Segafredo Virtus Bologna vs Nanterre 92 - a closer look
MIES (Switzerland) -When it comes to history and European pedigree, we would be hard pressed to find two clubs in the Basketball Champions League with a harsher contrast than Nanterre 92 and Segafredo Virtus Bologna. The Black V have won the Italian Serie A no less than fifteen times, and also collected four European titles and ten domestic cups. The last time they won the top league in Italy was in 2001. In 2001 Nanterre 92 was still called JSF Nanterre and yet to enter the French second tier.
A great deal has happened for both clubs since that time. Nanterre, in particular, may have some catching up to do but they have wasted no time in doing so - winning two European titles, two domestic cups and a French Pro A title since turning pro in 2006. On Wednesday the 27th of March, in the Palais des Sports Maurice Thorez, we start the process of finding out which club is going to take a step closer to adding to their trophy cabinet.
The road to the Quarter-Finals
Nanterre 92: We have three clubs left in the Quarter-Finals that had to come through the qualifiers. Telenet Giants Antwerp and Nizhny Novgorod face off in one Quarter-Final, Nanterre 92 is the other one. The Green Lights came in at the 3rd round of qualifying and comfortably dispatched Karhu Basket. From there, they were drawn in Group B with Iberostar Tenerife, PAOK, UNET Holon, Umana Reyer Venezia, Telekom Baskets Bonn, Fribourg Olympic, and Opava. Nanterre qualified in 3rd with an 8-6 record. It was by no means comfortable and required them to win a do or die game against Holon, in the last round of the Regular Season. If that game wasn't the highlight of their Regular Season, then it was probably the complete demolition of Telekom Baskets Bonn in January. It's no news flash that Nanterre shoot the ball well. In fact, they have shot the ball as well as anyone in Europe for several years now. Against Bonn, Coach Donnadieu's hired guns equaled a BCL record with 19 made 3-pointers, shooting 51% from behind the arc.
Nanterre reached the Round of 16 last year and fell to Banvit. When they watched the draw and saw another Turkish team in Besiktas picked after their name, the Mafia Vert could have been forgiven for a moment's doubt. When they lost their veteran leader in Dominic Waters to an injury, that concern was probably amplified. Whatever concerns the fans may have had, the players never showed it for a second. Jeremy Senglin has been one of the discoveries of the season and he continued his upward trend. This block from Lahou Konate on Jason Rich summed up the defensive effort from Nanterre over both legs, as they held Besiktas to 60 points or under in both games.
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Virtus Bologna: The Black V started their season in the group stages without having to qualify. They were drawn in Group D, regarded by many as the "Group of Death" with Neptunas Klaipeda, SIG Strasbourg, Besiktas Sompo Japan, Promitheas Patras, medi Bayreuth, Filou Oostende, and Petrol Olimpija. As soon as they played their first game in the Paladozza - an 82-78 OT win against Neptunas Klaipedia - it was clear this was a serious team. Under Coach Sacripanti the club went on an unbeaten tear for the first seven games of the Regular Season. There were a couple of wobbles after that. The two-game skid against Strasbourg and Besiktas - where they lost consecutive one-possession games - threatened their position at the top of their group, but in the end, they led Group D front to back. The highlight of their Regular Season probably had to be the OT drama against Neptunas on Gameday 1.
The Play-Offs pitted Virtus against the French Champions Le Mans. Le Mans had started their BCL season slowly but had won three straight and five of their last six to reach the knockouts. Before the first leg, news broke that x2 NBA Champion Almario Chalmers had joined the club, joining an already strong backcourt with Tony Taylor and Kevin Punter. It was, however, Tony Taylor that got it done in Le Mans. Dropping 13 points on 83% shooting, with 6 dimes thrown in. Virtus escaped France all square despite misfiring for most of the game.
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Then came the second piece of front-page news out of Bologna. Coach Sacripanti had been replaced by Sasa Djordjevic. It's unusual to see a coach come in halfway through a Play-Offs series. The move may have been risky, but the way that Virtus reacted to the arrival of one of Europe's very best coaches, made it pretty clear that it was a risk that could also have a fairly large pay off attached. Bologna wiped out Le Mans 81-58 in the second leg. It's hard to judge the impact that Coach Djordjevic has had after one game - especially as Virtus have shown all season they are capable of big performances - but the extra confidence in the group was palpable and if there was a major difference, it was the extra output of Bologna's bigs.
Another Play-Offs contest for Nanterre against a team in black and white and another shot zone chart with the inside dominated by the guys in black and white and the outside all green. The truth is that pretty much every team Nanterre play, they are going to outshoot them from the perimeter. They are not only the team with the highest 3P% in the BCL at 42.4%, but they have also set an all-time BCL record this season for made 3-pointers at 11.3 per game.
Nanterre 92: 80.6 points,11.6 turnovers, 46.3 FG%, 42.4 3P%, 74.5 FT%
Virtus Bologna: 84.9 points, 8.5 turnovers, 47.5 FG%, 34.9 3P%, 71.6 FT%.
