17 October, 2023
05 May, 2024
Burning questions: Is there a solution for Unicaja's defensive wall?
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Burning questions: Can Promitheas find a chink in Unicaja's defensive armor?

MIES (Switzerland) - Over the course of Season 8, Unicaja have had the best defensive rating, building a fortress around their rim en route to a third straight Quarter-Finals appearance.

Promitheas Patras will test the foundation of those walls in a battle for a place in the Basketball Champions League Final Four in Belgrade, Serbia.

It's also a duel of the second-best coaches in BCL history. The Promitheas playcaller, Ilias Papatheodorou, has 46 BCL wins to his name, trailing only Txus Vidorreta in total wins in this competition.

Meanwhile the brain of Unicaja's operation, Ibon Navarro, has won 65.4 percent of his BCL games, trailing only Vidorreta's 73.9 winning percentage among all coaches with more than 50 BCL games under their belt.

How did they get here?

Unicaja kept the core of their team together from their Final Four expedition last season, and the chemistry levels are off the chart this season, with the Malaga outfit the only one testing Real Madrid in the Spanish Liga Endesa thus far.

Navarro's men finished the first stage of the BCL at 4-2, winning their Regular Season group and setting up the stage for a  6-0 romp in the Round of 16. They were the only perfect team of the second group phase, and they are the only team with 10 BCL wins this season, taking a 10-2 record into the Quarter-Finals.

Promitheas are just one short of Unicaja's BCL mark, at 9-5. They managed to get to the Play-Ins at 3-3 in the first round, then stunned Le Mans Sarthe Basket without having homecourt advantage in the battle for the Round of 16.

In Group L, the Greek club went through a lot of drama, with the final gameday putting them in danger of missing out on the Quarter-Finals, but also giving them a chance to even win the group. In the end, a three-way tie at 4-2 with UCAM Murcia and Hapoel Holon saw them finish in second spot.

What are their biggest strengths?

Unicaja's defense has been absolutely stunning. They are allowing 99.2 points per 100 possessions, which makes them the best team of the season in terms of defensive efficiency. At 16.1, they also have the best Net Rating in the BCL, while they are in the Top-5 in Offensive Rating, with 115.3 points per 100 possessions.  

You don't like math? Then let's just simply say that Unicaja have been nearly perfect all season long.

Meanwhile, Promitheas's offensive stats aren't impressive in an obvious way. Their assist ratio is 15.8, which is fifth from bottom in this season's BCL rankings,  but that's a mark of Papatheodorou's coaching style. He enjoys putting the ball into the hands of his backcourt players and doesn't mind trusting his ballhandlers to get points on demand.

With Anthony Cowan and Hunter Hale on the team, it's a smart choice. If the two of them can keep Promitheas's average above 10 three-pointers per game (10.3 currently), they would have better chances against Unicaja.

Who's feeling it?

Well, the entire Unicaja team is feeling it. They became only the second team in BCL history to reach the Quarter-Finals in each of their first three seasons in the competition, and they are currently on a six-game winning streak in the BCL, their longest in this competition.

For Promitheas, it's going to be all about Cowan. He scored in double figures in 12 of his 13 games this season, doing the damage both as a starter (22.6 PPG) and coming off the bench (16.1 PPG off the bench).

Have they met before?

No, they have not. They did both play in the EuroCup for two seasons, but did not run into each other before they both joined the BCL.

When and where?

Game 1 takes place on Wednesday, starting at 21:00 CET in the Palacio de Deportes Jose Maria Martin Carpena in Malaga, Spain.

Game 2 is scheduled for next Tuesday, at 18:30 CET (19:30 local) in the Dimitris Tofalos Arena in Patras, Greece.

If none of the two teams complete the sweep in two games, Game 3 would see the series move back to Spain, tipping off on Wednesday, April 17, at 20:30 CET in Malaga.