09 October, 2018
05 May, 2019
Basket City is back - a closer look at Segafredo Virtus Bologna
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Basket City is back - a closer look at Segafredo Virtus Bologna

BOLOGNA (Italy) - It is now exactly ten years since the Black V took the FIBA EuroChallenge title in 2009, and coming up to eighteen years since they won the Triple Crown (Serie A, Italian Cup, and EuroLeague) in 2001. But finally, after overcoming a few bumps in the road, Segafredo Virtus Bologna is back challenging for European titles. This storied club has had its ups and downs over the years, but 15 Italian League titles, eight Italian Cups, and three European titles suggest there may have already been more ups than many other clubs could dream of. The time for talking about the past, however, is gone. For Sasa Djordjevic, Kevin Punter and the gang, it’s all about the future now.

This is a group that has been constructed to win. Right from the first game in the PalaDozza against Neptunas Klaipeda, the balance to this roster made sense. Kevin Punter is the Basketball Champions League's all-time leader in points scored and is, without doubt, one of the most gifted scorers this competition has seen. Surrounding him is Tony “The Computer” Taylor at point guard managing the distribution, Pietro Aradori is the second gun on the ground, Dejan Kravic and Brian Qvale bring the muscle, with Filippo Baldi Rossi the sniper in the tower. Amath M’Baye is the head of security that also doubles up as the sports psychologist - his unshakeable confidence on the offensive end keeps everyone focused.

On the defensive end, Kelvin Martin is the rottweiler with a heart of gold. David Cournooh also brings it defensively and is shooting with confidence and consistency. Alessandro Pajola is one of the best young defensive guards in Europe, and the likes of Matteo Berti and Alessandro Cappelletti are ready whenever they get the call. If that group hadn’t looked strong enough after winning the first seven games in the BCL, when the opportunity came to add extra firepower, the Black V added more bounce to the frontcourt in Yanick Moreira and two-time NBA Champion Mario Chalmers to the backcourt.

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The Road to the Final Four

Things couldn't have gone much better when Virtus reignited its old flame in Europe. An overtime win over Neptunas Klaipeda got the PalaDozza rocking and was quickly followed by wins over Oostende, Olimpija, Bayreuth, Strasbourg, and Besiktas. Of course, it's never that easy. After an eye-catching 7-0 start, Virtus lost four of the next six games in the competition and started to look a bit more human. A confidence-boosting overtime win over Promitheas Patras appeared to steady the ship before the Play-Offs. But for a club like Segafredo Virtus Bologna, “steady” is never going to be enough and after the first leg of the Round of 16, the Black V finally got their man. It had been rumored that Virtus were chasing Sasa Djordjevic for some time. After finishing level with the French Champs Le Mans in leg one, a former enemy with Fortitudo, signed on the dotted line to become an ally and stalk the sidelines on the other side of Bologna.

The result was an instant and dramatic confidence boost. Virtus obliterated Le Mans in the PalaDozza and those fans had a new hero. The Quarter-Finals meant more French opposition. This time in the form of the Green Lights of Nanterre 92. Jeremy Senglin & Co looked a dangerous foe after knocking out Besiktas Sompo Japan and they proved even more dangerous in Paris, as Virtus’ offense stagnated in the first leg. Djordjevic and his squad traveled back home with an 8-point deficit to ponder. The Bologna fans needn’t have worried. Those eight points may sound a lot to most teams but when you have that kind of home atmosphere behind you and that kind of talent on your roster, it’s a drop in the ocean. For a second time in the Play-Offs, a French team came to Bologna and crashed like a wave against a black cliff. Amath M'Baye's 16 points on 60% shooting stood out, and also earned him a spot in the team of the Quarter-Finals.

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Segafredo Virtus Bologna comes into the Final Four with one of the more intriguing statistical profiles. On the defensive end, they lead all Final Four teams in shot blocking - they decline over 7% of their opponents’ shots. They also lead the Final Four - and the Basketball Champions League overall - in steals. When you combine that with the lowest turnover percentage in the League, you get the picture of a greedy team that takes the ball off you and doesn’t like to give it back. On the playground this wouldn’t be much fun to play with, but when it comes to winning, being greedy as a team is only a good thing. This team also lead all teams in the Play-Offs for points in the paint with 35.3 per game. Virtus - like AEK last season - is bottom ranked for the percentage of its buckets that come from an assist (49.9 in assist percentage). Sharing the ball certainly looks good and often creates efficient shots, but when it comes to do-or-die games, the ability to create your own shots and get to the bucket is also vital.

