Big-name players who dominated the rankings in performance index rating, three-point shots made and blocks during the regular season give each of the Group H teams something to hang their hat on going into a Top 16 in which three relative neighbors take on an experienced giant from far across the continent in the east.
Experience vs. ambition
Former EuroCup champion UNICS Kazan, one-time EuroLeague winner Limoges CSP, France's most-crowned national champ, ASVEL Villeurbanne, and a well-known incubator of young talent, Grissin Bon Reggio Emilia, will vie in Group H for the right to continue fighting for the 7DAYS EuroCup title. With two of those teams in southern France and another in northern Italy, the burden of the three longest trips by far over six short weeks will fall on the club with the most recent run of success in the competition, UNICS Kazan. None of the other three have made it past the eighthfinals in more than a decade, but UNICS won the EuroCup in 2011, has been a semifinalist or finalist twice in the last four seasons. UNICS also enjoys a certain advantage in experience from players like Stephane Lasme, Anton Ponkrashov and Quino Colom, although the most-experienced coach of the group is ASVEL's J.D. Jackson, now in his seventh EuroCup season. His is the hottest team, too, with five straight victories to win the tightest group of the regular season, although UNICS had the same 7-3 record and the other two finished 5-5. Limoges is a wild card, its three regular-season road wins matching those of UNICS and ASVEL, its long-time French rival. Reggio Emilia is another, joining ASVEL as the only team here to have defeated each of its five rivals in the regular season once.
The Roberson factor
When you hit more three-point shots in a single game than anyone in the EuroLeague or EuroCup this century, you can bet that you are already marked as a player who can make or break ambitions in a small group phase of six games. But if Roberson's 11 threes in a triple-overtime thriller last week against Gran Canaria -- or, if you prefer, his 42 points after halftime in that game - were indeed remarkable, he is far from a streak shooter. No player has ever blasted away from downtown in a EuroCup regular season like Roberson's did while dropping 42 triples in 10 games. And he arrived at that sum by making at least 5 bombs in half of those 10 games. That average of 4.2 is off the charts as well, thanks to his 56.7% accuracy from deep. In short, if Roberson could power ASVEL to five consecutive wins with such shooting to win their regular season group, anything close to that in the Top 16 could decide a lot of fates in Group H.
The top overall performer in the competition gives a level of confidence that might just help Grissin Bon Reggio Emilia overcome its relative inexperience at this level. Amedeo Della Valle does a lot more to own the competition's top performance index rating, 23 per game, than his skinny frame and wild locks would suggest. He scores 18.7 points per game, the second most in the EuroCup, in part by getting to the foul line more than any other player in the competition, where he makes more than one-third of his points. He also leads Reggio Emilia in steals and assists, meaning that the ball is in his hands as much as anyone's. For a 24-year old, third-year pro, the fact he also is the EuroCup leader in minutes played, over 32 per game, means that his only pro coach so far, Massimiliano Menetti, trusts him completely. And when leadership is needed in pressure situations as the games get tougher, Reggio Emilia knows exactly who to turn to. The Reggio Emilia fans are all in, too, having mounted a page on Facebook dedicated to his game face: La Faccia Cattiva di Amedeo Della Valle.
Double trouble in Kazan
If Della Valle is the top overall performer of the regular season, however, UNICS is blessed to have two of the next five, Stephane Lasme and Quino Colom, whose unique skills complement each other perfectly. Lasme, the 2016 EuroCup Finals MVP and a former Best Defender Trophy winner in the EuroLeague, averaged more blocks (2.5) and two-point shots (6.5) than any player in the regular season while ranking fifth in scoring (17.0 ppg.). Colom is the second-best assist-maker (6.1) and the 11th-best scorer (14.1 ppg.) among players advancing to the Top 16. Lasme's defensive presence had UNICS ranked fourth in points allowed (76.0) and third in two-point accuracy by opponents (48.0%). Colom is the last player to get a triple-double in the EuroCup and a threat to hurt opponents in many ways every time he steps on the court. If you look at the difference among these four teams of PIR for them and by their opponents in the regular season, UNICS has by far the biggest positive difference, 15.1. That's a good indicator of efficiency at both ends of the floor, and the experienced duo of Lasme and Colom are the heart of those efforts for the Russian club.