Hapoel Jerusalem guard Curtis Jerrells.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Hapoel Jerusalem can take a major step towards clinching first place in Eurocup Group D when it visits Ulm in Germany on Wednesday night.
Jerusalem has opened the regular season with three straight wins and improving to 4-0 at the midway point will not only secure its place in the Top 16, but will also put it in pole position to finish top of the group.
With four of the five teams in the group advancing to the next round, Hapoel never really had any doubt it would progress to the Top 16.
Finishing first, however, is far from a given, and could be significant as it will likely result in a more comfortable draw and an easier route to the latter stages of the competition.
The Top 16 will consist of four groups of four teams, which will play six round-robin games beginning in early January 2017.
The top two in each group will advance to the quarterfinals, which like the semifinals and finals will be played in a best-ofthree playoff format.
Jerusalem has big aspirations in Europe this season after reaching the Eurocup quarterfinals only once in the past six seasons. It failed to make it past the regular season in 2014/15 before barely progressing to the Last 32 last season when the competition had a different format.
Owner Ori Allon admitted that the main reason behind the hiring of coach Simone Pianigiani was to bring in someone who has experienced success in continental competition. So far, his appointment has proven itself in the Eurocup, but it seems that has come at the expense of the team’s results in the BSL. Jerusalem fell to 3-2 in local league action on Sunday, suffering a humbling 99-76 defeat at Hapoel Holon.
However, knowing that the BSL title will only be decided in a Final Four tournament next June, Jerusalem is willing to accept a few additional regular season losses in exchange for a long Eurocup run.
“A win over Ulm will be a significant step for us,” said Pianigiani, with Jerusalem to host three of four games in the second half of the regular season.
“We are entering this game with a lot of problems. The past 10 days have been difficult and in every training session another player seems to fall ill.”
Ulm has a 2-1 record, losing to Valencia by 37 points in its opener before beating Olimpija Ljubljana and Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar.
“Our rival may not be very consistent, but we will be facing a good team,” added the Italian.
“They are ranked at the top of the German league and we will have to be smart and alert for 40 minutes and make sure we don’t allow them to dictate the pace.”
Jerusalem welcomes back Amar’e Stoudemire, who was rested on Sunday.
Stoudemire has only played in two BSL games so far this season, but has participated in all three of the team’s Eurocup contests.
“We need to play better in the BSL. We are probably putting in more effort against European opponents and we need to bring that to the BSL as well,” said Stoudemire.
“We need to work hard against Ulm and take care of all the small details.”
Also Wednesday, Maccabi Rishon Lezion and Ironi Nahariya play in the FIBA Champions League. Rishon, which has a 2-1 record in Group B, visits Venezia in Italy. Nahariya goes to AS Monaco still searching for its first win after losing three straight Group A games.