November 12, 2022 

EuroLeague Week 3: Is the wheat already separating from the chaff?

The 2023 EuroLeague is just three weeks old but after this past midweek games, some trends are starting to emerge.

We have yet to watch the first third of the season unfold with one more round of games to go before the first break, but it looks like contenders are already separating from pretenders.

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Remember when just a month ago Olympiacos sealed their qualification for the regular season in a dominant fashion? The Greeks are now 0-3 and still waiting for their first win. What about Polkowice’s 2-0 start… only to fall last Wednesday at the hands of a winless-no-more Fenerbahçe? Things are starting to settle and time will put everyone in their proper place, as is always the case.

Here are the results from the third week of games and the storylines that they are helping build as we inch closer to the first stoppage of play, scheduled from mid-November to the second week of December.

Sopron and Praha look destined for another Final Four appearance

Last season saw Hungarian club Sopron lift the EuroLeague after defeating Fenerbahçe in a final game staged on the latter’s home court. Praha, on the other hand, went back to the Czech Republic without getting any medal after dropping the third-place game to Bronze-worth Avenida in the second-to-last game of the season. We don’t know yet the roles and games these two contenders will play come April, but we can clearly envision them making it to the final four for the second season in a row.

Starting with the reigning champion Sopron, they easily dealt with fellow Hungarian side DVTK getting away with a solid 75-65 win that was never in doubt. Sopron won each of the first three quarters, so it had all been decided when Sopron entered the last period boasting a 15-point lead. Sopron’s Ezi Magbegor put on a ridiculous show with 18 points and eight rebounds in 33 minutes for an efficiency figure of 26.

Magbegor was helped by Alice Kunek and Brittney Sykes totaling 16 points each, with the Los Angeles Sparks import adding six rebounds and seven dimes to that line. The performance of Angelika Kiss (12 points, seven rebounds in just 26 minutes) was a pleasant surprise for DVTK although the face of the team, Arella Guirantes, didn’t do enough to lift her side over Sopron, finishing the game with just eight points while shooting 20% from the floor on 15 field-goal attempts.

Moving on to Praha, USK fended off Tango Bourges with a close 73-70 victory over the French side. It was just another day in the office for Alyssa Thomas: 28 points, nine rebounds, six assists, three steals, and one block to put the cherry on top and build a statline worth a 37-efficiency figure.

Praha used eight players against Bourges, but only the starters logged more than 15 minutes of playing time. Considering Maria Conde‘s reasonably poor outing (four points, eight rebounds in 38 minutes) and the fact that Praha still won the game, you get an idea of how strong Praha might look at the peak of their powers, with Brionna Jones still to debut this season with the Czech Republic side.

Kayla Alexander was phenomenal for the French side putting up a double-double (10 points, 13 rebounds) while Yvonne Anderson added 20 points but lacked numbers on all other fronts. The surprise of the game was the extraordinary Pauline Astier as she scored 14 points to go with five rebounds, five dimes, and four thefts on the day.

Are MVP contenders in the wrong places?

We have already discussed Alyssa Thomas’ game and how she’s just unstoppable these days. It won’t surprise anyone to find her name among those vying for the MVP by the end of the season after having made the All-EuroLeague team last year and coming off her first World Cup gold with the USA before landing in Praha. Her talent is simply undeniable.

What about Olympiacos’ Megan Gustafson and Polkowice’s Stephanie Mavunga, though? The two superstars have very solid (early season) cases to earn MVP votes, but their teams might not be as strong as we once believed, hampering their chances at the award.

While Olympiacos had to qualify for the regular-season portion of the EuroLeague through the qualifiers mini-tournament, the truth is that they did so in a rather easy way, winning their two games against Sepsi and Crvena Zvezda. After three regular-season games and with the Greeks 0-3, it is starting to look like this team might be a one-woman wrecking crew.

Gustafson had her best game of the season to date with a ridiculous 30-point, 10-rebound double-double and an efficiency of 38 (her prior two: 24-13 and 30-7) but not even that monster performance was enough to help Olympiacos against title-favorite Fenerbahçe.

The Turkish side finally got to win a game (95-89) after dropping their first two, even with Alina Iagupova still out injured and Breanna Stewart not yet in town. It was all down to Natasha Howard and Kayla McBride‘s exploits last Wednesday, as the two WNBA imports scored 23 and 22 points on top of grabbing seven and six rebounds respectively. Olivia Epoupa contributed all across the board with 10 points, six rebounds, six dimes, and two steals.

The other under-the-radar MVP-in-the-making might be Stephanie Mavunga, from Polish side Polkowice. Mavunga racked up 14 points and 13 rebounds against Virtus Bologna in a losing effort, her third double-double of the year in as many games. Even though Polkowice started the year with back-to-back wins over Fenerbahçe and Olympiacos, the Polish couldn’t handle the debutants from Bologna as the Italians won their first EuroLeague game ever on Wednesday.