If we dive a bit deeper into Virtus' last ten BCL games leading up to the Final Four, we can clearly see the striking impact of Sasa Djordjevic's arrival - especially in those two home games. If you look at Virtus' Defensive Rating for both home games in the Play-Offs, they are season bests. The Black V conceded only 82 points per 100 possessions in both games. Interestingly, Virtus's worst defensive performance of the season was the game in between, when they gave up 123 points per 100, on the road at Nanterre 92. What we can also observe is an almost contrarian relationship between statistical production and positive outcomes. Virtus has turned the ball over less than any team all season, yet, in the five games when its Turnover Percent dropped below its season average (10.5%) the outcome has been three losses and only two wins. To exaggerate the point further, the Italian's worst performance over the last ten games for turning the ball over, was that huge win over Nanterre 92 in the PalaDozza. Pace has also been a key stat for this Bologna team over the last ten games. This team plays at a league average pace of 72 possessions per 40 minutes. Of the six games it has played slower than that, they have lost four. Virtus is unbeaten when they play more than 72 possessions per 40 minutes. 


The shooting profile of this Virtus Bologna team undoubtedly paints a picture of a team that can get shots at the rim when they need it. Virtus makes 57% of its shots directly at the rim. This number is actually lower than some of the other Final Four teams, but when you consider that the Italians score more points in the paint than any of the other clubs, you understand that the volume of shots taken is much higher. The right corner and right low post are also hotspots and this is a team that shoots at1 point-per-shot or more, from both low post areas and four of the five zones outside the arc.

If you look at the player shot map, you can see Dejan Kravic leading the way, shooting over 70 percent at the rim. Also, take note of Amath M’Baye shooting at a stupendously high clip from the right block and left elbow. With the game on the line, the ball will likely be in Kevin Punter’s hands but don’t be surprised to see Sasa Djordjevic call the Frenchman’s name when they need to keep the scorer's table busy down the stretch.


The chart below shows you the minutes rotations for Virtus in the Play-Offs. You can see a consistent starting unit of Taylor, Punter, Aradori, M'Baye, and Kravic. When we contrast this chart with the way the roster was used during the Regular Season, there are few major rotation changes. The primary difference is that the late season arrival of Mario Chalmers into the second unit has been at the expense of Alessandro Pajola's minutes. That is certainly tough breaks for the talented young Italian but he has time on his side and most teams given the opportunity to add a two-time NBA Champion, would have done the same. What you can also see in this chart, is that Chalmers has been among the players that coach Djordjevic has trusted to close out games. Amath M'baye is the king of the closers for Virtus. He has played 100% of the final minutes in the Play-Offs. The final area to discuss is the role of Yanick Moreira in the Play-Offs. The Angolan hasn't found consistent minutes yet, but with the mobility and strength of Harris and Rubit for Bamberg, there is every chance we will see a bit more of Moreira in Antwerp. 

Segafredo Virtus Bologna's best lineups for Plus/Minus in the Play-Offs have been:

Kevin Punter, Filippo Baldi Rossi, Brian Qvale, David Cournooh, Mario Chalmers (Plus/Minus: +6)

Kevin Punter, Tony Taylor, Dejan Kravic, Amath M'Baye, David Cournooh (Plus/Minus: +6)

David Cournooh has been part of Virtus 'defensive lockdown lineups

This Bologna roster is deep and well-balanced and for that reason, we could choose any number of players to take a closer look at before the Final Four. In this case, we have chosen three men that have been consistently relied on to make an impact all season; Kevin Punter, Amath M'Baye and Dejan Kravic.

Amath M'Baye

M'Baye has arguably been the biggest revelation of the season. His ability to play inside-out and score at a good rate from multiple areas on the floor isn't a new thing, but his game has certainly taken a leap in terms of consistency in Bologna. The shot chart above shows how lethal he is as a post scorer and you can see that in the video below. As a short-range jump shooter, M'Baye is shooting over 70% and the fact that his turnaround jumper is so lethal means defenders will open themselves up to pump-fakes and blow-bys. His shooting percentage from 3-point range is less efficient at 31%, but he is more consistent from the wings so his ability to space the floor isn't completely diminished - and 31% is enough that teams will respect it. Once defenders get close, M'Baye will put it on the floor and get to the rim regularly. 


Dejan Kravic

Coach Djordjevic's arrival was welcomed across the board in Bologna, but probably the player that welcomed it the most was Dejan Kravic. Kravic has been on the radar for the Serbian National Team for some time now. No doubt Coach Djordjevic will see the opportunity to develop Kravic on a day to day basis, and that can only be a good thing. The video below is made of clips entirely from the Quarter-Finals but shows you that Kravic is going to be vital for Virtus at the Final Four. The first two clips, you can see that Djordjevic has been willing to call Kravic's name to go to work on the post, and the big man has delivered with quality finishes (watch the fist pump from the coach after the second jump hook). Kravic is also very mobile and among the BCL's best finishers as the roll-man. Watch him read the hard hedge in the third clip and slip to the rim - the ability to catch on the move, then turn 180 degrees and draw the foul without traveling, may not be a highlight play, but for a player that size it shouldn't be taken for granted.  

