Experts: Who will triumph in the FIBA Europe Cup?
MUNICH (FIBA Europe Cup) - It is not particularly surprising to see Umana Reyer Venezia and Sidigas Scandone Avellino as the last teams standing in the FIBA Europe Cup.
After all, a strictly all-Italian affair is exactly what the results of the captain poll predicted prior to the start of the Play-Offs.
With the decisive battles just around the corner, we called in our panel of experts, including Igor Curkovic, Diccon Lloyd-Smeath, Mario Canfora and Simas Baranauskas to weigh in on how they expect the Final to unfold.
Their head-to-head history in the past couple of seasons is in favor of Reyer Venezia, but Avellino are playing the first leg at home. Who will win the first game?
IC: Going to go with Venezia. Avellino's fans create an impressive atmosphere, they truly are one-of-a-kind, but it was puzzling to me that their home court gave them no advantage in the Basketball Champions League group stage. In fact, they went 4-3 at home in that competition. Want to stay positive, Avellino? The better placed team like Besiktas Sompo Japan and CEZ Nymburk were blown out at Palasport Del Mauro. Want to panic, Avellino? Felice Scandone lost the high-pressure games against Stelmet Enea Zielona Gora (at home) and Telekom Baskets Bonn (away from home)...and a final is a high-pressure game. Also, the first time they played each other in LegaBasket this season, the game went to overtime. Another draw would fit right in Avellino's FIBA Europe Cup campaign.
DLS: Both these teams were unlucky not to make the Play-Offs in the Basketball Champions League, so it's no surprise to see them arrive in this Final. Reyer Venezia were like a magnet to drama in the BCL Regular Season and although they are probably favorites to lift this trophy, you can't bet against them doing it the hard way. Reyer haven't won away from Venice since they joined the FIBA Europe Cup but in reality, they haven't needed to. Venezia dominated all of their first legs so far. They won't dominate this one though. They are the best shooting team in the FIBA Europe Cup since joining, with an effective field goal percentage (eFG%) of 56 percent but also the worst offensive rebounding team, chasing down just 12 percent of their misses. Away from home, it's always harder to shoot and win the physical battles like rebounding. This is especially true against a Sidigas Avellino team, that has some big bodies like Fesenko and knows them so well. It's not hard to imagine Avellino winning this by 6 or 7 points. Not enough to seal the trophy but enough to get a dramatic response from Walter De Raffaele's men.
MC: For me, the biggest point in this game is the home crowd in Avellino. This is the type of team that builds off their 'sixth player' and can create a useful lead heading into the return game.
SB: Although draws against Tsmoki-Minsk and Juventus might not necessarily be viewed as perfect outcomes, it does not change the fact that Avellino are the only undefeated team in the Play-Offs. Meanwhile, Reyer Venezia have lost all three of their away games against Egis Kormend, Nizhny Novgorod and Donar Groningen. I would expect both of these trends to continue, with Stefano Sacripanti's men getting a marginal edge before their road trip to Venice. The bigger question is – can they get enough of a cushion on the first leg?
What do you see as Venezia's biggest strength in the Final?
IC: They've made winning a habit under coach Walter De Raffaele. And they haven't pulled a "Leicester" either - winning the championship one year, then back to the middle of the pack - they are still at the top of the Serie A in their title defense run. Confidence is a contagious thing in that locker room, even if they fall down by double digits early, they just need to see a couple of shots fall down, and they will be rolling. Keep in mind that they are piling up experience on the big stage, too. Reyer followed up last season's Basketball Champions League Final Four appearance with a trip to the FIBA Europe Cup Final this year, putting Venice on the basketball map of Europe one step at a time. One of the "feel good" teams in all of Europe.
DLS: Depth. Coach Sacripanti will find ways to get Reyer Venezia out of their comfort zones but Walter De Raffaele's men have so many different ways to score. Austin Daye was an excellent addition and this is a match-up where he could cause carnage. Sidigas Avellino will be focused on stopping the likes of MarQuez Haynes, Mitchell Watt and Hrvoje Peric but this is the kind of game where Stefano Tonut - who has shot 56 percent from three in the FIBA Europe Cup - could get loose and catch fire.
MC: The combo guards of Venezia. They have been in this type of situation before and are much more experienced at playing in the big games.
