Historical matchup #15: Who will be the lucky one in yet another Jerusalem v AEK classic?
MIES (Switzerland) - The rise of the Basketball Champions League gave a chance to some of the fiercest European rivalries to be renewed. Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem and AEK are set to continue their battles, that date back 32 years, when their Quarter-Final series tips off.
How did they get here?
Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem have the homecourt advantage, starting with Game 1 of the Quarter-Finals on Tuesday, April 4. That's because they won their Round of 16 group, edging out SIG Strasbourg, steering clear of JDA Bourgogne Dijon and Hapoel Atsmon Holon.
Jerusalem have gone 10-2 in the BCL this season, losing only to MHP RIESEN and JDA Bourgogne Dijon - but both of those defeats were at home. As of March 29, they are on a 14-game winning streak in all competitions, winning the Israeli State Cup along the way.
View this post on Instagram
AEK finished second in their Round of 16 group, losing to Unicaja on the last Gameday in the battle for top spot and homecourt advantage. To see the Queen back in the hunt for the Final 4 seemed like an impossible quest, given their slow start to the season.
The 2018 champions lost three of their first four games in the BCL this season, in danger of elimination already in the Regular Season. But they put together a run of four straight wins to advance, and went 8-2 over the last ten games, losing only to Unicaja, twice.
What's their biggest plus as a team?
Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem are one of the best defensive teams in the entire BCL, ranking third in defensive rating at 102.3 points allowed per 100 possessions, trailing only Lenovo Tenerife and Unicaja. On the offensive end, they are all about getting quality shots and controlled possessions.
Jerusalem turn the ball over on just 11.8 percent of their possessions, the third best mark in the entire BCL, and the best mark among the elite eight. Not only they take care of the ball but they distribute it well too, as 19.8 percent of their possessions end up in an assist. They are right up there with the league leaders in assist ratio, Unicaja (20 percent).
View this post on Instagram
AEK have a top-five defense as well, holding opponents to less than 75 points per game this season, but their biggest plus actually can't be measured via regular stats. AEK came back from a 20+ point deficit twice this season alone, making them the comeback kings (or the comeback Queen, more appropriately..) in a league of comebacks.
They are a better shooting team than Jerusalem, a whole 10 percent better in free-throw shooting and two percent better in three-point shooting. While having a dominant big man in Akil Mitchell, coach Ilias Kantzouris will have to rely on his shooters to steal homecourt advantage.
What's their biggest minus as a team?
Among the 24 teams that have played at least eight BCL games this season, Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem are the worst in free-throw shooting, getting just 63.9 percent of their shots from the line to drop. By comparison, the second-to-last Tofas Bursa was shooting 68.5 percent from the charity stripe, so that's quite a distance.
AEK meanwhile are struggling with interior defense. They average just 1.9 blocks per game, so they collectively block 0.3 shots more per game than Zach Hankins does on his own. Their offensive rebounding could be an issue, too. At 9.4 offensive rebounds per game, they are the worst of all eight Quarter-Finalists, and fourth worst since the start of the season.
What's their biggest international success?
Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem won the EuroCup back in 2003-04, and reached the Semi-Finals on two other occasions. They played the Semi-Finals of the FIBA Saporta Cup in 2001-02, and reached the Quarter-Finals of the Basketball Champions League in 2018-19 and 2019-2020.
AEK won the Basketball Champions League in 2018, and reached the Final in 2020. They won the FIBA European Cup Winners' Cup in 1968 and the FIBA Saporta Cup in 2000, reached the Final of the EuroLeague in 1998 and the Semi-Finals in 1966 and 2001.
What's the key matchup?
It's going to be a battle of bigs with two season MVP contenders, in Zach Hankins and Akil Mitchell, facing off against each other in the middle. Hankins became the first player in BCL history to register five consecutive games of 10 or more rebounds, and he's averaging 15.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game this season.
Mitchell's 15.2 points per game don't really paint the real picture here, because he played a couple of games through injury and had only eight points in those. Excluding those two games, Mitchell would be averaging 17.1 points and 9.2 rebounds per game.
Have they met before?
This will be the 15th matchup between AEK and Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem in a continental competition. Here are all the previous matchups:
- FIBA Korac Cup 1991-92: AEK won both games, 88-80, 92-83
- FIBA Korac Cup 1993-94: AEK won 73-52 at home, but Jerusalem advanced with an 88-60 win in Israel
- FIBA EuroLeague 1997-98: AEK won both games, 65-51, 83-68
- FIBA Saporta Cup 1999-00: AEK won both games, 69-53, 82-77
- EuroCup 2015-16: AEK won 75-74 in Athens, Jerusalem won 82-78 in Jerusalem
- Basketball Champions League 2018-19: Jerusalem won 79-75 in Athens, AEK won 83-70 in Jerusalem
- Basketball Champions League 2019-20: AEK won 91-78 in Athens, Jerusalem won 85-78 in Israel
Overall, AEK are up 10-4 in the rivalry, 4-3 in games played in Jerusalem, 6-1 in games played in Athens.