FIBA Europe Cup: Group K preview

21 John Roberson (Elan Chalon), (photo: Charlotte Geoffray)
21 John Roberson (Elan Chalon) - Elan Chalon v Alba Fehérvár, 2017 FIBA Europe Cup, Chalon sur Saone - Le Colisée(France), Regular Season, 22 November 2016

MUNICH (FIBA Europe Cup) - With the start of the FIBA Europe Cup Second Round rapidly approaching, we begin our preview series with a look at Group K which features teams from France, Turkey, Sweden and Romania.

Having completed the Regular Season with differing levels of success, the four teams will compete for the two available spots in the knockout stages of the FIBA Europe Cup.

Elan Chalon, Gaziantep and Sodertalje Kings reached the second phase of the competition for the second year in a row, while league debutantes BC Mures will hope that lack of experience will not get in their way.

Interestingly enough, the Turkish and Swedish teams played in the same Second Round group last year as well, sharing one win apiece.

Elan Chalon (1st in Group A, 4-2)

Although Elan Chalon advanced to the Second Round as the first seed of Group A with a 4-2 record, the Regular Season was no easy stroll in the park for the French side, who punched through their ticket to the next phase of the competition only in the final week of action.

Losses to Alba Fehervar and SL Benfica had put Jean-Denys Choulet's team in a rigid situation, but Elan Chalon put any remaining qualification-related questions aside, as they unleashed a 106-77 hammering against the visiting Alba at Le Colisee to leapfrog both of the aforementioned rivals in the standings.

Much like through the rest of the Regular Season, it was Cameron Clark who carried the team on his back with 26 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists on the final gameday. The 25-year-old power forward leads the team both in scoring and rebounding in the FIBA Europe Cup, averaging 18.8 points and 7.2 points per game.

Heady point guard John Roberson and lights-out shooter Lance Harris also play major roles in Elan Chalon's offensive schemes, which relies heavily on the American trio for scoring.

Averaging 15.5 points and a stellar 7.0 assists per game, Roberson is one of the elite playmakers of the competition, while Lance Harris provides the team with artillery support with 15.2 points and 3.2 three-pointers made.

Elan Chalon stand out as the most offensively potent team in Group K, posting an average of 86.7 points and 21.5 assists per contest in the Regular Season, which ranks them fifth in both categories among all FIBA Europe Cup teams.

Although the French side shows a clear tendency for higher pace, opponents will have to think twice and mind the presence of the 218cm big man Moustapha Fall before attacking the Elan Chalon rim.

After a somewhat slower start of the Regular Season, the 24-year-old Frenchman has picked up momentum every step of the way and completed the first phase of the competition averaging 11.5 points, 7. 2 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per contest.

Gaziantep (1st in Group G, 5-1)

Turkish side Gaziantep put together a convincing Regular Season display in the FIBA Europe Cup and qualified to the Second Round as winners of Group G with five wins and only a single mark in the loss column.

After starting the season with a victorious overtime drama in Larnaca against Petrolina AEK and then suffering a close 73-72 loss at home to U-BT Cluj-Napoca the following week, it has all been going smoothly for Gaziantep ever since who went on to register four resounding victories.

However, the international success has not been carrying over to the domestic front where the team has already had to face major adversity after starting the Turkish BSL campaign with five defeats in a row.

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The recent addition of Davon Jefferson to an already quite deep roster has seemingly helped to steady the Gaziantep ship, with the team improving to a 3-6 record since the arrival of the new player.

The newcomer has also been spectacular in the FIBA Europe Cup and has made significant contributions across the board with averages of 20.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.5 blocks.

Four more players average double figures in points for coach Stefanos Dedas, with scoring ace Marcus Denmon leading the way in this group with 16.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists and Canadian sharpshooter Andy Rautins adding  13.2 points, 4.5 boards and 3.5 assist per game.

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The all-around contributions of Will Cherry should also not be overlooked, with the 25-year-old point guard averaging 11.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, 6 assists and 1.3 steals and consistently filling up boxscores.

Jure Balazic and Deyan Ivanov have seen a slight reduction in minutes after the arrival of Jefferson, but both Balkan veterans can be trusted to bring their A-game, when their number is called by coach Dedas.

Sodertalje Kings (2nd in Group C, 2-2)

Trailing by 25 points in their last Group C game against Telekom Baskets, Sodertalje Kings were one foot out of the FIBA Europe Cup. Needing a miracle, a miracle is what Vedran Bosnic’s side managed to create.

A monumental second-half comeback saw the defending Swedish champions erase the massive deficit and snatch a 90-89 victory and opened the Second Round gates.

"This was a very important victory not only for Sodertalje, but for Sweden as a whole," the team's play-caller Bosnic stated after what has to be considered the comeback of the season in the FIBA Europe Cup so far.

The Kings progressed in the competition for the second year in a row and will hope to improve on their 2-4 performance in the Second Round last year, with their sights set firmly on a place in the knockout stages.

For that to come to fruition, the sharpshooting big man from Croatia, Toni Bizaca, will have to keep up the red-hot shooting that has put him atop the scoring leaderboard in the FIBA Europe Cup, with averages of 25.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.

Tylor Ongwae has been superb for coach Bosnic as well, collecting 14.5 points and 4.0 rebounds per game, while experienced point guard and former Sweden international Thomas Massamba, who has been finding his teammates in the right places, is averaging 11.8 points, 4.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists.

Coming into the Second Round, perhaps the biggest question for the Kings is whether they can get enough from their bench. Tanel Kurbas, Davis Lejasmeiers and Nicholas Spires have been the only players to provide the leader trio with any noticeable help and playing with a six-man rotation does not sound like a winning plan against teams with a lot more depth.

BC Mures (2nd in Group I, 3-1)

Earning qualification to the Second Round was not too difficult of a task for the Barnabas Szaszgaspar-coached BC Mures side, with the Romanian team booking a place in the next phase of the FIBA Europe Cup well before the cut-off point.

Despite securing early qualification by defeating group outsiders TLU/Kalev twice, reasonable doubts could have been raised about the team’s prospects in the next stage after a scolding 35-point defeat against the Vytautas in Lithuania.

However, the Targu Mures side showed they have what it takes to compete against the best teams in the competition by registering a 109-101 victory versus the Group I leaders in the return leg in Romania.

Five players average double figures in scoring for Mures, but the Montenegrin point guard Goran Martinic is the man who makes things tick, averaging nearly a double-double with 12.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, 9.5 assists and 2.2 steals per game.

Alhaji Mohammed is the team’s leading scorer at 17.3 points, Latvian forward Ernests Kalve is averaging 14.2 points and 5.2 boards, while Dalibor Djapa collects 11.5 points and 5.0 rebounds per game.

It will be interesting to see whether Andrew Barham, who got hot in the return game against Vytautas and scored 31 points on 8-of-9 shooting from three-point range, can show glimpses of such play in the future.

The 26-year-old forward has had a number of solid performances in the domestic championship, but only broke out of his FIBA Europe Cup shooting slump in the last game of the Regular Season and could be a crucial x-factor for Mures in the Second Round.