February 26, 2022
EuroLeague quarterfinals: Identifying each team’s strengths and weaknesses
What's to like and what's not to like about the eight teams that will contend for the EuroLeague title?
Finally, COVID-19 gave the EuroLeague a much-needed reprieve. It was just enough for all 16 teams to wrap up their regular-season schedules, play the postponed matchups, and paint the final postseason picture with all squads having completed their 14-game campaigns.
Eight games (what would have been a full game day in a normal week) have been played in the past seven days. Although we had an early resolution to Group A’s four qualified teams (BLMA sealed its ticket on Sunday thanks to MBA’s loss to Venezia), we had to wait until Wednesday to finalize Group B (Girona couldn’t defeat Basket Landes, so Famila Schio automatically qualified).
The results set up a stacked field of quarterfinal teams. Now that the dust has settled and eight teams are gearing up for a playoffs run, it’s time to preview what might happen when the postseason tips off in March. Here’s a rundown of every contender, including the strengths and weaknesses that could aid or hamper their cases for the title.
A1 UMMC vs. B4 Dynamo Kursk
The Russians of UMMC grabbed hold of first place early in the season and never surrendered it after completing a ridiculous 14-0 campaign. Their countrywomen from Kursk qualified early but had to wait for Spar Girona’s last game of the season to know their seed, which ended up being No. 4.
- UMMC’s strengths: All-around excellence and depth. There is no arguing against this team. It is as simple as that. In the regular season, UMMC put up top-four marks in every statistical category except steals (not that it cares that much about those) and turnovers (UMMC’s efficiency is so high on offense that it can afford to lose some chances). Other than that, UMMC led the league in points scored, rebounds, assists, and most importantly efficiency and plus/minus. The 86-plus points it scores per game are a tall mountain to climb for any rival. And it has done all of that without a single player logging 29 or more minutes per game.
- UMMC’s weaknesses: Careless offense, balmy defense. This might be a stretch, but I had to pick a weakness. UMMC averaged just over seven steals per game, tied for second-worst among qualified teams. When it comes to offense, the 13-plus turnovers per game the Russians averaged are also outside of the top four.
- Dynamo Kursk’s strength: Controlled, measured offense. With slightly more than 10 turnovers per game, Kursk was better than any other team in that department in the regular season. Given its low rebounding numbers, which limited second opportunities on offense, the Russians relied on taking care of the ball to maintain their scoring ways, along with a top-five mark in assists per game (18.9).
- Dynamo Kursk’s weaknesses: Soft inside, illegally tough. Even though Kursk benefited from rostering MVP candidate Natasha Howard, not even that helped it raise its averages on the boards (seventh-worst) and blocking shots (fifth-worst). More worrying might be the fact that Dynamo committed the third-most fouls per game (nearly 20). That explains the tiny gap between its average points for and against this year (+1.2 points).
A2 Avenida vs. B3 Famila Schio
While staying close to leader UMMC in Group A, Avenida had to settle for second place, overtaking Praha for the No. 2 seed this week. The Italians, on the other hand, were third entering Wednesday’s slate of games (in which they were idle) and kept that seed by virtue of Spar Girona’s loss.
- Avenida’s strengths: Team play and constant effort. The Spaniards closed the season with a top-three scoring average, but more importantly they finished in the top six in both assists and steals per game. There is an abundance of playmakers on this team, and the collective effort they showed on defense made it possible for them to steal the sixth-most possessions per game from opponents.
- Avenida’s weaknesses: Height and rebounding. This could prove key in the quarterfinals. Avenida struggled mightily on the boards in the regular season, averaging about 31 total rebounds per game. That was a bottom-five mark among all 16 EuroLeague teams and better than only one other quarterfinalist.
- Famila Schio’s strengths: Glass work and shot suppression. The Italian squad might have flown a bit under the radar, mostly because of its lack of top-tier superstars other than Sandrine Gruda and, to a certain extent, Diamond DeShields. But Famila Schio relied on Gruda to block 1.4 shots per game to go with Jasmine Keys’ 0.8, and it recently added Aby Gaye (4.2 rebounds, 0.8 blocks per game) to its postseason roster after she parted ways with Sopron. Those swats, and the 34-plus rebounds per game the Italians pull down (fourth-most among quarterfinal teams), lay a solid foundation for an upset.
- Famila Schio’s weaknesses: Few steals, many turnovers. If you have to be bad at something, I’d say sacrifice steals and turnovers. Those two statistics have the smallest correlation with winning games, so it’s not that bad. And even then, Famila Schio ranked in the middle of the pack on those fronts. In fact, Famila Schio’s 13.5 turnovers per game are closer to Fenerbahçe’s mark (second-best) than Avenida’s (fifth-worst) among quarterfinal teams.
