Guide to the Euroleague Women Final Eight

This 2014 Euroleague Women Final Eight returns to the Russian city of Yekaterinburg for a second straight year, and for the second straight year, UMMC Ekaterinburg will look to defend their Euroleague crown on home soil. The tournament starts tomorrow afternoon [Monday April 8].

The Euroleague holders are hot favourites to retain their crown as well, as they boast the best two players in the tournament in Candice Parker and Diana Taurasi and have dropped just two games in 10 games.

Group A boasts three Turkish sides, which should make for some interesting match-ups.

Here is TB’s mini guide to the Final Eight.

Group A

Fenerbahce:

The Turkish giants and last year’s runners-up are the best team, performance-wise in this year’s competition with a perfect 10-0 record. Olympic gold-medal winner Angel McCoughtry has been a scintillating form this season with a team-high 14.1 points an outing leading them to the Russian city with an unblemished streak.

Despite the unbeaten record, Fenerbahce do not come into the Final Eight as favourites as once again, the home court advantage of the hosts should prove enough in the final.

Prediction: Runners-up.

Kayseri Kaski Spor:

A team that has no doubt given 100 percent in every game they have played. Sure they have been beaten by more experienced sides this season. But they have bounced back each game and played solid team basketball.

Kayseri’s inclusion in the Final Eight is made more remarkable given that this is their first season in the Euroleague Women and a lot of the plaudits have to go to coach Ayhan Avci, who is a candidate for coach of the year.

The lack of experience will be a key factor here for Kayseri, but they will be richer for the experience.

Prediction: Group stage.

Galatasaray:

Bitter rivals to Fenerbahce and an interesting match in prospect when those two go head-to-head. But it’s been a deserved Final Eight place for Galatasaray, who has talent at both ends of the floor and on their day, can beat anyone. Alba Torrens is in a rich vein of form and Sancho Lyttle is always a threat.

They should be the second team through from the group stages, but at times they do make it hard for themselves.

Prediction: Semi-finalists

Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje:

The youngest team in this Final Eight with an average age of 22-years, they go into Yekaterinburg as outsiders. But playing with nothing to lose is a good thing, and Sparta hope that it can be the best of things. They go into the Final Eight as the leaders in rebounding and will look to use that as an advantage.

Sparta will pull a few teams close but it will take a massive effort to progress further. It’s been a great season in any case for these talented bunch of youngsters.

Prediction: Group stage

Group B

UMMC Ekaterinburg:

The favourites to repeat as Euroleague winners and with good reason; there record at home is excellent. They have made the DIVS Sport Hall a fortress. They haven’t lost at home since January 2012 and with the squad they have, it will take a team playing beyond their A-game to knock them off their perch.

With an appreciative home crowd behind them, the script is written for UMMC, it’s up to any of the other seven sides to prevent that.

Prediction: Winners

Nadezhda Orenburg:

Fellow Russian side Orenburg endured a tough opening to this season’s Euroleague Women by dropping the first four games of the season, but then won the next five and since then have been playing an exciting brand of basketball.

Will this be enough to progress though? If they play at the level they have been playing recently … it all points to at least a semi-final spot.

Prediction: Semi-finalists

Tango Bourges Basket:

They had a good run last year as they reached the 2013 Final Eight. This season was filled with promise but it hasn’t quite turned out that way, as inconsistency has been their undoing this season. Their highlight though this season was the 77-69 victory over UMMC Ekaterinburg.

Unless they can play their best basketball of this season in a tough group, they might have to settle for a first round exit this year.

Prediction: Group stage

ZVVZ USK Prague:

Women’s basketball in the Czech Republic is rebuilding but Prague didn’t want to wait. A team that plays for each other, third in the Euroleague Women in assists and third in points scored, they certainly know how to run their sets and put the ball in the hoop. However, they also have weaknesses defensively as well and in Group B; that could be costly.

The Czechs will enjoy their moment in Russia, the brand of basketball they play will excite the Russian crowd.

Prediction: Group stage