Continuing our “European Quarterfinals Team Previews” its Lorenzo Bianchi  from EuroLeague Fans United who puts the spotlight on EuroCup Quarterfinals rookies Grissin Bon Reggio Emilia. Their opponent in the quarterfinals pairing is Zenit St Petersburg and Vladimir Spivak (along with Ilya Donskikh) was our podcast guest to talk about them (from 27:5 until 38:26).

Grissin Bon Reggio Emilia

Reggio Emilia has reached its first EuroCup quarterfinals. It’s an historic result for a team that only 7 years ago was playing in Italy’s second league. The team won its first European competition in 2014 — EuroChallenge. This is the third time in the past 15 years that they have played in EuroCup, and this is the best result among those chances.

Grissin Bon Reggio Emilia had much time to prepare for the series, as they didn’t play in the Italian Cup. Counting the break for FIBA World Cup qualifiers, the team had about 20 days of rest. They will play at home against Trento on March 3rd and then the series will start on March 6th. They will host Zenit St. Petersburg since they reached first position in their group in Top-16, winning two times against UNICS Kazan.

Reggio didn’t qualify for the Italian Cup, and now they are the 8th seed, with a record of 9 wins and 10 defeats in the Italian League. These results might make one think that Grissin Bon isn’t so good. However, this is a team that had a turning point in November. They started the season with six straight defeats, but since then they have played on a completely different level. The team was built with some young Italian players like Candi, Mussini, De Vico, Cervi, Bonacini, Della Valle. The coach, Max Menetti, gave them a lot of responsibility at the beginning of the season, but things obviously went wrong (what with the 6 losses to open the season) — one can point to some injury problems the team suffered.

Massimiliano Menetti

Massimiliano Menetti

In that situation, GM Alessandro Frosini was forced to sign other players, and this is the turning point of the season. In November, Reggio Emilia signed veteran James White, who played already for Grissin Bon in 2013-2014. Then they signed Chris Wright and Pedro Llompart to fill the point guard spot. These market moves meant less minutes for young Italians, but the truth is that they showed not to be capable of performing at such a high competition level, as of yet.

Following those November moves, Reggio Emilia was a new team and the results arrived. They started winning games in the Italian League and also some crucial games in the first phase of EuroCup — including wins against Hapoel Jerusalem on the road and Bayern Munich at home. It may be a little bit surprising seeing Reggio Emilia in the quarterfinals, considering that they have lower budget than many other teams in the competition, but nobody can underestimate them because they have already won against teams that are competing at the highest level, shooting to win the competition’s trophy (UNICS Kazan and Bayern Munich).

Grissin Bon Reggio Emilia has a long term project in action — the team is well coached by Max Menetti, who has been their head coach since 2011. He also was an assistant coach in Reggio Emilia from 2003 to 2009. The continuity in coaching staff for many years (even through bad times) is a sign of the GM’s trust in Menetti.

Amedeo Della Valle

Amedeo Della Valle

Della Valle is the offensive leader of the team, and in fact is the scoring leader of the entire competition with 18.6 points per game — he seems more confident in his talent than the past few years. However, Reggio Emilia is most well-known for its defense. The team is the third best defense in the competition with 73.38 points per game surrendered. They like to control the rhythm of the game even if they want to run at home, like any other team. In fact they are the team with the least turnovers, with only 10.69 per game. In the series against Zenit St. Petersburg, the third best defense of the competition will face the second best offense with 88.2 points per game. This will be the key to the series, with Zenit trying to set the pace. Zenit is a better and more complete team than Grissin Bon; they have many offensive options. However, if Reggio can keep low scores and low pace, the Italian team can have a chance to advance to the semifinals.

In order to set the rhythm, Zenit will try to accelerate and run the floor as soon as they bring down defensive rebounds. So the fight for rebounds will be critical. Menetti can use some different lineups. He usually starts the game with a big man like Riccardo Cervi (returning from injury), and then he will change it up using athletic wings like James White and Julian Wright in the power forward position. Jalen Reynolds is the best rebounder on the team in Eurocup, with 7.38 boards per game. He can play both big man spots. Della Valle has the highest usage rating of the team. Pedro Llompart and Garrett Nevels will also play the point guard spot, with some minutes of defensive intensity by Candi. Chris Wright had a slight injury but he should be ready to help the team. Manuchar Markoishvili will bring experience to the team and he’s a very good shooter on the perimeter.

Reggio Emilia usually plays the best basketball with their athletic wings on the floor — White, Reynolds, and J. Wright are very versatile and they are good defenders against wings and guards, so they switch in pick-and-roll situations, and they can lead the fastbreak running the floor very quickly.

There is enthusiasm in the city for this historic match and PalaBigi will be for sure sold out (4500 seats).

Text edited by: Nick Flynt

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