November 26, 2022
EuroLeague: Group A season review at the first break
Praha, Polkowice and Valencia lead the way
After four weeks of play, the EuroLeague has gone dormant for a few weeks. The action will return in the second week of December for another three-week sprint before the Christmas break.
With the first third of the season already in the books (four games played, 10 still on the schedule), it makes sense to review how each team has done to date. We’ll start this weekend with the eight teams in Group A. Teams are listed based on their current record, following the official standings available on FIBA’s website.
1. USK Praha (3-1)
After finishing fourth last season, Praha has started this season as strong as anyone in the competition.
There have been diminishing returns as the season has advanced, though, going from an 11-point victory in Week 1 to a seven-point win, a three-point win and a three-point loss to second-place BC Polkowice.
It will be interesting to see whether this trend continues over the next few weeks, although Praha boasts one of the strongest rosters in the EuroLeague and has yet to welcome its second-best player in Brionna Jones, who will partner with WNBA teammate Alyssa Thomas in the frontcourt.
Taking into account all statistical categories, Praha has the highest combined average rank, ranking first in assists and steals and second in points per game. Thomas is an early-season candidate for the MVP award, as she’s the only player putting up 20-plus points, 11-plus rebounds, and six-plus assists per game.
2. BC Polkowice (3-1)
The Polish side, making its debut in the EuroLeague this season, must be ecstatic about its results through the first month of play. Its lone loss, against fellow newcomer Virtus Bologna, was by 19 points, but other than that, Polkowice has surely surpassed expectations by trouncing Fenerbahçe by 27 points in Week 1 and defeating Praha right before the break. Both of those opponents were expected to make the Final Four this season, and Fenerbahçe played in last year’s final.
Polkowice’s fans can thank Stephanie Mavunga for that win (she had 23 points and 21 rebounds) and everything that came after that. The former Chicago Sky player is averaging more than 18 points and 15 rebounds per game while leading the EuroLeague with 2.8 blocks per game.
Polkowice’s rebounding numbers are ludicrous: It’s the only team pulling down more than 40 boards per game. It also boasts top-three marks in blocks and assists, although it should take better care of the ball. Polkowice ranks last in turnovers per game (19.3) and is the only team wasting more than 16.8 possessions per game.
3. Valencia (3-1)
Everybody seemed to be high on Valencia entering the season with the additions of Lauren Cox and Alba Torrens to the roster. After a little (but unsurprising) bump in the road against Praha, losing by seven points, Valencia is as high on the table as it could be entering the break.
Although Valencia defeated KSC by 15 points, its average point difference is just plus-4.5 per game through Week 4. It won its all-newcomers clash against Virtus by just two points.
Yet Torrens debuted with Valencia in the third game of the season, while Cox and Marie Gulich didn’t have the best starts to the year. The team has found strength in numbers with six players averaging more than nine points per game, five averaging at least five rebounds, and Queralt Casas and Leticia Romero dishing out more than four dimes per game.
Valencia has two glaring flaws, though: rebounding the ball (fourth-worst) and generating assisted baskets (seventh-worst). It is also middle-of-the-pack in points for and against and in turnovers, although that may improve with veteran and all-time great Torrens now available and fully fit.
4. KSC (2-2)
KSC had a winless season last year in the EuroLeague, but this year, things are already looking much brighter. Two victories, one in overtime against mighty Fenerbahçe, have helped KSC fix its wrongs and bring joy to a city that couldn’t catch a break in the 2022 season. The main reason for this new KSC is the Big Three of Victoria Vivians, Ruthy Hebard and Cyesha Goree.
Vivians and Hebard, coming off playing for the Indiana Fever and Chicago Sky in the WNBA this summer, lead the team in points (21.3) and rebounds (8.8), respectively. Goree sits between them in both categories, averaging more than 15 points and eight rebounds through four games. Teammate Agnes Studer leads the EuroLeague in dimes with an average of 7.5 per game.
However, while the Hungarian side is thriving on offense, its defense has been horrid. KSC is allowing the second-most points per game, blocking the fewest shots, and committing more fouls than all but four other teams. Its third-worst turnovers-per-game figure doesn’t look good, either.
