UNICS Kazan has proven to be an elite team both in terms of scoring and defending. It is one of three teams undefeated at home this season and is also on a four-game winning streak. UNICS is as dangerous as any team heading into the quarterfinals.
The Top 16 finale against MoraBanc Andorra was of great importance for UNICS and the team passed the test with flying colors. UNICS entered the game knowing it needed to win by 6 or more points to clinch first place in its group, which granted home-court advantage for the playoffs, and it did that and a lot more with a 72-53 victory. MoraBanc came into the game ranked third in the competition in scoring with 86.4 points per game, but UNICS held the squad to 33 points below its average. It was the fewest points UNICS allowed in any EuroCup game in more than eight years. Raymar Morgan paced the victors with 16 points and 6 rebounds, Pierria Henry had 14 points and 5 assists and Jamar Smith finished with 12 points that night.
Swingman Trent Lockett is the only UNICS player to have started in all but one game this season and as much as Lockett can be a dangerous scorer, there are six UNICS players who average more than Lockett's 8.1 points per game. Still, Lockett, who is third in minutes played on the team, is a do-it-all player Coach Dimitris Priftis loves to have on the court. At just 1.96 meters, Lockett leads all guards in the competition with 28 offensive rebounds, which is also 11th best in the EuroCup. On the other end of the floor, he becomes a starting point of aggressive perimeter defense, where Lockett and Pierria Henry combine for 2.7 steals per game.
Knowing what it takes
Sharpshooter Jamar Smith, who leads the EuroCup with 44 three-pointers made this season and is on a record 53-game streak with at least 1 three-point shot made, won the EuroCup title playing for Unicaja Malaga in 2017. Errick McCollum was the 2016 EuroCup MVP and led Galatasaray Istanbul to the trophy that season. Veteran forward Maksim Sheleketo won the EuroCup twice, with Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar in 2013 and two years later with Khimki Moscow Region. Another veteran, big man Kostas Kaimakoglou, won the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague with Panathinaikos Athens in 2011. UNICS as a club won the EuroCup in 2011 and played in the finals in 2014. UNICS has loads of quality on the floor and equal amounts of experience in the locker room. That could be a difference.
Why this team can win
There is an everlasting debate whether it is the offense or the defense you need more to win titles, but this does not matter to UNICS, because this team has it all. UNICS led the Top 16 in scoring with 84.5 points per game and has five players who average double digits in scoring. UNICS also takes care of the ball, having committed the second-fewest turnovers per game (11.8). That offense is paired with a stellar defense, which has allowed the second-fewest points (74.3 ppg.) and holds opponents to 49.3% two-point shooting, which is also the second-lowest. UNICS enters the quarterfinals on a four-game winning streak and not only is it undefeated at home this season, but has won 10 consecutive home games dating back to last season. All that, combined with the experience this team possesses, could lead UNICS far.