Hapoel Jerusalem is counting on another all-around performance by forward Donta Smith (left) when it visits Krasny Oktyabr Volgograd in Russia in its final Eurocup regular season game.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
With five consecutive wins over all competitions to its name, including two in a row in Europe for the first time in two seasons, Hapoel Jerusalem enters its final Eurocup regular season game at Krasny Oktyabr Volgograd in Russia on Wednesday evening extremely confident of registering a victory.
However, despite currently sitting in fourth position in Group F, which will secure progress to the Last 32, Jerusalem could still see its continental campaign come to a disappointing end even should it win in Russia.
Hapoel stayed alive in the Eurocup by claiming two impressive home wins over Galatasaray and AEK Athens, but still doesn’t have its fate in its own hands.
Jerusalem is tied with Athens with a 4-5 record, but moved ahead of the Greeks by virtue of its superior head-to-head record.
Nevertheless, a Jerusalem win in Russia combined with a Nizhny Novgorod loss at home to group leader Galatasaray and an AEK victory over Neptunas Klaipeda in Greece will relegate Hapoel to fifth place.
In such a scenario, Hapoel, Nizhny and AEK will all finish with a 5-5 record, but the Israelis will not qualify due to their overall inferior head-to-head record against the Russians and Greeks. Any other combination of results which includes a Jerusalem win will see the Israeli champion advance. Hapoel can also qualify with a loss in Volgograd as long as AEK falls at home to Neptunas.
“We need to first of all take care of our business,” said Jerusalem coach Danny Franco. “If we think we have already secured this win we will be in big trouble.
We must remember that we have yet to win a road game in Europe this season.
We need to do our job and win because we don’t have control over anything else.”
Jerusalem has lost all four of its road games in the Eurocup so far this season, winning just one of its past 10 European trips stretching back to the 2013/14 season. Hapoel has had its chances away from the Jerusalem Arena, squandering double-digit margins against Nizhny and AEK, as well as a fourth-quarter lead versus Galatasaray, while erasing a 19-point deficit to close within a single point against Neptunas, only to miss an opportunity to force overtime at the buzzer.
Nevertheless, Jerusalem is a firm favorite to triumph on Wednesday, with Volgograd already certain to end Group F in last position after losing its past eight games, including its last two by an average 25 points, after releasing its three American players due to financial difficulties.
Elsewhere Wednesday, Maccabi Rishon Lezion gets the Europe Cup Round of 32 underway when it visits Novo Mesto in Slovenia. Rishon also faces ASVEL Basket Villeurbanne of France and Kataja of Finland in Group O, with the top two teams from each group to progress.
Rishon won its regular season group with a 4-2 record and enters the game on the back of another impressive win in the BSL, beating Ironi Nahariya 81-71 on Saturday to improve to 8-2.
Rishon continued to strengthen its roster on Tuesday, signing American forward Taylor Brown. The 26-year-old, who averaged 8.9 points per game at Darussafaka in Turkey last season, will not play on Wednesday but is set to make his debut when Rishon faces Hapoel Eilat in BSL action on Sunday.
“We are beginning the second round in Slovenia against a good team with a long tradition,” said coach Sharon Drucker.
“We want to show up with the same determination, aggressiveness and mainly team basketball we have played until now in order to win.”