Markus Howard has been on fire in recent games. For Baskonia to reach the EuroLeague quarterfinals, his incredible streak must continue. Source: Angel Martinez/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images
Markus Howard has been on fire in recent games. For Baskonia to reach the EuroLeague quarterfinals, his incredible streak must continue. Source: Angel Martinez/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

EuroLeague Play-In: will Baskonia and Virtus cause upsets?

Basketball OlyBet 16.04.2024

Ahead of the EuroLeague quarterfinals, the final two teams to secure spots in the top eight must be determined. Tel Aviv Maccabi, Baskonia, Istanbul Anadolu Efes, and Bologna Virtus are vying for these spots this week.

Directly qualifying for the quarterfinals were the top six teams from the regular season: Real Madrid, Panathinaikos Athens, Monaco, Barcelona, Olympiacos, and Fenerbahce Istanbul. Monaco will face Fenerbahce in the playoffs, while Barcelona will play against Olympiacos.

In the play-in, Maccabi will face Baskonia, and Efes will play against Virtus. The winner of the first pair will meet Panathinaikos in the top eight, while the loser will play against the winner of the Efes-Virtus duel. The victor of that match will face Real.

The first two play-in games will be held on Tuesday, April 16, with the last one on Friday, April 19.

Maccabi Tel Aviv vs Baskonia (16 April, 20:00 EET)

Maccabi heads into the crucial match on a high note, having won seven out of their last eight regular season games. Granted, the schedule was favorable, mainly facing lower-ranked teams, but their single loss was a hard-fought battle against Barcelona on the road, that ended with Nicolas Laprovittola’s long-range three-pointer in the closing seconds of regulation.

Baskonia’s position in the top ten was briefly jeopardized, but victories over Real and Virtus in the last two rounds propelled them to eighth place. However, it’s undeniable that the Spanish club’s performance on the court was lackluster towards the end of the regular season.

Maccabi and Baskonia split their regular season matchups 1-1, with both games being high-scoring affairs. Maccabi, playing their home games in Belgrade, triumphed over Baskonia in Serbia with a score of 89-81, while Baskonia claimed a ten point victory at Fernando Buesa Arena.

Fans should anticipate a high-scoring affair in Tuesday’s showdown. Maccabi sits at second place in offensive statistics over the last three rounds of play, with a defense slightly below average. Meanwhile, Baskonia stands fourth in offense and fifteenth in defense.

Leading the charge for Duško Ivanović’s team is Markus Howard, the top scorer of the regular season. In his last four games – two in the EuroLeague and two in the Spanish league – the American with Puerto Rican roots has scored no less than 28 points, delivering 34 against Virtus and 35 against Real.

Perhaps it’s a simplistic viewpoint, but if Maccabi can contain Howard, Baskonia will be in trouble. Neutralizing the sharpshooter involves two strategies: sticking to him like glue on defense and creating unfavorable matchups on offense to force Howard into committing fouls. We’ve seen repeatedly this season that Baskonia’s scoring machine struggles if he gets into foul trouble early in the game.

From Baskonia’s perspective, controlling the defensive boards is paramount, as Maccabi poses a significant threat on the offensive glass. Fortunately for Ivanović, he has Chima Moneke and Tadas Sedekerskis, two of the EuroLeague’s best rebounders, at his disposal. However, centers Matt Costello and Maik-Kalev Kotsar must also contribute. This doesn’t necessarily mean grabbing many rebounds, but rather blocking Maccabi’s big men on the boards or keeping them away from the basket.

Securing defensive rebounds is undoubtedly crucial for Maccabi as well. In the last three rounds of play, Baskonia and Maccabi allowed opponents to grab 13 offensive rebounds per game, which was the worst mark in the league.

Furthermore, Maccabi has struggled in one aspect over the last three rounds, allowing opponents to attempt 32 three-pointers per game. Baskonia loves taking plenty of shots from downtown, and with players like Howard and Vanja Marinković, they have the ability to ignite the scoreboard.

While Maccabi must closely monitor Howard on defense, Baskonia’s task is more complex, as several players from the Israeli team were in good form towards the end of the regular season. Particularly noteworthy are guard Wade Baldwin and center Josh Nebo, both playing the best basketball of their careers.

It’s likely that Baldwin will still manage to score around 20 points, given his individual brilliance, making it practically impossible to contain him. Nebo, with his springy legs, thrives on offensive rebounds and good passes from teammates, so stopping him requires a collective effort from Baskonia.

Although Maccabi is the clear favorite in this game, Baskonia shouldn’t be counted out. However, they’ll need to perform exceptionally well to secure a spot in the top eight at the first opportunity.

Anadolu Efes Istanbul vs Virtus Bologna (16 April, 21:00 EET)

Under coach Erdem Can, Efes struggled to find their rhythm, but his successor, Tomislav Mijatović, has turned things around. Efes won a remarkable eight out of their last ten regular season games.

Virtus spent the first half of the season in the top three but eventually plummeted. Their loss to Baskonia in the final round dropped them to tenth place. However, the grim reality is that the Italian club lost a staggering eight out of their last ten games.

In their regular season matchups, the home teams prevailed. Virtus had the upper hand in Italy with a 93-81 victory, although this game took place in early November when Luca Banchi’s side was in great form. On January 12th, Efes triumphed in Istanbul with a score of 99-75.

Looking at their recent performances, Virtus is struggling in almost every aspect. Particularly concerning is their opponents’ three-point shooting percentage of 40.5%, and Efes boasts plenty of sharpshooters from long range.

Much praise has been given to Efes for their significantly improved defense during their remarkable ascent. Their defense under Mijatović has been more suffocating and consistent compared to Can’s tenure, playing a pivotal role in their success.

However, when analyzing the numbers, Efes’ offense has been even more crucial. The Turkish club boasts the best offense in the EuroLeague over their last ten games, with incredible shooting percentages: 58.3% from two-point range and 41.4% from beyond the arc. Additionally, they’ve only averaged 8.6 turnovers per game, the best in the league.

Realistically, it’s challenging to find a glimmer of hope for Virtus. Perhaps controlling the battle on the boards could be a potential area, as Efes has grabbed just 67% of possible defensive rebounds in their last ten games, being the worst in the EuroLeague. However, Virtus has also struggled on the offensive glass, so…

Efes, who has won the last eleven home games across all competitions is an overwhelming favorite against Virtus. A victory for the Italian club would be a huge upset.


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