By Johnny Askounis/ firstname.lastname@example.org
It has been far from a conventional path but Pinar Karsiyaka earned a spot in the Basketball Champions League Final 8. The team coached by Ufuk Sarica can be called a dark horse of the season-ending tournament more than capable of beating any opponent.
Two missed opportunities and Europe Cup
The Turkish outlet is no stranger to the BCL quarterfinals with a couple of berths in its list. In both occasions, the Final Four fell one step shy.
Back in the 2016-17 season, the league’s introduction, Karsiyaka ranked third in Group B packing a 9-5 W-L tally. After taking out Fraport Skyliners and Besiktas, the quarterfinals home-and-away series versus Reyer Venezia marked the third and last of its run.
In the 2017-18 season, the team based in Izmir captured ten Regular Season wins and second place in Group A. They eliminated PAOK but fell to UCAM Murcia in the quarterfinals.
Moving over to Europe Cup was next with a run until the quarterfinals marking both 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons. The team actually advanced to the semifinals in the second attempt but the coronavirus pandemic prevented that stage and the completion of the season, therefore pushed back the search of improving its European club competition fortunes.
Breaking the curse
Ufuk Sarica returned to Karsiyaka prior to the 2019-20 season aiming to lift the side back to past glory, including the 2015 Turkish league title under his guidance. Last season’s Europe Cup campaign looked promising, much similar to this season’s Basketball Champions League run.
Karsiyaka got the job done in the Regular Season with a 4-2 record in Group F. Group I of the Playoffs, altered from their traditional form, was a bigger challenge as a win against Happy Casa Brindisi in a do-or-die match was necessary for a 3-3 finish and the Final 8 berth.
The trend of eliminations in the quarterfinals becomes more concerning with the season-ending tournament of the 2020-21 edition of the Basketball Champions League approaching and opening with the next quarterfinals challenge. On the other hand, the first continental title in team history is merely three wins away.
The leader on the court
Karsiyaka will face ERA Nymburk in the Final 8 quarterfinals. A potential win will generate a semifinal clash against hosting Nizhny Novgorod or Casademont Zaragoza. The opposite end of the bracket features defending champion Hereda San Pablo Burgos, Hapoel Unet-Credit Holon, Lenovo Tenerife, and SIG Strasbourg.
Raymar Morgan has been the clear leader so far. The former Michigan State standout, carrying plenty of European experience since launching his pro career in 2010, put up team-highs 18.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.0 steals per contest through the Regular Season and the Round of 16. An MVP candidate with 20.6 efficiency rating per game, also powered by 2.2 assists per match.
Morgan, 32, holds similar positions at the domestic level averaging 16.0 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.1 steals per game. Sarica’s side is currently third in the Regular Season standings trailing Anadolu Efes and Fenerbahce Beko.
Remaining main threats
D.J. Kennedy, Tony Taylor, and Amath M’Baye are the other three players carrying a double-digit efficiency rating average over the 12 BCL games building the Final 8 bid. The single-game elimination format can suit all three players. They have proven capable of an offensive outburst and tearing opponent’s plans into pieces.
Photo Credit: Basketball Champions League