Italy or Spain? Virtus Bologna take on Iberostar Tenerife in the biggest game of the season
ANTWERP (Belgium) - The practices are done, the teams are ready to go, and the beautiful trophy will be headed either back to Tenerife, or alongside many other pieces of silverware in Bologna.
Segafredo Virtus Bologna reached the Final by building up a defensive wall against one of the strong favorites since day one of this season in Brose Bamberg. For more on that, you should check Diccon Lloyd-Smeath's tactical breakdown to learn how Bologna limited the actions of Tyrese Rice and his teammates in the Semi-Final on Friday.
As for Iberostar Tenerife, they have already rewrote the history books of this young competition. By defeating Telenet Giants Antwerp in front of 17,289 people in Sportpaleis, the 2017 champs made sure that the 2019 edition of the Final Four will be the first one in which the host will not end up with the trophy in their hands. Coach DLS broke that game down, too.
Key matchup: Javier Beiran v Kevin Punter. Virtus have gone with a lot of small-ball rotations this season, putting together Kevin Punter, Tony Taylor and Mario Chalmers on the floor, and at the other end of the spectrum, Tenerife have done the most damage against Antwerp by playing a lineup with three 6'7'' guys in Beiran, Brussino and Gillet, along with San Miguel running the point and Colton Iverson (7'0'') protecting the paint.
If Txus Vidorreta goes for that kind of lineup, we could see a direct duel of the two guys who said they want this title more than anything else. Punter, because he could become the first man to win it back-to-back, and do it with different clubs, too. Beiran, because he missed the 2017 Final Four due to an injury, which was devastating for him, given that it was arguably the best season of his career.
Punter is the man when it comes to creating your own shot off the dribble. Per Synergy Sports, almost half of his touches of the ball finish with a jump shot (48.5 percent in all competitions this season), and he is knocking them down with an excellent rating, getting 277 points on 252 possessions in the Basketball Champions League, Serie A and Italian Cup - that puts him at 1.099 points per possession, a mark which is truly unique in international basketball when shooting off the dribble is in question.
Meanwhile, Beiran is the master of the post-ups, especially on the left block. Tenerife have scored 174 points on Beiran's 164 post-ups in the Liga Endesa, Copa del Rey and the Basketball Champions League this season, as the swingman is able not only to score over a smaller defender but also to distribute the ball to his teammates from that spot.
Key stats: Bologna v Spain 2-0 in the Finals. No, not talking about soccer here. Virtus are a storied franchise with four European trophies in their possession, and seeing the Spaniards at the other end was usually a good omen. Playing the FIBA Cup Winners' Cup Final in 1990, Knorr Virtus Bologna took down Real Madrid 79-74, thanks to Sugar Ray Richardson's 29 points in the championship game.
Fast forward to 2001, and Kinder Bologna survived a five-game thriller against Tau Ceramica in the Finals of the EuroLeague, led by Manu Ginobili, Antoine Rigaudeau and Rashard Griffith. Virtus also won the 1998 FIBA EuroLeague title, beating AEK in the Final, and the 2009 FIBA EuroChallenge, when they defeated Cholet in the title game.
Iberostar Tenerife won the 2017 Basketball Champions League, and they did encounter Italian opposition on their way to glory, but not in the Final. They handed Umana Reyer Venezia a defeat in the Semi-Finals, before beating Banvit a couple of days later.
They said: "I've been here last year. And I told myself winning it last year was probably the greatest feeling in the world. And it would be even worse if I was to lose it. (It was) not just me, but those other guys in the locker-room wanted it just as much, those guys in the locker-room had just as much passion. From the jump, since we got here, we've been all locked in, since Wednesday." - Kevin Punter, Segafredo Virtus Bologna
Kevin Punter was on top just a season ago
"I do appreciate every day of working with these guys, and I'm thankful for them, because they are really a good bunch of guys, we have on the floor and they are free to do everything I say." - Segafredo Virtus Bologna's head coach Aleksandar Sasha Djordjevic
"I came to this Final Four saying that we have to smile. We have to enjoy this, to have the enthusiasm of the persons who really achieved something in basketball. This was a competition that was really tough with 40 teams, and in the end being in the Final Four - that's really something for each one of us. We have to feel special. Together with the smile and the joy, and enjoying each other I believe that good things can happen." - coach Djordjevic again
"For us, the Basketball Champions League is very important. We have to thank FIBA and the Basketball Champions League because Iberostar Tenerife were a small team only two years and five days ago. In the last three years, we are growing every day, because we are doing a great job in this competition." - Txus Vidorreta, Iberostar Tenerife's head coach
Coach Txus Vidorreta celebrating the title in 2017
"Bologna is a totally different team. We know the players, my assistants have done a great job, we have all the scouting, but for me the next hours will be spent seeing Djordjevic's team on TV, because they are great players, with great one-on-one situations in the backcourt, and also with their big men. We have to think of a plan. For us the plan usually is the key, because players execute our plan perfectly." - coach Vidorreta again.
When: Sunday, May 5, 18:00 CET.
Where: Sportpaleis, Antwerp, Belgium.