Virtus had been so close to winning in the first two weeks (lost by two points to Valencia, then by three to Tango Bourges) and the women from Bologna finally exploded for a 19-point victory (88-69) over Polkowice hitting almost half of their field goals (29-of-61) and nearly all of their free-throw attempts (20-of-23). Five players reached double-digit scoring figures led by Ivana Dojkic’s 24 while the trio of Iliana Rupert, Cheyenne Parker, and Cecilia Zandalasini combined for 24 points, 14 rebounds, 17 assists, four steals, and five blocks by themselves alone.

Gustafson and Mavunga might get into the MVP conversation months from now, but their teams will need to step up if they want to have a real shot at the award.

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Avenida and Valencia show contrasting faces

The two strongest teams playing out of Spain, last season’s third-place Avenida and newcomer Valencia, had contrasting results this week while facing Famila Schio and KSC respectively.

Starting with the winning side, Valencia defeated KSC by a sound 74-59 after the Hungarian somehow found a way to beat superpower Fenerbahçe last week. This result is probably closer to what we should expect from KSC going forward considering that victory was their first in more than a year playing EuroLeague basketball after earning a 0-15 record combining their run from last year and the first game of this season.

After playing for the last time last February, Alba Torrens came back from her knee injury debuting with Valencia last Wednesday and logging 11 minutes in which she was good to score 10 points. Torrens was one of four Valencia players with 10-plus points against KSC, led by Lauren Cox‘s 15 shooting 71.4% from the field. Valencia has now sandwiched last week’s loss with a couple of victories, sitting only behind Praha in Group A.

Moving on to Group B but staying in Spain, Avenida seems to be entering a very tumultuous period. Yes, the Spaniards won their first two EuroLeague games. Still, they aren’t going through their best start to a season in all competitions as they are 4-2 in their domestic league (with a heavy confrontation between the head coach and the front office developing) and suffered a heavy 71-54 defeat at the hands of the Italian side Famila Schio. Avenida kept things close for the first two quarters but crumbled in the second half mostly after losing a game-deciding third quarter by 21-8.

Astou Ndour (+1) was the only player on Avenida’s squad to finish the game with a positive plus/minus, which is all you need to know to get an idea of how poorly the Spanish women performed. Aleksandra Crvendakic (12 points, six rebounds, two dimes, two steals, and one block) had a great game but she found herself alone with the only help of Julia Reisingerova‘s 13-10 double-double.

Marina Mabrey led Schio with 16 points but it was Jasmine Keys’ 12-point and 10-rebound double-double (for an efficiency of 21) which tilted the game in the Italians’ favor. Ryne Howard finished with eight points and four assists while Costanza Verona led Schio with five dimes, only topped by Avenida’s Matie Cazorla and her six assists.

Also part of Group B, Girona lost their game to Belgium side Mechelen. The third Spanish team competing in the EuroLeague after qualifying last month lost 77-67 to Kangoeroes as the latter enjoyed two extraordinary performances from bigs Ziomara Morrison and Morgan Bertsch. Morrison completed a double-double outing with 14 points and 11 rebounds (including two blocks) while Bertsch scored a team-high 17 points. Two other players scored 15 or more points for Mechelen, with Lisa Berkani also dishing out eight assists.

Girona saw Rebekah Gardner underperform over her 29 minutes as she could only score four points (1-of-7 from the floor) in that time. Binta Drammeh tried to help Girona late but his overall contribution (five points, three rebounds, two assists, and one steal) fell way short of what the Spaniards needed to flip the score in their favor, even though they got to lead the game with two minutes left in the third period.

This game marked the first victory from the Belgium side in this year’s competition, leaving Basket Landes as the only winless team in Group B.

Jonquel Jones already has the best individual performance of the season

Finishing on a very bright note, let us announce what every living soul out there already knew was eventually going to happen: Jonquel Jones has finally arrived, and she’s as good as advertised.

In her second game with Turkish side Cukurova after debuting last week, Jones put up the best individual line of the year to date–and perhaps through the full season considering the gaudy numbers: 24 points, 19 rebounds, two assists, two steals, and two blocks in 34 minutes on the floor. It was enough to see her team win their first game of the year after defeating Basket Landes (0-3) by a close 68-61 result.

Some players have scored more points (Valeriane Vukosavljevic hit 33 last week). Some have pulled down more rebounds (Mavunga, 21). Others have dished out more dimes (Sykes, 12). Epoupa stole seven possessions in a game, and both Cheyenne Parker and Elodie Godin got to block four shots in a single match each. A combined 24-19-2-2-2 line, though? That’s unheard of this season.

Three other players have finished at least one game meeting four of the five figures present in Jonquel Jones’ line, but none of them met Jones’ all-around excellence. Jones was extraordinary last season and although it took her one game to gear up to his true talent level, it’s fair to say she’s finally here and ready to showcase everything she’s got inside of her.

Written by Antonio Losada

International freelance writer covering the WNBA overseas. Bylines at places, touching different bases. Always open to discussion over @chapulana || Full portfolio

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