By John Rammas/ firstname.lastname@example.org
The 7DAYS EuroCup is the second child of the EuroLeague Basketball organization and the tournament that, if you win it, gets you into the EuroLeague. Valencia won the EuroCup last season for the fourth time, which paved its way to the EuroLeague this season. ALBA was runner-up to Valencia after losing their three-game series but qualified to the EuroLeague for the first time since 2015 by finishing second in the German League, too.
But how easy is the transition from the EuroCup, especially with the EuroLeague’s new round-robin format since 2016? Valencia and ALBA are both answering that question by getting stronger in midseason, as evidenced by winning two road games each in the double-round last week, something only two other teams have done this season, leaders Anadolu Efes Istanbul and sixth-place Panathinaikos OPAP Athens.
Valencia already experienced it in 2018, finishing just short of the playoffs, in ninth place, with a 12-18 record. Despite that experience, Valencia didn’t get off to a good start this season. Five consecutive defeats out of the gate to some of the biggest names in the EuroLeague sowed doubt about the team’s chances going forward.
Or maybe not? From Round 5 onwards, head coach Jaume Ponsarnau’s charges have been on an enviable course, with 10 wins out of the last 15 games, for a record of 10-10, which has them among the places that lead to the playoffs. The last two wins, both on Russian soil, first over Khimki Moscow Region (75-84) and then over Zenit St Petersburg (81-86), confirmed that Valencia has found a rhythm and can cope in the most difficult circumstances.
And it’s not just the wins. It’s the way that the team gets them. Valencia’s ninth-ranked offense has improved so much that it makes up for its 13th-ranked defense.
ROUNDS 1-5 vs. ROUNDS 6-20
70.4 OFFENSE 87.5
85.4 DEFENSE 82.7
ALBA (7-13) are much further way away from the playoff positions, but this takes nothing away from their image on the court. The team’s competitiveness is clear by the fact that it has played in five of the EuroLeague’s 14 overtimes this season. Olympiacos Piraeus and a reborn Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade would have liked things to be different when they hosted ALBA last week. The former lost 86-93 at home in the return of head coach Georgios Bartzokas. The latter fell 85-94 at home in OT to end a four-game winning streak under its new coach, Dragan Sakota.
There are times, it seems, when opponents cannot hold back ALBA. Yes, their defense (88.4 points) is the worst in the competition (alongside Khimki’s), but their offense is such that it makes them the most fun-to-watch team.
POINTS: 84.8 (#5)
ASSISTS: 19.8 (#1)
After all, ALBA’s game abounds in teamwork and efficiency. It’s telling that they have two players in the Top 20 in the PIR and four in the Top 50.
#11 Luke Sikma 16.5
#18 Rokas Giedraitis 14.6
#37 Landry Nnoko 11.7
#48 Marcus Eriksson 10.8
After 20 rounds, there is no question: ALBA plays for the love of the game. The head coach, Aito Garcia Reneses, said it better than anyone after the last win in Belgrade:
“I never really think about whether we will win or not. I worry about whether we will play our game. If we play like we can and we lose, I’m happy. Of course, I’m more happy if we win, but I don’t think before games about whether we’ll win or not”.