Wednesday, August 31, 2011
EuroBasket 2011 Groups A-D Predictions
If you're dying for basketball because of the NBA Lockout not appearing like it will end any time soon, look no further than overseas and the international titillating tournament that is EuroBasket. It happens every 2 years and Lithuania is hosting it this go around. Yeah, some of the exhibitions (both indoor and outdoor) going on throughout the summer in the U.S. (and overseas on a few occasions) have looked like fun because it's NBA players pulling shenanigans while trying to stay fit. However, those games don't count for anything.
EuroBasket is country pride at stake and it's a grueling competition to win as the games begin August 31st and go to September 18th. In the United States, ESPN3.com will show every game live, with ESPN broadcasting a few contests on television tape delayed. Everywhere else around the globe, there will be plenty of online streaming feeds. 1st and 2nd place get automatic tickets to London's 2012 Olympics. 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th place get invited to the Pre-Olympic Qualifying tournament in July. So there's a lot on the line aside from the actual EuroBasket trophy itself.
It's the third most important international basketball tournament in the world behind the Olympics and the FIBA World Championships. In past years, back when it was only 16 teams involved, I would say EuroBasket was more entertaining than the other two competitions. This is the first year where 24 teams are involved. Clearly it's a revenue move by FIBA. You will notice that the quality of some of these first stage group matches will suffer. Once we get to the second round though, I expect the tourney to pick up and show why it's so highly praised.
One thing that should definitely up U.S. (considering the U.S. isn't part of Europe and obviously can't participate in EuroBasket) interest is all the NBA players that will partake in the tournament. I can't remember a time where there were so many big names involved in EuroBasket and we have the NBA Lockout to partially thank for that.
That map above is really cool if you're into the geography and attendance statistics of the competition. I'm keeping my first group stage predictions relatively short and to the point since everyone has 'analyzed' the teams to death. If you need a refresher, here is the tournament format.
There are 4 groups and six teams in each group. As you can see, top 3 teams from each group move on. So 12 teams will be out of it after the first week. Those who survive Groups A & B get combined into Group E, as those progressing through from Groups C & D are put together into Group F where another group stage commences within the two new Groups E & F to determine who gets into the knockout round.
4. Great Britain
Spain is still the overwhelming favorite to repeat as EuroBasket champions. The Spaniards bulldozed through the friendlies and lost only once, to Lithuania. Friendlies are always deceiving when examining any team. You really don't know what rotations, set plays, and other strategies coaches and players hide up their sleeves. Lithuania will get an immeasurable boost from the home support just like Turkey did last year. Lithuania has the talent and plenty of experience, but they haven't meshed as well as they would've hoped going into this competition.
Turkey has looked flat out awful in its preparation considering the successful World Championship they had in front of their fans last year. If they ever do wake up and show some fluidity on offense along with a defensive pulse, they'll easily progress and build some confidence. Great Britain has very little hope, but their odds are infinitely better than futile Portugal and a Poland that has no Gortat or Lampe.
It'll be a battle, but I can't disrespect the '09 silver medalists. That squad was in diapers, and they're still very young but very experienced this go around. Serbia is the only true complete team in this group. France, Germany, Italy all have execution and roster gaps that can be exploited. The icing on top is having Dusan Ivkovic on your bench leading guys that include the best player in Europe. No one has a better coach than Serbia.
Latvia is beyond screwed while Israel may make some noise if they continue to improve without Omri Casspi. Italy's lack of depth is what will crush them in the end. It would take Germany or France to really muck things up for themselves to see either of them not in Group E. Remember, Italy wouldn't even be here if the field wasn't expanded.
5. Bosnia & Herzigovina
With Greece, it's about continuing to push themselves to be better and to keep giving the effort they've been producing over the past month. They're already winners in my eyes. Over the past 2 months, so many players bailed or got hurt that you wondered if there would be a mutiny between coaches and players. So far so good for a relatively young but talented bunch of guys who are ready to defend Greece's basketball reputation. They've lost to Italy twice (their only defeats), but did beat them early in August in Cyprus. The decisive victories over Turkey and Germany in Bamberg are what give me optimism for Hellas.
Other than a weakened Croatia, there's no one in this group capable of pulling any surprises. Montenegro may snag the final qualifying spot by riding Nikola Pekovic's shoulders. Finland has some American talent, but no one proven to lead a bunch of underdogs. Many think Bosnia & Herzigovina will ascend themselves, but I have yet been impressed in their friendly results. I'm not about to believe Pero Antic and Bo McCalebb (very good point guard) can bump FYROM into 3rd. They're going to have to prove me wrong.
Slovenia really is flying under the radar again. They're a little bit worse than two years ago, where they were an overtime away from getting to the title game, but that shouldn't be an issue as far as topping this group. Russia really is the only possible threat. The Russians have gotten stronger during this preseason with AK47 carrying more of the scoring load. These guys did hoist the cup just 4 years ago (even if the current squad isn't as good).
I have a lot of faith in Ukraine taking it upon themselves to man up and listen to what their experienced NBA coaching staff has to tell them. Georgia and Bulgaria are really one men shows. Belgium proved to me they are a feisty bunch that makes up for a lack of skill and experience with their heart and hustle. That, and the basketball gods wouldn't allow D.J. Mbenga to miss out as he was originally cut and then brought back when Axel Hervelle got hurt.
Right or wrong, I'm just glad this tournament is finally beginning.