Seven takeaways from Week 7: Unicaja the first to reach the Round of 16
MIES (Switzerland) - We're seven weeks deep into the seventh season of the Basketball Champions League, and with two Gamedays remaining we have learned the name of the first team to win their group and reach the Round of 16.
The honor belongs to Unicaja, who were in the Qualifying Rounds just a couple of months ago, and are now the only remaining unbeaten team in all of BCL.
#1 Unicaja boarding the flight to Round of 16
They were stuck in the Qualifying Rounds when all the applications came in for this season, given their not-so-impressive season in Spain last time around. But they bounced back, with a mission to make this a productive campaign wherever they play.
Productive? Understatement. Coach Ibon Navarro and his men are next level, right up there with any other team in any other competition in Europe this season. A 91-70 win on the road v JDA Bourgogne Dijon was Unicaja's sixth straight win in all competitions, they are now 4-0 in the BCL and 6-3 in the Spanish Liga Endesa.
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All twelve players got at least eight minutes on the floor and no more than 25, and eleven of them scored in France, led by Kendrick Perry and Tyler Kalinoski - both had 14, both off the bench.
The fact they won this by 21 may get you thinking that JDA Bourgogne Dijon aren't that good this season. That's just not true, Dijon are coming off of back-to-back wins over AS Monaco and ASVEL in the French LNB Pro A, which is something not a lot of clubs achieve over the course of a season there.
So to blow out Dijon by 21 on Wednesday, and by 20 when they met in Spain earlier this season - that speaks volumes on the strength of this team.
As if you needed more evidence next to the fact that they are the only 4-0 team in the BCL, and the only team to win their group with two games left to play, meaning they are avoiding the Play-In Series and moving straight into the Round of 16.
#2 Giorgi Shermadini is #2
Speaking of hot Spanish teams, Lenovo Tenerife are still the top ranked team in the Liga Endesa, and are now the number one team in their group, after Peristeri's defeat to Rytas Vilnius. Coach Txus Vidorreta enjoyed the game against Bnei Ofek Dist Herzliya, the defending champs won it 83-63.
But with all the number ones around Tenerife, we also found a number two - Giorgi Shermadini scored 18 points against the Israeli State Cup winners, meaning he's got 746 in his BCL career, meaning he moved into the second spot on the all-time scoring list in this competition.
Vojtech Hruban still leads the chart with 996, J'Covan Brown is third with 745, of active players Miro Bilan is seventh with 692, Tim Abromaitis right next to him in eight with 689 points.
With Hruban not playing the BCL this season, Shermadini could close the gap, and maybe even overtake the Czech shooter. The distance says 250 points, if Tenerife go all the way to the Final Four, that could be further 12 to 16 games. He could do it. He could.
#3 Rytas Vilnius are okay
Not so long ago, we asked if everything is okay with Rytas Vilnius in our takeaways, because they lost five straight games in all competitions.
Everything is okay.
Rytas Vilnius bounced back from a horrible October to have a beautiful November, getting six wins in a row, including a sweep against Peristeri bwin, thanks to their 82-71 road win in Greece. Not only did they bounce back, they are now in a position to challenge Lenovo Tenerife for the number one spot in the group, and with the tiebreaker over Peristeri, Rytas are an inch away from at least the home court advantage in the Play-In Series.
What a difference a month makes...
#4 Jerusalem's high-flying MVP candidate
There were some curious looks when we had Zach Hankins in the top five of the MVP Race during the break. Well, Zach decided he's gonna solidify his case.
Hankins came up with a serious highlight reel in an 89-80 win over the Bakken Bears, finishing with 22 points on 9-of-10 shooting from the floor, with 9 rebounds and 3 blocks also to his name, looking like the man we fell in love with when he was with ERA Nymburk in Czech Republic.
A healthy and fit Hankins means the best possible target for teammates' assists. Speedy Smith had 14 of them, that's a BCL season-high, and Jerusalem dished out 27 as a team, tying the BCL season-high for teams.
Coach Aleksandar Dzikic is enjoying the show in Israel, his guys are up to seven straight wins now, including the big one on the road against Maccabi Tel Aviv over the weekend.
#5 Big week for Turkish players
Muhammed Baygul had only 19 points across his first three BCL games this season. He exploded for 19 at the half this week, prompting our question: Is he the best Turkish player in the BCL?
Well, he finished with 21 in an 88-80 win over ERA Nymburk, but we aren't really sure if he's even the best Turkish player on his own team. Because Yigit Arslan had 22 with 7 rebounds and a number of clutch plays, too.
People in Darussafaka probably saw the tweet and *insert Michael Jordan meme* it became personal to them. Because (1) winning on the road in Ludwigsburg doesn't happen very often, and (2) winning on the road never happens if you're Darussafaka.
That is, until this week. Darussafaka had an 0-7 road record in the Regular Season in BCL history, and then stormed to a 77-63 win against previously unbeaten MHP RIESEN side in Germany.
Their best two players? Dogus Ozdemiroglu with 17 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and a block, and Ercan Osmani with a 15-point, 10-rebound double-double. It became personal to them...
#6 Blocks aren't worth it
Back in December 2020, Surne Bilbao played against Fortitudo Bologna and had 11 of their shots rejected. That's right, Fortitudo, even in a bad season like they had back then, still managed to get a game with 11 blocks.
Trouble is, they lost that game, 69-64.
Fast forward to November 2022, Surne Bilbao now had 10 blocks as a team, the most in this League since that aforementioned game in Bologna. And you've guessed it, Surne Bilbao lost the game with their 10 blocks...
Igokea m:tel defeated them 84-81 in Spain, picking up their third road win in BCL history, and complicating things in Group D. Bilbao are still first at 3-1, Bahcesehir and Igokea are up at 2-2, Nymburk are down at 1-3.
So, get this. Let's say Bilbao loses to both Bahcesehir and Nymburk; while Igokea lose to Nymburk but defeat Bahcesehir; that would mean we have all four teams at 3-3 at the end of the Regular Season. Can't wait...
#7 Sassari still alive
Up until this week, Dinamo BDS Sassari were down and out, nowhere near the Play-In talks. But, their 82-78 win over PAOK mateco puts them back in the hunt, because at 1-3, they are just a game behind the second placed JDA Bourgogne Dijon.
They look like a different team now that De'Shawn Stephens is there, and he made his presence felt with 15 points and 10 boards, his fifth BCL double-double in 18 games.
It wasn't just Stephens, it was a wide team effort for Sassari. They are only the second team to have three players with more than five assists in a single game - Aleksej Nikolic had 7, Stefano Gentile and Gerald Robinson dished out 6 each.
Sharing is caring. And caring is good enough to stay alive in this group.