Nanterre 92: 116 ORtg, 104.9 DRtg, 56 eFG%, 14.6 TOV%, 50.9 Reb%, 26.8 OReb%, 59.6 AST%.
Virtus Bologna: 115.2 ORtg, 104.5 DRtg, 54 eFG%, 10.2 TOV%, 48.5 Reb%, 25.6 OReb%, 49.9 AST%.
Both teams are in the top 5 for Offensive Rating. Nanterre (4th) has been in the top two offensively for most of the season. They have also been top 5 for shooting efficiency and with an eFG% of 56%, they still are. Virtus is top 10 for Defensive Rating at 10.4.5 points per 100 conceded and adding another defensive presence on the perimeter like Mario Chalmers, and rim protection and rebounding from Yanick Moreira, can only help further. The Italians are two percentage points clear at the top of the BCL for turnover percentage at 10.2. This Virtus team has been purposeful with and looked after the ball as well as any team in the BCL.
The word that jumps off the page when you look at Nanterre's rotation chart below, is flexibility. Lahou Konate is the only player that has started every game. In fact, this chart demonstrates how important the French international has been for Coach Donnadieu. The Frenchman is level with Senglin for minutes at 30MPG. Senglin has also played consistent starters minutes. Outside of those two, Nanterre's army of shooters have all played interchangeable roles. Haukur Palsson's role is also intriguing. He has been used in as many closing lineups as anyone in this Nanterre team and has seen his minutes spread evenly across the board.
Key Players: Jeremy Senglin, Haukur Palsson and Adas Juskevicius lead the team in scoring but Lahou Konate is arguably Nanterre's most important player when it comes to winning. Dominic Waters was also contributing 11 points and 4 assists before his injury and Hugo Invernizzi is shooting close to 50% from behind the Arc. Julain Gamble deserves a mention with his willingness to come off the bench and perform whichever role the team needs.
In the absence of Dominic Waters, Jeremy Senglin has shouldered the biggest load. In his first full season in Europe, Senglin has been a revelation. The former Weber State playmaker carried Nanterre past Besiktas and entertained at the same time. Senglin is shooting 39% from deep in all competitions and dishing 3 assists. His burst is impressive but even more impressive his ability to decelerate. Not many players on the continent can start and stop with as much torque.
If the word to describe Nanterre's rotation is flexibility, the word for the way this Bologna roster has been utilized, is structure. You can clearly see the first and second unit style rotation. Kelvin Martin, Dejan Kravic and Filippo Baldi-Rossi plug the gaps when the starters sit. You can also see that despite Kevin Punter's clutch shooting, Taylor and M'Baye have seen the most minutes in Virtus' closing lineups. It should also be noted the late arrival of Moreira and Chalmers will change this rotation considerably. And of course, there is a good chance we will see Sasa Djordjevic tweak these units to fit his own playing style. We have already seen Dejan Kravic inserted into the starting lineup and he will also need to find a way to integrate Mario Chalmers.
Key Players: Tony Taylor, Kevin Punter, and Amath M'Baye have been Virtus' top scorers this season. Defensively Dejan Kravic and Kelvin Martin have also been major contributors.
Pietro Aradori has also chipped in with 10 points and shot 38% from deep. Virtus main man all season has been Kevin Punter. The former Tennessee Volunteer and BCL Champion with AEK, became the all-time leading scorer in the Basketball Champions League this season. Punter has been in the MVP running from the opening gun this year.
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Coaching and Tactics
The Coaching duel will be fascinating in this one. On the surface, it may look like a mismatch, as Sasa Djordjevic has silver medals at Eurobasket, the Olympics and the World Cup with Serbia, and is also widely regarded as one of the best coaches outside the NBA. The Serbian play-caller will also have benefitted from a solid fortnight of practice with his squad.
How much of Coach Djordjevic's influence did we see vs Le Mans?
However, it won't be that simple. Coach Donnadieu has the power of continuity on his side. Every year Nanterre successfully recruit a roster to fit a very distinct brand of basketball.
Donnadieu is also a leader of men and is like the Fitbit of the coaching world - he always has a feel on the pulse of his team, and he knows which buttons to push to keep them in shape.
It's too early to pick out a style of basketball for Djordjevic's Virtus team. If he had one practice with the squad before his first game against Le Mans, he was lucky given the timeframe of his arrival. If the reaction from his team can tell us anything, however, it's that the group has been given an instant kick of adrenaline since he arrived. The fact that we will only start to see his tactical influence on the first leg of this matchup in France, makes the tie that bit more compelling.
Given the European pedigree of the two clubs, the personnel on the two rosters and their win-loss records in the Regular Season, Virtus Bologna will come into the tie as favorites. This Nanterre team is used to the underdog role and will not fear anyone at this stage of the competition. The way they play and the fact that the first leg is in France means that they are more than capable of getting hot from deep, and traveling to Italy with a big lead.
Virtus have talent on their side. The combination of being severely allergic to turning the ball over, and possessing players that can create their own shot against the toughest defensive schemes, is a perfect recipe for tough Play-Off environments. They will also know that if they can keep the game close in the first leg, they have the advantage of one of Europe's great theatres of basketball waiting for them in Bologna.