Bologna Virtus – who belonged to the absolute top of the Old World club basketball about 20 years ago – is now back in the high game! The Italian giant is the biggest surprise of this EuroLeague season, when after the 19th round they hold the second place with 14 wins.
Talking about the current season of Virtus, you can’t get over the stormy summer. Sergio Scariolo, who became the world champion with the Spanish team and won four European Championship golds, got into a fight with the club’s managers and spoke openly about his disappointments at press conferences, which culminated in the departure of the head coach who joined the Bologna team in the summer of 2021.
Scariolo and Virtus parted ways on September 15, eight days before the Italian Super Cup semi-final against another EuroLeague club, Milano Olimpia. Fortunately for the chiefs, the search for a new supervisor did not take long.
Luca Banch did have a job – in the Latvian team – but the Italian, who led our southern neighbours to fifth place at last year’s World Cup, was free in terms of club basketball. Banchi immediately responded with a “yes” to Virtus’ invitation to take over the team.
Banchi returned to the EuroLeague after a five-year hiatus, most recently coaching German club Bamberg in the 2017/18 season. His best result came in the 2013/14 season, when Banchi guided Milan to the top eight, losing 1-3 to Maccabi Tel Aviv. By the way, Estonian legend Kristjan Kangur also played in the fashion capital that season.
In hindsight, firing Scariolo and hiring Banch was a great move. If the former failed to reach the play-off in the EuroLeague last season and lost the highly exciting final series 3:4 to Milan in the Italian championship, Banchi immediately won the Super Cup and is very successful in the EuroLeague. The third place is maintained in the championship at home, only one victory away from the leaders Venezia and Brescia.
Banchi has breathed life into several men
Several players have blossomed in the 58-year-old Banch’s system. The leader of the team is Tornike Šengelia, who was plagued by injuries last season and therefore did not show his best side. This season, however, the Georgian has become one of the best players in the Euroleague.
The average figures of the power forward are 15.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists, which means that Virtus’ game is played through Šengelia – when we are talking about the attack. His numbers could be even stronger, but he has hit only 29% of the long shots.
Examples of Šengelia’s style this season:
If Virtus wants to enjoy success this year, the health of a man who has often struggled with health problems during his career is crucial, because Šengelia not only shines in offense, but is also one of the mainstays of the team in defense.
2014 NBA Champion Marco Belinelli may be 37 years old, but the Italian’s shooting arm is still deadly accurate. The cannon, who scored an average of 14.3 points in the EuroLeague, has hit 43.4% of long-range shots, which is the second-best figure of his EuroLeague career – in the 2005/06 season, he hit 43.9% from afar in the shirt of Fortitudo – another Bologna team.
How Belinelli Toppled Baskonia:
Another Italian veteran – 36-year-old Daniel Hackett – has been known for years as an excellent guard tasked with stopping the opposition’s best offensive player. Hackett, who won the EuroLeague with CSKA Moscow in 2019, is not having the best season of his career numerically, but compared to last year, he is scoring more points (8.8 vs. 6.4), making more assists (4.2 vs. 2.9) and taking more table balls (3.2 vs. 2.1).
Besides the trio, various role players have also been in good shape. Bryant Dunston is also 37 years old, but the American center is in great physical shape and one of the leading defensive anchors in the EuroLeague.
The man Scariolo didn’t want to see in the team can’t be ignored either. Iffe Lundberg is a good offensive player who is not stable but has brought Virtus several victories with decisive shots this season.
Lundberg shone against Partizan Belgrade:
It is important to note that Banchi did not complete the team, i.e. he has been able to bring out the strengths of the ballers. Scariolo wasn’t so good at this last season.
Around New Year’s, Banchi has been able to get some men. For example, a good offensive center Ante Žižić was hired from Anadolu Efes in Istanbul, but it was a forced move, as the center Devontae Cacok, who played a rather small role, has been out for a few months with an injury.
The place of Jaleen Smith, who left Partizan, was filled by the Latvian guard Rihards Lomažs, whose biggest trump card is attack. Rumors pair Virtus with another Latvian, Andrejs Gražulis, a force under the basket who is showing very good momentum in the Italian club Trento and made a beautiful World Cup, who is good both in attack and defense.
Virtus is very versatile
Under Banch’s guidance, Virtus is either at or very close to the top in several statistical tables. Let’s start with the offense: 38.9% shots from long range (3rd best) and 19.7 assists per game (3rd). If one would want to look at the shortcomings then the acquisition of offensive rebounds might be worthy of pointing out. There the position is 13th with 9.8. However, looking at the big picture, this is a tiny drop of tar in the honey pot.
In defense, Virtus is a little weaker than in attack, but the difference is not remarkable. Opponents have given them only 15.9 assists per game (3rd), and the Italian giants also don’t allow many three-pointers – 23.5 per game to be exact (5th).
The great number of personal mistakes made (21.3; 15th) and plenty of free throws by the opponents (19.6; 16th) must be pointed out as a shortcoming. However, all of this is a testament to Virtus’ aggressive defense, which has worked very well this season.
Examining different statistics, it is evident that Virtus’ biggest trump card is its versatility, teamwork, and stability. This is a good sign, as it gives reason to believe that if a key player goes out due to injury, the house of cards will not collapse because Virtus does not rely on individuals, but on the system. By the way, the only real loss in the EuroLeague was in the 7th round, away from home, against Real Madrid, to whom they lost by a whopping 26 points.
How would they fare in the Euroleague?
Virtus probably doesn’t think about winning the regular season, because Real is just so dominant this season. The primary goal could be securing home-field advantage for the playoffs, i.e. finishing in the top four.
Thanks to the second place in the table, it might seem like an easy task, but the EuroLeague is extremely balanced. After the 19th round, three wins stand between Virtus and the fifth place, which is a noticeable distance, but nothing is set in stone for the Italian club.
Over the next 15 rounds, Virtus will play seven home games. So far, Bologna has been strong, losing only one of ten battles. At the same time, there is nothing wrong with their shape whilst away from home either, as they have won five out of nine games, and this gives them second place in the respective ranking.
There is no point in thinking beyond that because in the play-offs, everything largely depends on the opponent.