5. Fenerbahçe (2-2)
Could an even record through the first month of play be considered a disaster? In the case of Fenerbahçe, it’s legitimately true. The Turkish side couldn’t have had a worse start to the season: a 27-point loss to Polkowice and a subsequent loss to KSC.
The first game of the year was an absolute outlier, as Fenerbahçe only scored 46 points. More than half of those (28) were scored by Natasha Howard and Kayla McBride. Things have gone better for the Turkish side as the season has advanced, though, with those two WNBA imports keeping up their numbers, Emma Meesseman debuting last weekend in incredible fashion, and Breanna Stewart and Satou Sabally still yet to debut this season.
With Olivia Epoupa still trying to find her role (although averaging more than five points, rebounds and dimes and nearly four steals per game) and Kiah Stokes specializing on the glass (attempting only two shots per game but grabbing almost nine rebounds per game), this is a loaded side still trying to accommodate its pieces and figure things out.
No real concerns should be raised this early for a behemoth such as Fenerbahçe. A few more losses in the regular season, though, might make for a harder-to-navigate postseason. Fenerbahçe leads the EuroLeague in points scored but is last in points allowed. That’s looking more like a fluke than anything else, though, as the team ranks in the top five in rebounds, assists, steals and blocks and seems poised to have a positive regression to the mean on the defensive end.
6. Tango Bourges (2-2)
The French side from Bourges lifted the SuperCup after defeating EuroLeague champions Sopron before the regular season. It was able to carry the momentum into the regular season, starting with back-to-back wins against Olympiacos and Virtus Bologna. However, Bourges proceeded to lose its next two games at the hands of Praha and Valencia to enter the break at 2-2.
Bourges has a nearly balanced point difference (minus-2) through the first four matches, not winning or losing a single game by more than eight points.
All things considered, Tango (tied with Virtus in their combined average in all statistical categories) has been average to mediocre so far. It ranks second in steals and commits the third-fewest turnovers per game, but it is below average in rebounds, assists and blocks.
Yvonne Anderson is carrying the load, playing more than 34 minutes per game while leading the team in points, assists and steals. Kayla Alexander is very close to averaging a double-double (10.3 points, 9.5 rebounds per game). The schedule looks daunting going forward as Tango Bourges’ victories have come against the only two teams with worse records than theirs.
7. Virtus Bologna (1-3)
It’s been a frustrating start to the season for the newcomers from Italy, as they suffered two defeats in the first two weeks by a combined five points. Bologna healed its wounds with an impressive 19-point victory over second-place Polkowice in Week 3 … only to lose by 18 points to Fenerbahçe in Week 4.
Bologna has experienced a season of two contrasting tales, with its first two games having close and dramatic endings and the following two split into an uplifting win and a depressing defeat.
Most interestingly, Virtus’ lone win was the game in which Cheyenne Parker and Cecilia Zandalasini (the team leaders in points and blocks per game) struggled the most. In its three defeats, though, the brightness of those two couldn’t quite lift the Italian side.
Iliana Ruper has had two double-doubles to date while Zandalasini had another one to kick the season off, but overall the results have been a little bit below expectations after the Italian side was thought of as a contender entering the EuroLeague season. Judging by the first third of the year, though, perhaps the hype went a little overboard.
8. Olympiacos (0-4)
Considering how easy Olympiacos made its qualifier-stage games look on its way to the regular season, it is quite surprising to find the team sitting last in Group A as the lone winless team. The only thing keeping Olympiacos watchable is Megan Gustafson, whose performances have been absolutely delightful.
Gustafson has scored at least 23 points in all four games played. Although her team’s putrid record limits her chances at the MVP award, if we’re focusing solely on her individual outputs, she’s one of the leading candidates: 26.8 points (league leader); 9.8 rebounds; and at least 1.3 assists, steals and blocks per game.
From a team perspective, though, things haven’t looked great. Olympiacos has lost all four games by six or more points and has a minus-34 point difference, the third-worst mark in the EuroLeague. The Greek side ranks above average only in blocks and is in the middle of the pack in assisted baskets.
Something has to change for this team to achieve European glory, but by the time it ends up doing so (if it does at all), it might be too late for the team to contend. At some point, Olympiacos might find itself fighting to drop into the EuroCup (the second-tier continental competition) and contend for that title against more manageable opponents.