While the Euroleague is done, that does not mean basketball is over in Europe. While I do not follow domestic leagues as closely as I do the Euroleague, I think they are worth following for any fan of European basketball. While I will not pretend to be an expert on any of these matchups (again, do not follow domestic leagues as closely due to time and TV access), I will try to highlight some key players or storylines with the following contests.
Today, I will look at the semi-final matchups in the Lega Basket Serie A (Italy).
Serie A Semifinals
EA7 Emporio Armani Milano (1) vs. Dolomiti Energia Trento (4)
It will be the Serie A’s best offense (Milano) vs. best defense (Trento) in this 1-4 semifinal matchup. While Trento made quick work of Banco di Sardinia in the first round of the Serie A playoffs (they swept the island club 3-0), Milano went through some growing pains, as they dropped the opening game at home to the 8-seeded Betaland Capo D’Orlando before winning the next three convincingly.
Milano are the defending champs and have been the best club in Italy as of late, representing Italy in the Euroleague this past season. However, while they have been a dominant force in Serie A, that hasn’t necessarily been true in the Euroleague, as they were knocked out in the first round last year, and finished in dead last in the new 30-game format with a record of 8-22. While they do have the finances, and a Serie A license to become a contender again, clinching another Serie A championship would go a long way in terms of building some momentum for 2017-2018.
Milano depends on their backcourt to generate points and tempo, which says a lot about their guards and wings considering they averaged 86.2 ppg (No. 1 in Serie A play). Point guard Rick Hickman (10.9 ppg, 2.8 apg, 10.3 PIR average in Serie A play) and shooting guard Krunoslav Simon (12.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 15.3 PIR) are the main cogs to this Milano offense, while Jamel McLean (8.6 ppg, 11.6 PIR) adds flexibility and athleticism from the wing.
However, it won’t be easy, as Trento may have the best perimeter defense in Italy. Their tough-nosed approach is led by Aaron Craft, the former Ohio State product who has been a key player for the fourth-seeded club that finished 18-12 this season. While Craft is a limited offensive player, he makes up for those deficiencies with tenacious defense and effort. For offense, that honor goes to Dominique Sutton, a high-volume wing scorer who is averaging 14.9 ppg in Serie A play. Considering Milano’s defensive inconsistencies this season, Sutton may be a handful for Milano’s perimeter players this series.
The key may be the post, as neither club excels in the painted area. Milano’s Miroslav Raduljica just isn’t the same player he was when he played in the NBA, and lacks athleticism, bounce and much versatility in his offensive game. And furthermore, Milan Macvan displays some potential, but it’s not necessarily a good sign when he’s the leading frontcourt player minutes-wise and he’s not even the leading rebounder on the team. For Trento, Filippo Baldi-Rossi is the main post threat, as he averaged 10.3 ppg and 5.2 rpg in about 22 mpg.
Way-too-non-informed prediction: Milano, probably comfortably
Umana Reyer Venezia (2) vs. Scandone Avellino (3)
This will be a Basketball Champions League rematch of sorts, as Umana swept Scandone in the first round of the playoffs en route to their eventual berth in the inaugural Champions League Final Four (they lost to eventual champs Iberostar Tenerife in the semifinal and Monaco in the 3rd place game). Unlike the other semifinal series, where Milano has a distinct advantage in talent and resources, this one should be a more competitive series.
Umana finished 21-9 in Serie A play, and 9-5 in the Champions League. The club is a balanced one, as they ranked 4th in points per game and 5th in points per game allowed in Serie A play. The No. 2 seed heavily depends on point guard Marquez Haynes, who 12.1 ppg and 3.3 apg while averaging a team-high 29.2 mpg. In the post, Umana can get creative with center Hrvoje Peric, who is averaging 12.2 ppg and 5.5 rpg, and power forward Melvin Ejim (a former Fred Hoiberg product) who is averaging 10.5 ppg and 5.5 rpg and offers athletic, multiple position defensive versatility.
As for Scandone, they on paper have multiple players who can score buckets and in bunches. It is exhibited in the two point-guard combo of Joe Ragland (a huge fan favorite in Italy), who is averaging 17.7 ppg and 5.2 apg, and David Logan who is averaging 16.1 ppg. Both are incredibly dynamic scorers who can change the course of a game in a matter of seconds. Furthermore, add in versatile and physical forward Adonis Thomas in the mix (he is averaging 11.6 ppg), and the flexibility Scandone has definitely will make this a tough match up for the favored Umana club (Scandone also ranks 3rd in Serie A in points per game allowed).
What could sway this series is who will win on the road first. Both clubs went 14-3 at home this year in Serie A play, but struggled a bit on the road. However, Umana was slightly better, as they went 10-7 on the road in contrast to Scandone, who went 8-8. Both teams should hold serve at home in this series, which plays to Umana’s advantage. But, if Scandone can fix their road issues and steal one in Venezia, then it could go a long way in helping Scandone pull off the upset.
Way-too-non-informed prediction: Umana, but in a close one.