04 October, 2022
14 May, 2023
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Battle of MVPs: Copa del Rey victor faces BCL Final 8 winner in the Unicaja v UCAM series

MIES (Switzerland) - Unicaja and UCAM Murcia open up the Spanish battles in the BCL Quarter-Finals, in a series that will see a lot of big names going head to head, including two shooting guards known for their MVP accolades.

How did they get here?

Unicaja reached the Quarter-Finals as the Group K winners. They went 10-2 in the Basketball Champions League this season, losing only to Dinamo BDS Sassari when they had already secured first place in the Regular Season, and to Galatasaray Nef in the Round of 16.

UCAM Murcia also have 10 wins this season, along with four defeats. They finished second in their Regular Season group, meaning they had to go through a Play-In series in which they swept Pinar Karsiyaka in two games. Murcia then finished second in Group L of the Round of 16, and as a consequence they don't get homecourt advantage in the Quarter-Finals.

What's their biggest plus as a team?

Unicaja are currently second in Net Rating, trailing only Lenovo Tenerife (14.5) with a 13.4 Net Rating over the course of their 12 games this season. In other words,  the difference between their offensive and defensive rating is at an impressive level.

Unicaja score 115.3 points per 100 possessions, which is third-best offensive rating in the BCL, behind Telekom Baskets Bonn (117.2) and Lenovo Tenerife (115.8). Meanwhile Unicaja's defensive rating of 102.0 points allowed per 100 possessions is the second-best in the BCL behind Tenerife, who are even stingier and only allow 101.3 points per 100 1 possesions. 

Another way to view this numbers is that Unicaja are as good offensively as they are defensively, and it makes Ibon Navarro a rock solid candidate in the Coach of the Year discussion. The fact that his contract was extended to 2026 speaks volumes of the Unicaja front office's conviction they have found the right man to lead their project.

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UCAM Murcia are the fourth fastest team of the season in terms of pace, but in reality we can consider them second fastest behind BAXI Manresa because Bakken Bears and MHP RIESEN, who were ranked higher in this stat category,  did not reach the Round of 16.

Another stat ranking that will show if Sito Alonso's team has everything going their way are the free throws. UCAM Murcia were second in the BCL behind Dinamo BDS Sassari in free-throw rate and in a play-off battle it could be crucial if they get to the line and convert their shots at a high percentage.

What's their biggest minus as a team?

In line with UCAM's big plus of getting to the line, Unicaja were among the worst teams in terms of free throw attempt per field goal attempt this season. Murcia's free throw rate of 39 looks gigantic compared to Unicaja's 27.7.

At the same time, UCAM Murcia's offense will need to surpass its average production if they are to stun Unicaja on the road. Just 15 percent of all Murcia's points ended with an assist this season, second worst in the BCL, a whole universe away from the BC- leading Unicaja at 20 percent.

What's their biggest international success?

Unicaja won the FIBA Korac Cup in 2000-01, and picked up the EuroCup title in 2016-17. Seeing UCAM Murcia at the other end will feel like an omen, because the only time they previously met Murcia in an international competition was back in 2016-17, splitting a pair of group games en route to the top.

Ibon Navarro led UCAM Murcia to their biggest BCL success to date

Murcia reached the Final Four of the Basketball Champions League back in 2017-18, finishing third in Athens. There is a connection between these two teams in that Murcia run, too, because their playcaller at the time was none other than current Unicaja coach Navarro.

What's the key matchup?

Coaches always talk about winning mentality and the veteran leadership in terms of having guys who always show up when the stage lights shine the brightest. Unicaja will turn to their MVP of the Copa del Rey. Tyson Carter averages 10 points in just 17.9 minutes per game, but in a well balanced offense, coach Navarro will turn to him to get a point or two (or three...) to win the game.

Meanwhile, UCAM Murcia must use Thaddus McFadden for the same purpose. McFadden is averaging 13.4 points per game in the BCL this season, including back-to-back 25+ point games against Darussafaka Lassa, which proved to be decisive for the Quarter-Finals spot.

McFadden won the BCL Final 8 MVP award back in 2020, when he led Hereda San Pablo Burgos to the title.

Unicaja and UCAM Murcia played twice in the Liga Endesa in Spain this season. Unicaja won the first matchup 82-66 in December, UCAM Murcia had an 85-80 reply in March.