SB: It is pretty hard to pinpoint a single player to define Reyer Venezia's dominant Play-Off push. They are deep, they are efficient and always in control. They have been in the FIBA Europe Cup, anyway. There is plenty of talent on coach Walter De Raffaele's roster but one has to give him a lot of praise for making things tick like clockwork. Hrvoje Peric, MarQuez Haynes, Michael Bramos, Stefano Tonut and Tomas Ress were all important pieces of their march to the Italian championship title last season, so their chemistry, experience and leadership will be an important factor.
On the other hand, what would you point out as Avellino's main area of strength against their Venetian opposition?
IC: Ariel Filloy. In their last Serie A match-up in early April the point guard had played less than a minute off the bench, but came back with back-to-back double-digit games against Pesaro and Capo d'Orlando after that, and had an 18-point outing against Bakken Bears in the Semi-Finals. One more reason makes him a good bet - Filloy played for Umana Reyer Venezia last season. He'll know all the tricks that De Raffaele has up his sleeve.
DLS: Physicality. Sidigas Avellino are a much better rebounding team, they block more shots and score 5 PPG more in the paint than Reyer Venezia. Avellino are a very good offensive team - 114 points per 100 possessions since joining the FIBA Europe Cup, should give you a clue, how good they can be. Jason Rich and Kyrylo Fesenko pick-and-rolls are physical nightmare to guard - no matter what coverage you throw at them, they are getting a good shot at the rim.
MC: The Ukrainian factor. Fesenko has been an absolute force throughout the season and do not expect that to stop now.
SB: The big man down low! In my opinion, Kyrylo Fesenko is the best center in the competition and it's not even particularly close. You will not find a tougher player to guard down in the low post and Avellino will have to utilize that. He has only averaged 21 minutes per game, so coach Sacripanti could possibly turn that up slightly at the expense of Shane Lawal. Venezia do have a number of options to throw at Fesenko, but it will be tough for Mitchell Watt or Paul Biligha to hold their own against the Ukrainian giant.
If you were picking teams, streetball style, who would be your number one selection if you could choose from the rosters of both teams?
IC: Maarten Leunen or Hrvoje Peric. You need big guys who can take care of the ball, in Leunen you'd get a solid screen-setter and a three-point shooter, whilst Peric arguably has the highest basketball IQ in this Final. Having watched Peric since he was 15 back home in Croatia, I know he has the street-smarts to adapt to any opponent. Actually, it would be brilliant to see Leunen and Peric together on a team. Can we make it happen? No? Okay, never mind then...
DLS: MarQuez Haynes. 'Quez' is a flat-out baller. If we are talking streetball, he'd be impossible to guard in a 3x3. The combination of 50 percent from 3, with the quickest release in the west and the ability to fry you off the dribble, means it's pick your poison time. He's also an extreme competitor. Losing Gediminas Orelik was a huge blow for Umana Reyer Venezia but when it comes to the clutch now, the ball will no doubt be in MarQuez Haynes hands and that's not a bad thing if you are a Reyer Venezia fan.
MC: Haynes, Rich, Bramos, Peric, Fesenko...simply too much to choose from here...
SB: There are a couple of former NBA players like Fesenko and Austin Daye, but – taking recent form into account – I would go for MarQuez Haynes with my first pick. He made clutch three-pointers in both legs of the Semi-Finals against Donar Groningen to keep the Dutch side at bay and having someone who can take the big shots is always of value. While I don't subscribe to the hot hand theory, I'm trusting the hot hand on this occasion!
The most important question of them all: who do you see lifting the trophy on May 2 in Venice?
IC: I actually thought Umana Reyer Venezia would win the Basketball Champions League this season, so perhaps my predictions aren't as relevant as I would want them to be...I feel like this is a 60-40 Venezia tie, just because they play the return fixture at home. Won't be sad if Avellino end up with a trophy, being a big LegaBasket fan here...
DLS: Venezia. They have too much firepower and have been in so many big games already. It's almost as if their entire season has been preparing them for this and for that reason, it's too difficult to predict against them. They are the best team in Italy - so far - and are probably the best team in this Final. It will be close though and if Venezia do end up winning, it could well be on the back of a buzzer-beating prayer or a missed free-throw - expect the unexpected, for sure.
MC: It will be all about a good start for Avellino. With their crowd behind them, a 10-plus lead on the first leg is not inconceivable. This is a lead they can then protect a week later in Venice.
SB: This is an extremely tough choice to make and I would argue both teams have close to a 50-50 shot of winning. If someone put a gun to my head — and I really hope that doesn't happen — I would have to go with Venezia. They have objectively been better in Serie A this season and that's visible in the standings. I think we'll have two very close and exciting games, with the winner being decided by the smallest of details.