Group I: Le Portel, Nizhny Novgorod, Kataja and Istanbul BBSK set to battle for survival in group of death
MUNICH (FIBA Europe Cup) - The main contender for the 'group of death' label in the Second Round of the FIBA Europe Cup is Group I, pitting together ESSM Le Portel, Nizhny Novgorod, Kataja Basket and Istanbul BBSK.
ESSM Le Portel and Nizhny Novgorod, who qualified as the number one seeds of their respective Regular Season groups, have been among the most dominant teams in the competition, while second-seeded Kataja Basket and Istanbul BBSK were just a whisker away from also claiming pole positions.
ESSM Le Portel (FRA)
The second-best defensive team in the FIBA Europe Cup this season, Le Portel were one of the first teams to secure a place in the Second Round. After suffering a defeat against Donar Groningen in their competition debut, the Eric Girard-coached team won five games in a row and ran away with the Group A crown.
Regular Season: 1st place in Group A, 5-1 record
Offense: #11 – 81.0 PPG
Defense: #2 – 65.3 PPG
Domestic championship: 12th place in the LNB Pro A in France, 5-7 record
Player to watch: Trae Golden stands out as the number one threat on the team with a team-high scoring average of 16.1 points per game. He is also the leading minute-getter at 24.1 minutes per game in the well-spread-out Le Portel rotation.
Having beat out two strong Hungarian sides in Szolnoki Olaj and Falco Vulcano for the top spot in Group H, Nizhny Novgorod established themselves as one of the front-runners in the competition. The Russian side started the Regular Season with just one foreigner in the shape of Serbian big man Stevan Jelovac, but have strengthened the roster with Vladimir Veremeenko from Belarus and American guard Jake Odum since.
Regular Season: 1st place in Group H, 5-1 record
Offense: #4 – 87.2 PPG
Defense: #22 – 79.2 PPG
Domestic championship: 9th place in the VTB League, 2-5 record
Player to watch: Stevan Jelovac has been the offensive dynamo for the Nizhny Novgorod this season, averaging 17.2 points in just 21.6 minutes of playing time per game, making him one of the most prolific scorers in the competition on a per-minute basis.
After setting the pace in Group C for most of the Regular Season, Kataja Basket gave up first place in the standings to Mornar Bar in the last three minutes of the final game in Montenegro. Despite struggling on the domestic front in Finland, coach Greg Gibson's side has put together a strong FIBA Europe Cup campaign.
Regular Season: 2nd place in Group C, 4-2 record
Offense: #8 – 83.2 PPG
Defense: #23 – 80.2 PPG
Domestic championship: 8th place in Korisliiga in Finland, 6-7 record
Player to watch: Damier Pitts has been an elite two-way contributor for the Finnish champions, averaging 14.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game, with only the below average shooting percentages holding him back.
After starting the Regular Season on the wrong side of an unexpected blowout against U-BT Cluj-Napoca, Istanbul BBSK have not put a foot wrong since, winning the remaining five games in Group E. Although they got revenge against their main rivals from Romania, the 21-point loss was too large to recover from and coach Ertugrul Erdogan's team had to settle for second place.
Regular Season: 2nd place in Group E, 5-1 record
Offense: #10 – 81.8 PPG
Defense: #7 – 73.2 PPG
Domestic championship: 9th place in the Turkish Basketball Super League, 5-5 record
Player to watch: Michael Thompson has been nothing short of spectacular for Istanbul BBSK, ranking second in the league in efficiency (22.5 EFF) in the six-game Regular Season stretch. He was also fourth in scoring (19.0 PPG) and second in assists (7.0 APG).