A former champion and a playoffs newcomer will clash in what promises to be an exciting quarterfinals series when Unicaja Malaga takes on Umana Reyer Venice.
Home-court advantage - finally!
Unicaja will have the home-court advantage in a 7DAYS EuroCup playoff series for the first time. In its first EuroCup season, Unicaja took part in three playoffs series; it bested FC Bayern Munich 1-2 in the quarterfinals, Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar 0-2 in the semifinals and Valencia Basket 1-2 in the finals. In other words, Unicaja won the 2016-17 EuroCup by winning three playoffs series without home-court advantage. Last season, Unicaja fell 2-1 to ALBA Berlin in the quarterfinals, also without that advantage. This time, Unicaja will play Game 1 at home for the first time. Unicaja is especially dangerous in playoff series with a 3-1 home record and 4-3 on the road. On the other hand, Reyer is in its second EuroCup season. In its previous experience, in the 2015-16 season, Reyer did not get past the Top 16.
Reyer's outstanding return to form
There is no time like the present for Reyer, one of the oldest clubs in European sports. After winning back-to-back Italian League crowns in 1941 and 1942, Reyer spent 75 years without winning any major title. At one point in the 1990s, the club had to start over from the Italian sixth division. Reyer never gave up and not only returned to the Italian league, but has been able to win one title in each of the last four seasons, conquering Italian League crowns in 2017 and 2019, a FIBA Europe Cup trophy in 2018, and the Italian Cup title less than a month ago. Before that, Reyer had only been to one championship game in European competitions. It was in the 1980-81 season, in which Reyer, led by Spencer Haywood and Drazen Dalipagic, lost in overtime against Joventut Badalona at Palau Blaugrana, Barcelona, 105-104. Reyer now has a good chance to challenge for another title in its return to elite basketball.
Pablo Sanchez - the X Factor?
Unicaja enters his series with some key injuries. Axel Toupane is out for the season, playmaker Alberto Diaz, who was chosen as the 2017 EuroCup Finals MVP, has been sidelined for two weeks due to a torn muscle in his right leg and is questionable against Reyer. Moreover, Josh Adams severely sprained his left ankle late in his team's Top 16 Round 6 game against Joventut Badalona. As such, Unicaja is left with two combo guards, Jaime Fernandez and Dario Brizuela, to share the point guard duties with the only available pure playmaker, 17-year-old Pablo Sanchez, one of Unicaja's brightest hopes. In October 2018, Sanchez became the youngest player to wear Unicaja's jersey; at age 16 years and 9 days, he debuted and broke Domantas Sabonis's record. He made his EuroCup debut last season and played his first game in the competition in Top 16 Round 6. Sanchez delivered, finishing the game with 7 points on 2-of-2 three-point shooting, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 steal and a PIR of 6 against Joventut. Unicaja needs help at point guard and Sanchez is ready to step up and be the unexpected player in this series.
Solid offense vs. effective defense
Unicaja is the highest-scoring team left in the competition at 84.7 points per game. It has been very effective from all distances, making 54.4% of its two-point shots, 34.8% from downtown and 79.8% (2nd overall) from the foul line. Being active at both ends has helped Unicaja to get more possessions; the Spanish powerhouse averages 7.8 steals and 11.5 offensive rebounds. Turnovers have been Unicaja's main issue this season, as it picks up 14.6 on average. On the other hand, Reyer has some of the best defensive numbers in the competition, allowing just 73.5 points on average and protecting the paint really well - opponents only score 48.3% of their two-point shots and the team ranks second in blocks (3.31 bpg.). Reyer leads the EuroCup with the lowest three-point percentage allowed, just 28.1%, which speaks wonders about the team's ability to contest shots. Reyer, however, has struggled from the free-throw line, ranking last at 65.3%. Only one player with 25 attempts or more reaches 75% from the foul line: Austin Daye (28-of-37, 75.7%).