By Stefan Djordjevic/ firstname.lastname@example.org
The Basketball Champions League is entering the final stage of the season with eight teams left to fight it out for the trophy.
U-BT Cluj Napoca, MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg, BAXI Manresa, Unicaja, Hapoel U-NET Holon, SIG Strasbourg, Lenovo Tenerife, and TOFAS are the names that have secured a ticket for the quarterfinals and the draw has treated the fans with very interesting matchups.
The quarterfinals will start on April 5th this season and will be played in a best-of-three format with, of course, the higher-seeded teams having the home-court advantage.
Eurohoops has taken a look at the bracket and introduces the most important facts to know before tuning in to the action.
While Cluj and Ludwigsburg will open the quarterfinals, later the same night, the fans will be treated to a clash between two Spanish clubs – Manresa and Unicaja.
Story of the Season
Spanish teams have established themselves in the Basketball Champions League since the early days and a lot is expected from them every year.
Rightfully so, since they’ve had so much success so far and have won three titles so far and have had at least one team in the Final Four every year.
The previous two seasons, they had two representatives with San Pablo Burgos winning it all while Casademont Zaragoza finished 4th and 3rd.
And there is no doubt they will have at least one team in the Final Four this year as well since Manresa and Unicaja will fight it out for one of the tickets directly.
Unlike Tenerife (which will clash against Tofas), both Manresa and Unicaja are not as established in BCL’s history. Manresa returned to the competition after the 2019-20 run while this is Unicaja’s debut in BCL.
That said, Manresa did come with some BCL experience while Unicaja has played for so long in other European competitions. This fact, coupled with the high ranking of Spanish teams, has put the two clubs pretty high among the title contenders early on.
And they proved that they deserve to be considered among the best in BCL.
Under coach Pedro Martinez, who returned to Manresa in 2019, the team has been playing excellent basketball and the results followed. In both BCL and the Spanish Liga Endesa.
Martinez took his time creating the roster over the past couple of years and the balance he managed to strike with a deep bench has led to topping the boards in BCL as well as sitting right behind Barca and Real Madrid in Spain.
On the other side, Unicaja had a strong start but the team went through a crisis mid-season, replaced Fotis Katsikaris with Ibon Navarro, and it might be costly if they don’t somehow manage to go on a long winning streak.
They are two wins behind the eighth spot in Spain which leads to the playoffs while the team will have a tough task to get past Manresa in BCL.
Unicaja will have a tough time indeed and the first stat that goes against them is the strong record Manresa holds at home while Unicaja has been struggling greatly on the road.
The difference might not be too huge since both teams are from Spain but it is going to give Manresa a meaningful boost.
Manresa won 10 of the 13 home games in BCL. Those three defeats came with no more than a five-point margin.
Meanwhile, Unicaja lost four of the last five games on the road in the competition and three of those were in double-digits.
Manresa has some clear facts that give the squad the status of a favorite in this duel.
Martinez’s team is the best offensive team in BCL with 85.3 points per game and is also leading the competition in assists with 22.1 on average while keeping the assists-turnover ratio among the best.
The most important fact, however, is that Manresa has a very balanced game and the coach has a deep bench to count on.
The best bench in BCL that is. Manresa’s bench players are leading the league with 41.2 points per game.
On the contrary, Unicaja was focusing on defense this season. They conceded just 69.7 points per game and 0.99 points per possession, the best defensive marks amongst all teams in the BCL.
They have also conceded only 6.2 shots per game from behind the arc, the fewest of any team this term.
However, there is a big asterisk next to Unicaja when it comes to their gameplay and analyzing it through stats. That is the coaching change of course.
While the Unicaja from earlier in the season led by Katsikaris may have been a defensive stronghold, Navarro has shifted the focus more on offense.
The team didn’t adjust instantly, and some ups and downs happened but they managed to come through to the quarterfinals and are currently on a three-game winning streak in Spain.
Those wins came with double-digit victories and Unicaja scored 85 or more points in each.
The two have clashed already earlier in the season, in the domestic championship, and Manresa came out on top with 85-74. In fact, Manresa won the last four duels against Unicaja, dating back to 2019.
Manresa had six players in double-digits in that October game, showing off the balanced offense and that will be the deciding factor once again for sure.
Manresa will keep the pressure coming throughout all 40 minutes and it’s up to Unicaja to keep up or fall apart.
Leaders and the X-Factor(s)
Manresa has only two players above the age of 28 and they are among the younger teams in the competition.
A total of 14 players got minutes in BCL this season and no player is averaging more than 27 minutes on the floor.
Joe Thomasson is the only one going over 26 per game and he will be a crucial factor for Manresa along with Luke Maye and Chime Moneke.
With Ismael Bako out due to injury, Moneke was especially stepping up for the team.
He scored a total of 85 points in his last five BCL games (17 per game) after scoring ‘just’ 51 points in his first six appearances in the competition (8.5 per game). He was also strong on the boards, something that Bako used to do excellently.
All three players are averaging around 12.5 points and that once again proves how balanced the game of Manresa is and every player contributes.
The system is set up and everybody is replaceable without breaking down the whole gameplay.
Sylvain Franciso and Dani Perez would be the X-factors as the former shined in a few BCL games with 20-pieces while the latter just recently had a 17-point display against Real Madrid.
With Unicaja going through a lot of changes, this time around the focus will be on the most recent games and the best-case scenario of the winning streak.
Dario Brizuela has been a constant for Unicaja through and through and he will take a lot of responsibility on April 5th. He tallied 53 points over the last three games.
Following right behind, Francisco Alonso will have to step up while the mid-season addition Matt Mooney and Cameron Oliver will have to prove that they can deliver under the highest pressure, especially so coming to a squad where Norris Cole was the norm.
The X-factor? Dejan Kravic. And not just because of his game, although he does provide great board control, spacing and movement on offense, as well as a solid defense in the paint.
But the main reason is that he is a talisman of a kind, especially in BCL. Kravic has been a part of the championship team for the past three years in the competition.
He won in 2019 with Virtus Bologna and then moved to San Pablo Burgos to win two more times. Can he make the impossible happen and go for four straight with three different teams? Now that would be a storyline.