Round of 16 Group K Preview: Can AEK and Limoges keep the good Times rolling?
MIES (Switzerland) - The Round of 16 starts on Tuesday January 24, and Group K features some historic European clubs in what should be a very competitive and wide-open group led by Unicaja and Galatasaray Nef.
Galatasaray and Unicaja have been waiting patiently in the Round of 16 after winning their Regular Season groups. Unicaja were one of three teams with one loss this season.
AEK swept Tofas Bursa in the Play-Ins, while Limoges CSP also came through the Play-Ins with a thrilling series win over MHP RIESEN, thanks to a game-winning buzzer-beater in overtime in Game 3.
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What did we learn about each team from the Regular Season?
Galatasaray - The team from Istanbul has a strong roster headlined by Dylan Ennis, Tyrus McGee, Angelo Caloiaro and Best Young Player candidate Sadik Kabaca. They can beat you in multiple facets of the game and are the only team averaging fewer than 10 turnovers per game in the BCL this season (9.7). Galata are also the team with the best assist per turnover ratio in the competition (2.7).
Unicaja - The team from Malaga has a balanced roster, as no player averages more than 12.8 points per game (Dario Brizuela), but five players average double figures. Like Galatasaray, they are top five in points per game and assists per game.
AEK - They got off to a slow start at 1-3 and were on the brink of elimination, and instead of losing hope and bowing out, they eventually hit their stride and are now riding a four-game win streak into the Round of 16. AEK have shown that they will always fight and be a tough out.
Limoges - One of three teams from France in the Round of 16, Limoges have gone 5-1 since starting 0-3 in the Regular Season and are another team who's peaking at just the right time. Their recent hot streak shows that they will be a tough out in the Round of 16 and they have put the other teams on notice.
Which player is the key for each team to make it to the next stage?
Galatasaray | Dylan Ennis - With Dee Bost leaving for another run in France, the doors are wide open for Dylan Ennis to take over, and to be fair, he started doing that already, even with Bost still in Istanbul, as Ennis put up back-to-back 20-point games. He's got the perfect personality to match with those fans, too.
Unicaja | Hard to pick just one player from such a balanced team, but center David Kravish leads the team in efficiency and has scored more than 10 points in each of his last three BCL games, as often as in his previous 15 appearances in the competition.
AEK | Akil Mitchell emerged as a possible MVP candidate over the team's last three games. He became the third player in BCL history with a 20/10/5 stat line when he finished with 21 points, 14 rebounds and 6 assists in a Game 2 of the Play-Ins. To close the regular season, he also had a 25-point, 14-rebound game against Pinar Karsiyaka. Mitchell has been in double figures in all eight games this season and is averaging 16.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.
Limoges | Bryce Jones is another player who's had a couple of big performances down the stretch of the season. Jones came up clutch in the Play-Ins Game 3 against RIESEN, in what turned out to be the best game of the season. The 28-year-old finished with 26 points and 9 assists, hitting a shot to send the game to overtime and then ultimately capping off Limoges' 22-point comeback by sinking a game-winning step-back jumper as time expired.
Key games on each team's schedule
Galatasaray's first two Round of 16 games on Tuesday January 24 against Limoges and Tuesday January 31 against AEK are both at home. They're the only team to have two home games to start the round from the group and they will want to get off on the right foot.
On the flip side of that, AEK will close the Round of 16 with two home games against Galatasaray and Unicaja on Wednesday March 15 and Tuesday March 21, respectively. Those could prove to be huge games, especially if all four teams are within reach of each other and nothing is settled before then.
Odds of each team making it through
Some may say Unicaja are a favorite to advance after their strong play in the Regular Season and rightfully so. They were arguably the best team so far this season. After a disappointing Round of 16 last season where Galatasaray went 1-5, they will want to right those wrongs and flip the script this year. While those two teams look like strong bets to be the two teams to advance from Group K, don't count out AEK (the only Greek team remaining) or Limoges, as they're riding a wave of momentum that they built over the last several games this season. Every team has a legitimate case to finish in the top two, meaning every game will be that much more important.