It was exciting news on Wednesday as FIBA Europe announced a spectacular number of teams have applied for places in both EuroLeague and EuroCup. With so many teams, qualifying games for the last places will be intense and there will be chances to see continental competition in new countries. Qualifiers and groups will be drawn on August 19th with qualifying games set for September.
20 teams applied for spots in EuroLeague this season and it was decided that 14 of the 16 spots in the regular season would be awarded directly, leaving intense qualifiers for the last pair of spots. As the top country in the rankings, Russia had three direct places, awarded to defending champions Ekaterinburg, league runners-up Dynamo Kursk, and surprise league bronze medalists MBA. Three countries received two spots each with Istanbul’s great rivals Fenerbahce and Galatasaray participating after squaring off in the finals in Turkey. France and Spain award their second priority spot to their cup winner so Lattes Montpellier joins champions Landes for France and Uni Girona joins champions Avenida for Spain. Five league champions received single direct berths for their countries in Hungary’s Sopron, the Czech Republic’s USK Praha, Poland’s Arka Gdynia, Italy’s Reyer Venezia, and Latvia’s Riga.
There will be a new qualifying format this season with six teams competing for two spots, preventing the traditional home-and-home two game format. Since losing teams will drop down to EuroCup, which remains regionalized, teams will not be drawn and were simply split geographically. Qualifying will be conducted at a single site for each group with the winner entering EuroLeague. In the Eastern Conference, Kayseri from Turkey, Hungarian runners-up Szekszard, and Romanian champions Sepsi Sfantu Gheorghe will be competing for the spot. The Western Conference figures to have must-watch games with three big name teams who finished as runners-up in their domestic leagues in French powerhouse Bourges, ambitious Spanish side Valencia, and longtime Italian power Schio.
With 57 teams applying for EuroCup, the competition was able to expand to 48 teams. Accounting for teams dropping from EuroLeague qualification, 31 of those teams were given direct spots in the regular season. That leaves 26 teams playing home-and-home two game qualifiers for the last 13 points. The teams that will be seeded and unseeded in the qualifying draw have already been decided with the seeded team hosting the second game of each series after the unseeded team hosts the first game.
As expected, there will be heavy representation from Russia and Turkey in this half of the groups. Nika Syktyvkar joins after an impressive first season in the top division while Nadezhda Orenburg hopes to bounce back from a poor season, and Enisey Krasnoyarsk will be welcoming teams to their home far in the east. Nesibe and Orman represent Turkey as well as Cukurova Mersin Yenisehir, which has already announced a very ambitious roster with the specific aim of making noise in this competition. Gyor and DVTK represent Hungary while Polkowice and Gorzow represent Poland. The other country to get two direct places is Greece as Panathinaikos joins after an impressive league title with rivals Olympiacos continuing to play here as well. Ramla, which has been Israel’s representative for several years, returns along with the champions of Belarus and the European League, Horizont Minsk, and ambitious Prometey from Ukraine, which figures to be better equipped to deal with this competition in their second attempt. The final team that does not have to go through qualifiers is Serbia’s champions Crvena zvezda, which is most commonly known as Red Star Belgrade in the English-speaking world.
This conference will have 12 teams compete in the qualifiers with the teams holding seeds being veterans at this level. Those are Russia’s Spartak Moscow, Hatay and Elazig from Turkey, PEAC from Hungary, Bydgoszcz from Poland, and Umea of Sweden. Lublin from Poland and Csata from Hungary look to increase representation for their countries among the unseeded teams. Unprecedented participation from Greece could be possible with PAOK, Eleftheria Moschatou, and Niki Lefkadas will all try to navigate tricky paths. Another country that has not had much participation with different roster rules in play is Israel, but Elitzur Holon will try to put together a group that can do so.
As usual, the teams from France and Spain will enter as favorites from this half of the groups. France has Lyon, Villeneuve, and Roche earning direct places while Spain has Gernika, Estudiantes, and Clarinos. Belgium will also have three teams with direct places in Namur, Braine, and Mechelen. Both teams from Brno will represent the Czech Republic while Virtus Bologna is the only Italian team with a direct spot. Swiss champions Fribourg return and German champions Keltern and Slovak champions Ruzomberok are back in the picture after one year absences.
More teams entered from this side of the dividing line so 14 teams were placed into the qualifiers. Carolo and Tarbes from France lead the teams awarded seeds. Both Spanish teams have seeds as well in Ensino Lugo and Islas Canarias, which looks to bring continental competition to Gran Canaria to join their Canary Islands rivals from Tenerife. Belgium’s Liege and Portugal’s Uniao Sportiva also have seeds with some experience in this competition while the last seed is Grengewald Hueschtert of Luxembourg, which participated last season. Italy will have two unseeded teams, Magnolia Campobasso and Dinamo Sassari, which looks to increase the number of clubs in the country with success on both the women’s and men’s side of basketball. Belgium’s Kortrijk and Slovak runners-up Piestanske Cajky look to increase representation for their countries. The last three teams bring the excitement of participation from new countries into the mix. British champions London Lions will be trying to qualify both their teams into the regular season of continental competition. Haukar will try to bring the competition to the far west in Iceland. Norway is often disconnected from basketball in the rest of Europe and the participation of Ulriken gives hope that that could change and they could take other steps like fielding a senior national team.