Quarter-Finals Preview: Who's heading to the Final Four?
MUNICH (Germany) - The race to make EuroLeague Women Final Four next month is now entering the last few twists and turns, with the last eight clubs standing all potentially one step away from making it.
Here's the lowdown on what promises to be four exciting best-of-three ties in the Quarter-Finals:
Fenerbahce Alagoz Holding v Sopron Basket
On a 12-game winning streak and a seemingly unstoppable pathway towards silverware, Fenerbahce Alagoz Holding have the talent, depth and form to sail their way to another Final Four.
Meanwhile, in stark contrast, reigning champions Sopron Basket are out of form, struggling to find their mojo and come into this series after finishing the Regular Season with two very bad losses. Is this where everything comes full circle for Sopron and they relinquish the the crown they won against Fenerbahce in fairytale fashion last year?
Team Leaders: Breanna Stewart, Courtney Vandersloot, Emma Meesseman (Fenerbahce Alagoz Holding) - Jelena Brooks, Zsofia Fegyverneky, Ezi Magbegor (Sopron Basket)
Key matchup: When Olivia Epoupa departed Fenerbahce, Courtney Vandersloot was brought in as her replacement and very much seen as the playmaker to mastermind a first title for the Turkish juggernauts. Now Epoupa suits up for Sopron and will have the chance to try and blunt that ambition. The defense of the French guard will be hugely important against Vandersloot.
A recent Sopron Basket addition, French guard Olivia Epoupa will go up against the team she started the season with.
'X-Factor': Defense and keeping it ugly if you are Sopron. This looks to be the only way that they can cause what would arguably be an even bigger upset than their amazing title win last season. The trophy holders can't run and gun because of their offensive limitations and so they will be eager to disrupt, slow it down and do whatever is possible to stop Fenerbahce finding any kind of rhythm.
Stats don't lie: The difference in terms of points in the paint is massive between both these teams. Fenerbahce average 45, while Sopron only harvest 27 per game from this particular source. This also feeds into the vast difference in offensive power on these rosters, with Fenerbahce averaging 86 points per game which is a vast 20 points more than their Hungarian opponents.
ZVVZ USK Praha v Perfumerias Avenida
Both teams made the Final Four last year in Istanbul, but only one will take a return ticket for 2023. ZVVZ USK Praha will be favorites as they've been more consistent, have a superstar in Alyssa Thomas and the experienced FIBA Hall of Fame playcaller Natalia Hejkova at the helm.
Avenida have came alive at just the right time with strong finish to an otherwise turbulent and unpredictable Regular Season campaign, so they are full of confidence and won't consider themselves big underdogs at all.
Team Leaders: Teja Oblak, Alyssa Thomas, Brionna Jones (ZVVZ USK Praha) - Maite Cazorla, Bridget Carleton, Michaela Onyenwere (Perfumerias Avenida)
Key matchup: As usual, so much for Praha will go through the do-it-all Alyssa Thomas and it's always going to be hard for any opponent to deal with a baller who is a near walking triple-double. The task of trying to shut her down or at least slow her down could fall upon the shoulders of Michaela Onyenwere since the forward is one of the few players with the length and athleticism on the Avenida roster to contend. This could be a fascinating individual duel across the series.
Defensive intensity matters hugely to Avenida and will Michaela Onyenwere be asked to slow down Alyssa Thomas?
'X-Factor': Tempo. Praha are happy to run up and down, push the ball hard and play much more loose basketball. While Avenida love to play with intensity, although not necessarily as quick, it will be interesting to see what they look to do. Controlling the tempo most effectively will be important, as will defensive rebounding. If Praha dominate this, they will surely be off and running, and scoring.
Stats don't lie: As if to demonstrate the above point, Praha banks an average of 18.9 fast break points per game, whereas Avenida only convert a tiny 5.6 fast break points per outing.
CBK Mersin Yenisehir Bld v Tango Bourges Basket
CBK Mersin Yenisehir Bld are hugely ambitious and looking to book their first ever Final Four appearance, with head coach Roberto Iniguez certainly an expert navigator in getting teams to the business end of the competition.
Mersin have plenty of experience on the floor and will be full of confidence having been crowned Group B winners, but will be acutely aware of the danger posed by Bourges. The French side have won three of their last four outings and have shown they can push the most fancied teams to the wire.
Team Leaders: Chelsea Gray, Tiffany Hayes, Elizabeth Wlliams (CBK Mersin Yenisehir) - Yvonne Anderson, Kayla Alexander, Anete Steinberga (Tango Bourges Basket)
Key matchup: Kayla Alexander was the Top Performer during the last gameday of the Regular Season after putting up a phenomenal effort against Fenerbahce. The Canadian standout may have just hit top gear at the ideal time and she will be needed to take care of business and instead of doing it against veteran DeWanna Bonner, she will now do it against another experienced performer in Jelena Dubljevic. Indeed there is pressure on Dubljevic herself, since Bonner was producing big performances and Mersin needs that production to continue.
⭐ ÇBK Mersin'e Hoş Geldin Jelena Dubljevic!— Ç.B.K. Mersin (@cukurovabasket) March 8, 2023
Welcome Jelena Dubljevic pic.twitter.com/kZPz9TIcVB
'X-Factor': The starting five are used to having to carry a seriously heavy load for Mersin and they don't get a lot of production off the bench. Bourges get twice as much and do have a few more options to call upon, so this could be a an 'X-Factor'. If Mersin's starters fail to fire, will anyone else be able to step into the game and produce, so the favorites in this series can make some history by advancing?
Stats don't lie: Bourges are clinical in punishing errors with more than 18 points per game off turnovers, so one of their main chances of a so-called upset could be from this source. Although the worry for Bourges remains their ongoing three-point struggles with just a 26 percent conversion rate from downtown.
Beretta Famila Schio v Valencia Basket Club
History will be guaranteed when these two clubs meet since neither have made it to the Final Four. Schio have played at the Final Eight previously, but the Semi-Finals would be a new step. They wrapped up the Regular Season with a superb blowout of last year's champions Sopron and will be eager to continue their good run.
Valencia will pose a huge challenge to Schio since they have won six of their last eight, although have had to contend with some injury issues and absences.
Team Leaders: Marina Mabrey, Astou Ndour, Rhyne Howard (Beretta Famila Schio) - Marie Guelich, Lauren Cox, Queralt Casas (Valencia Basket Club)
Key matchup: The wing play of Rhyne Howard and Queralt Casas will be a hugely exciting battle if this is how it pans out matchup wise. The former is in good form and Casas usually has the main defensive qualities and quickness to cause any opponent problems.
Will Alba Torrens be back from injury to offer her title winning experiences for Valencia Basket?
'X-Factor': Who can Valencia Basket get out onto the floor? Both Alba Torrens and Cristina Ouvina are currently sidelined with injuries and it is rumored that the former could be back for this series. Even if not at full capacity, the added experience of having one, or preferably both would make a massive difference to the chance of Valencia progressing.
Stats don't lie: In terms of traditional stats and matchup numbers, these teams are very closely matched. But the other number that might have a big bearing considering that Schio has home advantage in the series, is that the Italians are 7 of 7 on their home court this season. So, the only certainty is that Valencia has to become the first team to win in Schio this season if they want to make Final Four.
For the full schedule of the Quarter-Finals, click here.