serious games start now. On the first semi-final, Valencia Basket will take on Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem. On the second, Lokomotiv Kuban will try to cool down Malaga Unicaja – who is on fire at this stage of the season.
Valencia Basket vs. Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem
If we talk about consistency in the Eurocup, Valencia is the first team to point out. They made it to the semi-finals for the seventh time in their history. Most recent appearances were on 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2014, so there are still many guys on the team who know what it is like to play games of such importance.
On the other side, Jerusalem Hapoel is onto something big this year. After signing Amar’e Stoudemire (yup, the same guy who dominated NBA a decade ago), Hapoel is feeling on fire and will give it a shot at the Eurocup and Israeli Basketball Premier League. The first obstacle on the way is Valencia Basket.
From the statistical side, both teams are very similar. Valencia scores 83.47 points with 35 percent accuracy from the three-point line, and 54.3 percent field goals made. Jerusalem Hapoel scores 83.25 points, completes 38.7 percent of shots from behind the arc, and adds 55 percent of field goals. Both Valencia and Hapoel are amongst the top rebounders in the Eurocup with 38 and 34 boards per game respectfully. Rebounds will be crucial in this series. Hapoel Jerusalem has 9-0 record in this year’s Eurocup when they out rebound their opponents. Valencia, however, is not a team that be easy to out rebound. For example, Valencia got 57 boards against Khimki, becoming Eurocup’s record holders for the most overall rebounds in a non-overtime game.
The team that wins the boards will win the series.
It is extremely hard to tell who the leaders of Valencia are. Only one player, Bojan Dublejevic, scores more than 10 points per game (11.9), but 8 players score at least 7 points per game. It is the main weapon of Valencia most of the time as any player can become an x-factor on a given day.
Of course, if Jerusalem Hapoel wants to win the series, it will have to stop Bojan Dublejevic, Antoine Diot, and Fernando San Emeterio. In fact, Dublejevic is only 42 points away from becoming the Eurocup’s all-time leading scorer. Antoine Diot is the guy who controls Valencia’s game, and San Emeterio is the spiritual leader of the team. However, when 12 players play at least 14 minutes per game, it is hard to pick the most important ones. Valencia’s main strength is their team play; they rank second in the assists per game with almost 20, and Jerusalem Hapoel will have to play a good team defense to have a shot at this series.
On the other side, we have a Jerusalem Hapoel roster, stacked with Americans. Oh yes, from the first look at Hapoel, I would say that it is an American team because 9 players are coming from the United States. Only Lior Eliahu and Yotam Halperin are not from the US and make a difference in this team. Obviously, with so many Americans, Jerusalem Hapoel is one of the most athletic and powerful teams in the whole Eurocup. All the players are individually strong, and most of the time we will see Hapoel players going 1-on-1 against their opponents. If Valencia will be able to stop Jerrells Curtis, who scores 17 ppg, and Jerome Dyson, who adds 12.2 ppg, they will have a shot at the series. Oh yes, there is also Amar’e Stoudemire. He is not the same guy who dominated NBA with Steve Nash, but he is still strong enough to dominate the basket in Eurocup. All of his 13 ppg and 7 boards will be needed for Hapoel to make it to the finals.
Based on the fact that Valencia has a better team spirit, which is so important in Europe, and they will also have a homecourt advantage, I think the series will end 2-1 in Valencia’s favor.
Lokomotiv Cuban vs. Unicaja
If we expect to see a lot of points and highlights from Hapoel and Valencia, then we should be prepared to see a defensive game played by Lokomotiv and Unicaja. Those two teams have the best defenses in the Eurocup. Most of the time, it all comes down to the aggressive defense, rebounds, and steals, when we talk about the success of Unicaja and Lokomotiv. Some might say that they are playing an ugly basketball, but that is how it works in Europe – no one cares about the highlights as long as the team wins.
Statistically, Lokomotiv and Unicaja are ranked 7th and 8th in Eurocup by the index rating. So many teams with better stats are already out of the competition. Yes, both Lokomotiv and Unicaja have a lot of experience playing at the top level, and there are no stats which would represent how composed Lokomotiv and Unicaja are in the clutch moments. One of those seemingly average teams will be playing in Eurocup’s final soon, leaving behind all the show-off teams. That is the example of the true European efficiency.
On top of that, Lokomotiv and Unicaja used to play in Euroleague before the systems changed this year, so we can be sure that none of the players will get scared and capitulate.
Talking about the leaders, Lokomotiv Cuban trusts their Americans. Four players on the team scores over 10 points and all of them are from the US. Mardy Collins and Kevin Jones are the two big guys, who are responsible for stopping opponents in the paint. When it comes to scoring, Taylor Rochestie is the guy Lokomotiv turns to. His 11.5 ppg might not look incredible, but Rochestie was the top scorer in the 2015 Euroleague’s season, which only shows that he is more than capable of deciding the winner of the game on his own. If Unicaja wants to have a shot at this, it will have to find a way how to stop the Lokomotiv’s Americans. The biggest headache for Sasa Obradovic will be his team’s poor three-point shooting. There are only a few guys he can trust, and he knows that Unicaja will most likely focus defending the paint, which will make things even harder.
If we look at Unicaja’s roster, we will see that there is no actual leader on this team. Most of the time it is an advantage; however, coach Joan Plaza might struggle to find a right man in the clutch moments. On the other hand, Plaza has players, such as Kyle Fogg or Jamar Smith, who makes over 40 percent of the three-pointers. There is also Nemanja Nedovic, who has experience playing for the International team of Serbia. He already proved that he can be an x-factor on the decisive quarter-final game against FC Bayern Munich. Nemanja Nedovic scored 21 points, dished four assists, and was the hero of Malaga that day. Also, Dejan Musli is on fire late in the season. Lokomotiv Cuban will have to find a way to defend against this powerful Center because otherwise, it will be almost impossible to win the series.
Taking all into account, expect it to be a really low scoring series. It will be low scoring not because Lokomotiv and Unicaja are bad at attacking, but because they are just better on the defensive end of the court. Bookies will most likely favor Lokomotiv Cuban because of their home advantage, but I lean towards Unicaja. This team already beat Bayern against all odds, and Joan Plaza is a fantastic coach who won’t stop his journey at the semi-finals.