On the defensive end, Kravic's mobility is also extremely valuable. In the clip below he switches onto Valentin Bigote in the Round of 16. Bigote had been hot from deep for Le Mans in both legs so Kravic couldn't afford to drop too deep. On the initial drive, Kravic is impressive in his ability to adjust his feet and contest the layup. Then on the isolation after the offensive rebound, watch how far outside the 3-point line Kravic is willing to defend and also stay in front to contest the shot. 


Kevin Punter

Punter is the record points scorer in the BCL for a reason. He had a late season blip in the BCL this season where he struggled with his shot slightly, but a player with a work ethic like Punter's will never stay in a funk for long. Now back in rhythm, KP can create for himself and draw second defenders to the ball to make the kick out pass. To say Punter is the best scorer in the BCL actually does him a disservice as a creative player - his ability to make the right pass has been consistent all season. 

On the defensive end, Punter has always been engaged and active. In the Play-Off games since Djordjevic took over, he has been particularly impactful on the defensive end. He is using his length and agility to fight through screens,  hassle ball-handlers and jump passing lanes. The two plays in the video below are transformative contributions in a knockout game. 



There isn't much that needs to be said about a coach with the resume of Sasa Djordjevic. We have already seen the lift he gave the club on arrival, and the levels he demands from his players is already evident. This Virtus backcourt was built to be a menace defensively but the addition of Mario Chalmers only served to magnify that defensive focus. In the two home games since his arrival, Djordjevic has weaponized the likes of Cournooh, Taylor, Martin, Punter, and Chalmers. 

They say that a good defender doesn't get screened. It seems that Coach Djordjevic has recognized that he has some good defenders and told them not to get screened...Obviously, it's not that simple, but watch the three clips below and you see that Punter, Martin, and Cournooh all do a great job of staying aggressive and fighting to get through ball screens. When you charge your perimeter players with being uber-aggressive like this, the next step is what happens when they do eventually get screened. In Bologna's case, the communication and help rotations have been excellent from the likes of M'Baye, Kravic, and Qvale. 

It would be remiss to discuss Virtus tactics defensively without including some footage of Mario Chalmers. A player that has been a defensive factor on NBA Championship teams was always going to raise the level on the defensive end. This clip below is the perfect illustration of his attack-minded attitude on the defensive end. 

On the offensive end, it's always going to be difficult for a coach to come in late-season and make wholesale changes to the system. This Bologna team was already using a low assist, pick-and-roll heavy offensive system (which makes sense with the roster). For Djordjevic coming in, it has been more about tweaks. The clip below is of the double drag, transition ball screen that we have seen more of since the Serbian playcaller arrived. Bologna has used it to create early postups for M'Baye, pick-and-pops for Baldi-Rossi and deep catches on the roll for Qvale and Kravic. In this case, Punter splits the hedge and creates a great, early look for Martin. Incidentally, that backdoor cut by Martin may well have been a coaching emphasis too - we have certainly seen an increase in Virtus' non-shooting perimeter players making those cuts on dribble drives and pick-and-rolls.


Up Next

Brose Bamberg

Two newcomers to the BCL and two big hitters in their first season. Two well-matched rosters and two teams that have the ability to move the ball and win with team basketball, but also the scoring talent to isolate and win with 1v1 basketball.

Rice vs Punter, Harris vs M'Baye, Alexander vs Kravic, Zisis vs Taylor, Hickman vs Chalmers, and Perego vs Djordjevic. There are fascinating duels everywhere you look. After witnessing the way Virtus used Cournooh, Martin, and Chalmers to make Jeremy Senglin's first experience of Bologna traumatic, we can expect to see Tyrese Rice enjoy a similarly intimate level of attention. How Djordjevic matches up with the tandem of Harris and Rubit may also be a big key.

Any way you look at it, this semi-final is as unpredictable as it is fascinating. With 18,000 tickets on sale, there will be a healthy allocation for away fans. These fans in the video below have been immense all season, as evidenced by Virtus' record in home games. You get the sense that Bologna will need them in numbers, and in full voice to create an atmosphere that feels like home. 


Diccon Lloyd-Smeath

Diccon Lloyd-Smeath

Diccon is a basketball coach and analyst living in Madrid. Constantly digging in the crates of box scores and clicking through hours of game footage. Diccon is on the hunt for the stories within the stories. If you like to get a closer look at what’s going in the Basketball Champions League, you have found it.