Stacking up the EuroLeague vs. NCAA Basketball

There has never been a better time to be a basketball fan. US fans have plenty to chew on almost year-round between the NBA, the G-League, and the NCAA. Meanwhile, other leagues around the world have started to see an uptick in spectatorship, from the Chinese Basketball Association to Spain’s Liga ACB.

Unsurprisingly, the international EuroLeague competition has become one of the most popular basketball tournaments in the world. Alongside North America’s NBA, it has the highest number of fans and attendance—even when compared to the NCAA.

Sure, the NCAA may have created a perennial sensation with its March Madness event, but when it comes to betting on basketball with a DraftKings promo offer or a similar offer from another sportsbook, both the NBA and top EuroLeague teams see more consistent attention from oddsmakers.

Could it be that the EuroLeague is now more dynamic and exciting to follow than the NCAA? And does this mean that even a top college team like 2015’s University of Kentucky squad could compete with a major European team, like Real Madrid or Baskonia? Let’s take a closer look.

NCAA Can’t Compete With Physicality of EuroLeague

Some of the NBA’s most exciting young players got their start in the EuroLeague. Luka Doncic, NBA Rookie of the Year and three-time All-Star player, was born in Slovenia and eventually made his way onto Real Madrid’s roster. Nikola Jokic, two-time NBA MVP and four-time All-Star player, was born nearby in Serbia before playing with Mega MIS.

And of course, “The Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo, with two NBA Finals MVP nods and one NBA championship, spent three years on EFAOZ BC in Greece before crossing the Atlantic. All three have turned their early experience in Europe’s domestic leagues into highly successful NBA runs. This hints that the EuroLeague might be just as, if not more, effective in prepping all-stars than the NCAA.

But there’s one caveat: physicality. NCAA first-years aren’t yet accustomed to throwing their weight around on the court. And the ability to box out opponents comes down to experience, which builds confidence and strength.

A Question of Multidimensionality & High-Level Teams

Still, that isn’t to say that a well-rounded NCAA team couldn’t take on a EuroLeague giant—but it would come down to more than physicality. The more multidimensional a team is, the more likely it is to out-perform an opponent offensively and defensively. And just because EuroLeague teams tend to have more experienced players, that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily balanced.

This means that a high-level NCAA would likely be able to quash a mid to low-level EuroLeague competitor. In fact, just weeks ago, the Arkansas Razorbacks went on an international preseason tour. One of their stops was in Valencia where they battled against La Liga ACB’s Valencia Seleccion. The Razorbacks were listed No. 20 in national rankings in mid-July, while Valencia Seleccion finished fourth out of 19 in last year’s Liga ACB season.

Here, we see two mid to high-level opponents from the NCAA and EuroLeague face off. In fact, Valencia defeated Real Madrid in a tight 94-93 match earlier this year—and Real Madrid was the No. 1 ranked team in the EuroLeague.

So, what does this mean for advocates who say the NCAA lacks the physicality needed to overcome a EuroLeague rival? It means the waters might be a lot more muddied than any basketball fan previously thought, especially as more players start to jump from Europe to North America (and vice versa).

The Truth: EuroLeague Has Leveled Up

Here’s another important insight into the evolution of the EuroLeague: some NCAA stars are jumping straight across the Atlantic to build a career in the EuroLeague. This happened to Peyton Siva, who attended Louisville before moonlighting with the Detroit Pistons for one year.

After a few years in the NBA’s G League, he packed up and headed to Italy to play for Juvecaserta before relocating to Berlin to play (and win championships for) Alba Berlin. During his stint in Berlin, Siva realized that the leagues might not be better or worse—just fundamentally different.

In a 2021 interview with Complex UK, Siva said, “In the EuroLeague the game is more tactical, it goes up and down more, the game is more athletic.” He also insisted that the best in Europe can definitely compete with some teams in the NBA—which has left some dreaming of a cross-continental basketball championship.