In a battle for the top spot in Group D, Unicaja Malaga hosts EWE Baskets Oldenburg on Tuesday. Both teams have already clinched berths in the Top 16 and now are jockeying for position. Unicaja comes in with the best record (6-2), but Oldenburg (5-3) is the hottest team with five straight wins. However, Oldenburg arrives without two of its top players; Rasid Mahalbasic and Tyler Larson will both miss this game. Unicaja will clinch first place if it wins and Buducnost VOLI Podgorica defeats Galatasaray Doga Sigorta Istanbul. Oldenburg would match Unicaja’s record and overtake it for first place via tiebreaker if it wins, but it could not clinch it until Round 10.
With two elite performers sidelined, Oldenburg will look to tried-and-true leader Rickey Paulding to rise to the occasion in Malaga. However, the man guarding him, Axel Toupane, is a very similar player - only younger. Toupane leads Unicaja in scoring (12.3 ppg.) and steals (1.3 spg.). Paulding's (12.1 ppg, 1.4 spg.) numbers are almost identical. Ironically, neither had much of an impact when they met in Round 4. The big difference between them this time is that Oldenburg will need to lean more heavily on Paulding with its other top scorers out, while Toupane has the regular cast of players around him. Nonetheless, watch out for how this marquee matchup unfolds.
Keys to victory: Unicaja
When these teams met in Round 4, Unicaja came undone in Germany because of its 19 turnovers are poor three-point shooting (7 of 24, 29.2%). Even its impressive 17 offensive rebounds and 7-19 edge in second-chance points were not enough. In both of its losses this season, Unicaja has struggled with turnovers (17 vs. Galatasaray) and three-point shooting. Those are two areas the team must improve to control the action on Tuesday.
Keys to victory: Oldenburg
Oldenburg has taken in the second-fewest rebounds in the EuroCup (31.3 rpg.), while Unicaja (36.8 rpg) sits among the top quarter of teams and is tied for fourth with 12.4 offensive rebounds per game with Frank Elegar and Ruben Guerrero leading the way. In a tough environment in Spain and without Rasid Mahalbasic, the visitors will need Nathan Boothe and Justin Sears to make an impact on the glass; Oldenburg must pay special attention to rebounding to be in position to score another important road win.