17 October, 2023
05 May, 2024
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Group H preview: Strongest Murcia to date hope to recreate 2018 magic

MIES (Switzerland) - The Basketball Champions League Season 8 tips off this week. A total of 32 teams will fight for glory, with Telekom Baskets Bonn coming back as the defending champions.

We will preview all the Regular Season action, group by group. Here it's the turn of Group H, which includes Igokea m:tel, Tofas Bursa, UCAM Murcia and Bertram Derthona Tortona.

The favorite

UCAM Murcia reached the Final Four of the BCL in 2018 and the Round of 16 the following season, but they missed out on the next three editions of this competition. Their return last year suggested they were on track to regain their former contender status as they made a Quarter-Finals appearance, and the start of this term turns them into a legit Final 4 threat.

Coach Sito Alonso is entering his fifth season at the helm, and his team plays according to his  recognizable style, with a lot of emphasis on depth and international talent from all over the world. The 2023-24 UCAM Murcia has players from Spain, Sweden, USA, Senegal, Canada, Czech Republic, Latvia, Georgia, Montenegro, Cuba and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Swedish hot couple Ludde Hakanson and Simon Birgander have started the season brilliantly, and BCL legend Dylan Ennis provides the extra spark that made the Spanish fans fall in love with him almost immediately.

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Murcia had a good start to their Liga Endesa campaign, as they are keen to join the "best of the rest" conversation behind Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, with an idea to do what Unicaja did last season and battle for a trophy in the process.

The one in the BCL could be achievable if they avoid any drama in the Regular Season. They were excellent for most of the Regular Season last year, but even with a sweep over Tofas Bursa, a random defeat in Szombathely sent them to the Play-In Series.

So this is another reason why coach Alonso will have them fully focused on winning this group. The goal is to avoid that January stress if possible.

The underdog

Igokea m:tel are back for their fourth straight Regular Season in the BCL, but with a new coach in Vladimir Jovanovic, they are undergoing a change of their philosophy. A lot of new experienced arrivals are there to make the transition go by smoothly, but in a loaded group like this one, any slip up could prove costly.

The youngsters are no longer the main objective, with six 30+ year-olds to carry the load, including a couple of legends of Adriatic League region in Nemanja Gordic and Dragan Milosavljevic. The 22-year-old Mario Nakic is the only player born after 2000 who's seeing regular minutes to start the new ABA League season.

However, even an older core to the team, you still have to respect Igokea. They are always full of tall, strong players, their screens will leave a bruise or two, and if they keep their three-point shooting accuracy above 35 percent, they could beat any opponent in this league. They've proven it over the years.

The crucial matchup

Bertram Derthona Tortona are a newcomer to the BCL but have a roster full of well-known names, so don't expect them to run in panic when they hear the intro music for the first time this season.

But if they want to make it to the next round and prove our experts right for picking them as the best newcomer of the season, they will have to control their matchup with Igokea, especially the points difference if the teams split the series.

Tortona and Igokea will face off in Italy on Gameday 3 in November, followed by a matchup in Bosnia and Herzegovina on Gameday 6 in December.

The fact that they will see each other in the last 40 minutes of the Regular Season puts even more weight on that scale of which team can progress to the next round(s) of the Basketball Champions League Season 8.

Players to watch

UCAM Murcia are bringing back guys like Ennis, Howard Sant Roos and Rodions Kurucs, but keep an eye on Simon Birgander. He started the Liga Endesa season by getting double-doubles easily, turning into one of the best centers in Spain after his backup roles in Joventut Badalona all these years.

Bertram Derthona Tortona expect a lot from their well known BCL backcourt of Retin Obasohan and Chris Dowe, while also giving us flashbacks of early BCL days with TaShawn Thomas and Kyle Weems in the frontcourt.

Igokea m:tel could see Edin Atic develop into a big time leader as he's entering his prime, and the same goes for the feisty big guy Nikola Tanaskovic, who's back home after a short stint in Rio Breogan last season.

As for Tofas Bursa, they could easily have the Best Young Player on their roster with the 19-year-old Ege Demir, a 209cm/6'10'' power forward who's flirting with double-doubles in Turkey already. Luke Maye was a 2022 BCL finalist with BAXI Manresa, Omar Prewitt, Zeljko Sakic and Tolga Gecim are also familiar names on that roster.

Format reminder

The group winner will move directly to the Round of 16 Group L, right next to the best from Group D (AEK BETSSON BC, Banco di Sardegna Sassari, King Szczecin, MHP RIESEN Ludwigsburg), and two other Play-In Series winners.

The second- and third-placed teams in Group H will meet their peers from Group G (Galatasaray EKMAS, Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem, PAOK mateco, SL Benfica) in best-of-threePlay-In Series in January,  for two spots in the Round of 16.

The bottom-placed team in Group H will be eliminated and thus finish their European campaign in December.