The Basketball Africa League (BAL) quarterfinals gets underway on Wednesday at Kigali Arena where four teams will compete to become the first two semi-finalists. Four other teams will follow suit on Thursday.
The tournament began on May 16 with 12 teams, but 18 games into the 2021 BAL, only eight remain in contention for the top prize of the newly-launched competition. GNBC (Madagascar), Rivers Hoopers (Nigeria), AS Police (Mali) and GSP (Algeria) have all been eliminated.
The eight remaining teams are US Monastir (3-0), Zamalek (3-0), Petro de Luanda (3-0), Patriots BBC (2-1), Ferroviario de Maputo (2-1), AS Salé (2-1), FAP (1-2) and AS Douanes (1-2).
Can Zamalek extend its winning streak against a combative FAP team?
Zamalek v FAP (Wednesday, May 26, 5:30pm GMT+2)
In the first quarterfinal of the day, former African champions Zamalek of Egypt will take on Cameroon’s FAP.
Zamalek reached this round undefeated after three wins in Group C, while FAP made it to the knock-out stages by beating AS Police (87-65) on the last day of Group B action. It was the Cameroonian outfit’s only win in the group phase following losses to AS Salé and Petro de Luanda.
The Egyptians, one of the many self-proclaimed BAL title contenders, didn’t begin their BAL campaign convincingly. They had a tournament-high 28 turnovers in their opener against Ferroviario de Maputo.
However, by the time Zamalek registered its third straight victory – a 97-64 win over GSP – it was playing a more attractive and consistent basketball.
“We are here to win the [BAL] title,” said Zamalek head coach Augusti Julbe.
To reach the next round, Julbe and his men will need to overcome a combative FAP team, which the Spaniard play-caller has described as, “One of the most competitive teams in this tournament along with Ferroviario. They competed against some of the top teams [in the group stages] and almost beat them. It’s going to be a tough game for us. We are going to need to be focused for 40 minutes because they are a team of runs. They are a team that could do a lot in a short period of time.”
FAP, on the other hand, isn’t looking too much ahead. It’s taking everything “one game at a time because we are a new and young team. Some of my players have never played at this level,” noted head coach Lazare Adie Ngono.
Zamalek averaged 84.6 points in the Group phase while FAP scored 78.3 per game.
It’ll be an intriguing matchup between two teams that averaged 48 (Zamalek) and 49 (FAP) rebounds per game.
The similarities continue in another key aspect of their games: They share the ball at a relatively similar pace with Zamalek averaging 21.6 assists per contest against FAP’s 17.3.
Judging by what FAP showed in the group stages, the Yaounde-based team will be Zamalek’s toughest opponent in the BAL so far.
Two-time NCAA champion Walter Hodge averages a team-high 14.6 points for Zamalek while Moustafa Elmekawi – the only other Zamalek player to average double digits – has contributed 10.3 points.
But at any given moment, Anas Mahmoud and Chinemelu Elonu can spark Zamalek’s game at either end of the floor.
FAPs’s Amadou Harouna has become one of this year’s BAL highlights, powering his squad with a team-best 18.6 points. But he’s not FAP’s only high scorer. Point guard Marcus Thomas Jr. has been impressive contributing 13.3 points per game.
Is it payback time for AS Salé?
Petro de Luanda v AS Salé (Wednesday, May 26, 9:00pm GMT+2)
“I look forward to playing them again in the next round,” said AS Salé’s Rashad Deane James after his team’s 97-78 defeat to Petro de Luanda on Sunday.
James finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds – his first BAL double-double – but the Angolan champions were relentless, making 14 of their 35 three-point attempts to stay undefeated in three games.
Coming out of the Group stages, AS Salé and Petro de Luanda are playing solid and attractive basketball and have emerged as legitimate BAL title contenders. This is one of the most highly-anticipated games in the BAL quarterfinals.
To beat Petro de Luanda, AS Salé will need to be respond to its opponent’s aggressiveness. The Moroccan outfit must protect the three-point line and will need its bench to produce.
Petro de Luanda’s bench outscored AS Salé’s bench 50-10 in their last meeting.
During that game, AS Salé led by as many 14 points in the second quarter, but they couldn’t stop reserves Ryan Richards and Olimpio Cipriano, who combined for eight three-pointers on their way to a combined 36 points.
Terrel Stoglin established a record for the most points scored in BAL game last week and he is the man that AS Salé will desperately need at his best.
Can AS Douanes surprise No.1 seeded US Monastir?
US Monastir v AS Douanes (Thursday, May 27, 5:30pm GMT+2)
US Monastir outclassed its Group A opponents, and the Tunisian champions emerge not only as favorite in this encounter, but as a legitimate BAL title contender.
“We are not the only title contenders. There are other good teams in this tournament. [But] we are here [in Kigali] to win the BAL,” US Monastir assistant coach Safouen Ferjani said.
US Monastir beat its Group A opponents by an average of 25.3 points per game. The No.1 seeded team limited its opponents to 70 points per game.
AS Douanes, meanwhile, averaged almost 77 points in its first three games.
Point guard Mamadou Faye and Mamadou Diop have been crucial for AS Douanes, averaging 15.6 and 15 points, respectively. But the three-time Senegalese champions will need to find answers to US Monastir’s fast-paced game.
The biggest difference between the teams lies in their benches, where the Tunisians display two productive players for each position.
Substitute Wael Arakji contributes a team-high 18.6 points. Radhouane Slimane, 41, playing his best basketball in years, is averaging 14 points per game, and Tunisia international player Makrem Ben Romdhane has been one of the team’s top performers.
How can AS Douanes stop a star-studded US Monastir? Only the basketball gods know.
Who can stop a highly-motivated Patriots BBC?
Patriots BBC v Ferroviario de Maputo (Thursday, May 27, 9:00pm GMT+2)
The home crowd has been behind their heroes throughout the 2021 BAL, but taking on a surprising Ferroviario de Maputo will prove challenging.
The Mozambican champions head to the last eight looking like a totally different team from the one that finished with only seven assists in their opener against Zamalek.
But can they stop a highly-motivated Patriots BBC, this year’s host team that has shown tenacity and never got down during difficult times.
This is set to be one of the most balanced quarterfinal matchups considering how both teams played in the group stages.
The Rwandans and Mozambicans teams finished the group stages with 46 and 45.3 rebounds per contest, respectively, but their statistical similarities don’t end there: The Patriots averaged 78.6 points per game while Ferroviario de Maputo tallied 76. Also, each team, who reached the BAL regular season courtesy of the FIBA-run BAL Qualifier, averaged 18 assists in their first three games.
Individual performances and small details could be a factor in this contest.