B2 Sopron vs. A3 Praha
Group B was so tightly packed that three teams finished the year tied at 22 points and two more had 21. Sopron was the best of them all and finished with the No. 2 seed. Whether that’s good or not, we’ll see, though, because Praha is waiting on the other end. Praha dropped one seed thanks to Avenida’s victory in the final game of the season.
- Sopron’s strength: Defensive chops. Sopron disappointed a bit in the scoring department (fewer than 67 points per game in the regular season), but the Hungarian side made up for it with a bona fide top-tier defense, allowing just 64 points per game. That was the second-best mark, virtually on par with that of the top-qualified team.
- Sopron’s weakness: Stagnant offense. It’s no joke to boast the 12th-, 13th- and 11th-worst points, assists and efficiency averages, respectively, in the regular season. That’s definitely not good news for Sopron when it comes to its chances of advancing past the quarterfinals. The only thing potentially saving this team is its incredible defense, because it just doesn’t know how to save itself on offense.
- Praha’s strength: Best team across the board. It’s true, UMMC fans: If we average each team’s ranks in all statistical categories, Praha comes out on top, above even the Russians. Praha ranks outside of the top four in just one category (turnovers) and finished the regular season as a top-three team in all other stats (including first overall in steals per game). UMMC and Fenerbahçe are seemingly the consensus favorites, but watch out, because Praha boasts arguably the best pair of players in Alyssa Thomas and Brionna Jones.
- Praha’s weakness: Turnovers. Praha’s tenth-worst mark of 15-plus turnovers per game stinks compared to all of its other marks. Only one other quarterfinal-bound team turned the ball over that many times per game in the regular season, so it’s definitely a point to focus on for the Hungarian team. There isn’t much more to criticize, as Praha has otherwise played incredible basketball on both sides of the ball.
B1 Fenerbahçe vs. A4 BLMA
Fenerbahçe raised some doubts about its case for championship contention early in the season, but it was easily the best team in Group B this year. It enters the quarterfinals having won nine consecutive games, and eight of those wins were by at least 17 points. Meanwhile, it took BLMA just 12 games to seal its quarterfinal berth, although those two games to spare in the regular season were more due to lack of competition than to their talent.
- Fenerbahçe’s strengths: Superstars galore, defensive presence. While it’s true that UMMC has a bunch of stars, Fenerbahçe is not short of assets, either: Elizabeth Williams, Satou Sabally, Kayla McBride and reigning MVP Alina Iagupova. The Turkish side often employs a top-heavy rotation in which three of those four play 35+ minutes per game (Sabally averages 26), yet those players still maintain monster efficiencies. And yes, that includes defensively, as Fenerbahçe has limited opponents to fewer than 64 points per game—the best mark league-wide.
- Fenerbahçe‘s weakness: Lack of steals. There are not many things that the Turkish side struggled with this year. Stealing possessions, though, has been something it found difficult throughout the regular season, posting the third-worst mark in the EuroLeague. It averaged just seven steals per game, which is the lowest among quarterfinal teams but also just 0.1 below Sopron and UMMC.
- BLMA’s strength: Olivia Epoupa. Epoupa was the only player to average 10 points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals in the regular season. She missed a couple of games early in the year and got a good rest this week as BLMA prioritized her recovery and healing going into the postseason, but she should be ready to go for the quarterfinals. BLMA needs her if it wants to pull off the upset, as the French side ranked as a bottom-four team in every category except points (ninth-best), steals (third) and personal fouls (fifth).
- BLMA’s weaknesses: Anemic offense, soft defense. This is clearly the worst team going into the postseason. While a top-10 team in scoring, the French side has also allowed the third-most points, pretty much nullifying its offensive abilities. BLMA never found a way to dish out dimes (second-worst mark in the regular season), and it lacks a strong interior presence on defense, as its second- and fourth-worst marks in blocks and rebounding show. It’s a tough road ahead for the club from Montpellier.
The EuroLeague is now on hiatus until Tuesday, March 8, when the quarterfinal series are expected to begin for six of the eight teams. UMMC vs Dynamo Kursk will tip off at 7 a.m. ET/5 p.m. local time, Fenerbahçe vs. BLMA at 11 a.m. ET/7 p.m. local time and Sopron vs. Praha at 12:15 p.m. ET/6 p.m. local time. The other two squads, Avenida and Famila Schio, will play on Wednesday, March 9 at 2:30 p.m. ET/8:30 p.m. local time.
This is how the next three weeks look in the EuroLeague schedule. The Final Four is set to start on April 8 no matter the series results/length.
Here is the full bracket. You can’t deny how impressive the Final Four meetings might turn out to be if the favorites advance.
Until we reach that point, though, relax and recharge your batteries, because the EuroLeague season is about to enter its own March Madness!