For Hoosier State basketball bettors who’ve long dreamt of turning back the clock and reliving the madness of the 2015 NCAA Tournament, with Demetrius Jackson and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish challenging the top-seeded Kentucky Wildcats in the Elite Eight before Sam Dekker’s Wisconsin Badgers finally spoiled Kentucky’s undefeated season in the Final Four, your one shining moment has arrived.
The Indiana Gaming Commission recently released its updated list of approved competitions for sports betting, and in addition to beloved wagering mainstays like the British Darts Organisation and Belarus Extraleague hockey, the commission added one new league to the slate: FIBA’s Basketball Champions League (BCL). The pan-European tournament’s regular season begins Oct. 20, bringing together 32 teams from 18 different countries, including representatives from premier European leagues like the Spanish ACB and Turkey’s Basketball Superleague along with teams from nations less well-known for professional basketball prowess, such as Belarus, Belgium, and Cyprus.
And yes, among the former U.S. college players now playing overseas who’ll be competing in this BCL season are onetime Notre Dame floor general Jackson and Wisconsin All-American Dekker.
Catching up with ex-NCAA stars is among the charms of following international basketball competitions like the BCL. And although Indiana sports bettors may have plenty of more familiar U.S. pro leagues to choose from at the moment, the NHL has already crowned a Stanley Cup Champion, the Lakers have won the NBA Finals, and the World Series should be over by the end of October.
Heaven forbid another wide-scale U.S. sports shutdown related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but if the gambling world were to suddenly lose the remainder of the NFL season or the NCAA football and basketball seasons get cut short or canceled, bettors in the Hoosier State will probably feel fortunate to have the option of betting on Dekker and ex-Gonzaga shooter Kyle Wiltjer leading Turk Telekom to BCL glory.
Here’s a quick primer on the 4-year-old FIBA competition.
Overlapping domestic and inter-European leagues
For the uninitiated, one of the most confusing aspects of European pro basketball is its system of overlapping competitions, which has much more in common with international soccer than the NBA’s single start-to-finish schedule. Just like Liverpool FC might compete in the English Premier League, the soccer Champions League, and the FA Cup, all in the same season, top European basketball clubs participate in their domestic leagues along with international European competitions like the BCL, EuroLeague, and EuroCup.
Often, these teams’ schedules will include a domestic league game on a weeknight and a European league match on the weekends or vice versa. Between the competing schedules and the flood of club names like Filou Oostende, Falco Szombathely, and Happy Casa Brindisi, tracking the results can be dizzying.
Among the Europe-wide competitions, the EuroLeague is by far the strongest and the place to find premier teams like CSKA Moscow, Real Madrid, and Olympia Milano. EuroCup is a secondary league owned by the EuroLeague, and the BCL is FIBA’s version of a secondary tournament similar to — and in direct business competition with — EuroCup. (FIBA is the Switzerland-based international sanctioning body for basketball that organizes the worldwide competitions like the Olympic basketball tournament and the FIBA World Cup.)
Although the BCL is described as a secondary league, it still consists of strong teams from many of the best professional leagues in the world outside of the NBA. The difference between the first-tier EuroLeague and the second-tier BCL is that while the EuroLeague consists of teams that typically finish first or second in their domestic leagues, the BCL features the teams that finish just behind those top clubs.
In the BCL’s regular season, the 32 teams are broken into eight groups of four. The teams each play six games — a home-and-away round robin — against the clubs in their group, and then the top two teams from each group advance to the playoffs. In the round of 16, the teams are paired off to compete in a best-of-three series, with the eight winners moving onto the quarterfinals. The quarterfinal returns to a home-and-away format, and after each team has played 14 games, the top four advance to a single-elimination Final Four.
Top teams, players to watch, and the FIBA vs. EuroLeague controversy
One trick sports bettors interested in testing the BCL waters can use to identify the stronger teams is to simply look at where they’re based. Clubs from Spain, Turkey, Greece, Germany, and Italy come from more competitive domestic leagues and generally have larger budgets to spend on local and international players.
The Spanish and Turkish leagues have been particularly well-funded in recent years, and their BCL representatives tend to be the clubs that have the flashier American talent. Turk Telekom rolls out a big three of ex-NBA players Sam Dekker, Kyle Wiltjer, and Tyler Ennis. Last season’s champions, the Spanish club Hereda San Pablo Burgos, are led by former Boston Celtics point guard and New York City schoolboy legend Omar Cook — still cooking at 38 years old! AEK, the 2019-20 runners-up from Greece, lean heavily on ex-Kansas Jayhawk Keith Langford’s scoring. NBA Draft watchers may prefer to focus on Lithuanian club Rytas Vilnius, which features Augustas Marciulionis, the 19-year-son of ex-NBA guard Sarunas Marciulionis and a potential 2021 pick.
The 4-year-old BCL has been a controversial league in Europe, where many EuroLeague clubs and national basketball federations have viewed it as an attempt by FIBA to claw back revenue from sanctioning fees on inter-European club games that the Spain-based EuroLeague has controlled since 2000. The dispute is labyrinthine, having inspired multiple complaints to the EU Commission in Brussels and a 2,200-word Wikipedia entry.
From a sports gambler’s perspective, the important thing to know about the FIBA-EuroLeague beef is how it affects players’ availability for important international competitions. In 2017, FIBA changed the qualification format for major international tournaments like the Olympics and World Cup, creating conflicts with many professional leagues around the world. NBA and EuroLeague teams announced that they would not allow their players to leave their mother teams to compete in these FIBA qualifiers, which meant that reigning European champions Slovenia could not qualify for the 2019 World Cup because its two best players — Goran Dragic and Luka Dončić — were tied up in the NBA and EuroLeague (Doncic was still playing for Real Madrid then). By tracking the news around these conflicts and which players will be made available for certain competitions, bettors may be able to find value by locking in bets before sportsbooks can adjust to the news that a key player from say, Croatia, won’t be available for a qualifying match against France.
Mobile sportsbooks operating in Indiana from FanDuel to BetMGM to PointsBet don’t currently offer futures odds on BCL team outcomes. However, since the books post lines for EuroLeague and several domestic competitions from Italy to Spain to Japan, it’s likely that most, if not all, of the Hoosier State’s major oddsmakers will offer betting options once the BCL regular season begins later this month.