Wednesday, September 7, 2011
EuroBasket 2011 Group E Preview & Predictions
No one should be shocked to see all of the drama and excitement that came and went in Week 1 of EuroBasket 2011. We're down from 24 teams to 12, and from four venues to just one, Siemens Arena in Vilnius, Lithuania. From now through Monday, you can now focus on one game at a time. 3 games per day between 8:30 a.m. EST that extends to about 4 p.m. EST.
Group E is a combination of the best teams in Group A and Group B. Group F, as you can guess, is a result of the top 3 teams from Group C and Group D. No teams that matched up in the 1st group stage round will play each other in this round of competition. Which means each country gets 3 games to decide whether they move on to the final eight and the knockout stage. The points from the last round get brought over into this current round (look at the standings images I have below) minus the results of the teams already eliminated. Remember, you get one point for playing a game and 2 for winning it.
Looking at my prediction post just before this EuroBasket began, I actually did pretty well. Perfect on Group A. Got most of Group B right except Israel beat Italy in the meaningless final game and France somehow won a phenomenal overtime thriller against Serbia. Group C was the true monkey wrench in the whole thing though. Greeks laid an egg versus FYROM and I overrated Montenegro and Croatia. Group D is also a relative mess. Russia really is looking promising as they were to eek out a final Group D win over Slovenia.
Let's see how my analysis and predictions do in the second round of group stage play. We'll focus on Group E with Group F's preview coming later since those games don't begin until Thursday.
The fact that two of these six absolutely stacked teams have to be eliminated by the end of this week is a scary sight. FIBA no doubt wishes the initial group drawings could have been redone because this is almost an abomination to have two high quality squads not even reach the knockout round.
If you're a Minnesota Timberwolves fan, be worried about Ricky Rubio. Terrible numbers. He's now the 3rd string point guard as he's flat out struggled to perform. Some of it is injury, but I've seen Ricky get very careless with the ball in a tournament where every possession counts extra.
Toronto Raptors fans should be happy that Jose Calderon's responsibilities continue to grow the longer they stay in Lithuania. Serge Ibaka's debut EuroBasket has been fairly predictable. Still learning the intricacies of FIBA rules and trying to figure out how to dominate the game when he's in. The OKC Thunder man has shown frustration at times when it comes to foul trouble. I will say his jump shooting has improved infinitely from the NBA season. Luckily for Iblocka, Marc Gasol has taken most of the pressure off him.
Spain may have lost to Turkey in the last day of Group A, but they are no doubt the favorites. Plus, Pau Gasol won't be voluntarily sitting out games anymore. Turkey did however expose Spain's potential for weak point guard play and stagnant ball movement. Still, it's tough to not assume the Spaniards are not playing possum when you look at how they won EuroBasket 2009. As long as Juan Carlos Navarro and Rudy Fernandez remain clutch, it's their tourney to win. All eyes should be on their Friday game versus Serbia to really gauge their chemistry, confidence, and interest.
As for Turkey themselves, the verdict is still out. Look at my Hedo Turkoglu analysis, and I've basically picked out how the Turkish coaching staff can't seem to depend on just one or two guys to close out games. The foreigner Emir Preldzic is a gifted man for the first 35 minutes of the game. But he tries to do WAY too much in crunch time, and so does Arslan, when guys like Hedo, Onan, and Ilyasova should be shooting and creating. Akyol has been a disappointment. A great friendly period wasted because Coach Ene shows no faith in him.
Enes Kanter should have Utah Jazz fans jumping for joy. The Undertaker is not afraid to go head on against all big men opponents. Kanter really knows how to adjust his style of play to the current and immediate needs of his country during each match. Omer Asik seems to be healing up well and will have to continue to improve if Turkey is to do enough in the paint to succeed. With this squad, they really can disappear like they did in 2009, or make a deep tournament run such as last year. It's really about a dedication to defense and avoiding bad offensive stretches.
Germany is in trouble, being handicapped the most point wise to start this second stage. I just don't know if they have the cohesion to prevail over the likes of Turkey, Lithuania, and Spain. Everyone knows about Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman. Dirk is Dirk and Kaman is averaging a double-double in the competition (though his offensive efficiency needs to be better). But can Schaffartzik, Hamann, Pleiss, Benzing, and the rest of Deutschland be enough to claw their way into the knockout round? Sadly, I don't believe so.
There are just too many better and experienced teams ahead of the pecking order. However, although they lost to the likes of Serbia and France, Germany's handling of Italy should give their fans some hope that the improbable can be done. Also, we always seem to underestimate the Dirk Nowitzki factor. How much does Dirk want to exert himself and carry the majority of the scoring load now that every game is basically do or die? Dirk got his nation to the Final in 2005, but this is a much stronger field of competition.
France were lucky enough to ease into the difficulty of Group A with their first two matchups and victories coming against the weaker Latvia and Israel. It wasn't until Day 3 where the French had their first true test. This is where Tony Parker's best senior national team campaign to date truly begins. His 32 points easily outweighed Dirk Nowitzki's 20 and the Germans couldn't overcome that. Boris Diaw is embracing his fatness and is really putting on a post-up clinic in almost every match.
Now Vincent Collet's squad faced a desperate Italian side that was clawing to avoid elimination The French took Italy's best punch and prevailed. Finally, an undefeated showdown that few can deny ended up being the best match of the summer. Seriously, watch the entire game here and you'll see how scrappy and deep this France roster is. Now the question is, can France AT LAST avoid the trend of disappointing when the matches count? The infusion of fresh blood may finally vault them to where they want to be.
Joakim Noah is stepping up with Ronny Turiaf hurt. Noah's performance versus Serbia was clearly his best. Nicolas Batum is doing more than even I expected of him. The Blazers organization may be leery to see Nic with a head wrap on his head after falling very hard on Monday, but Batum is flat out ballin'. A total shooting percentage of 58.7% will occur when you're getting to the basket at will. France is embracing their running attack. They are the most athletic squad in the tourney, and not afraid to test an opponent's fitness.
Veterans Mickael Gelabale and Florent Pietrus are the defensive specialists. The best thing Gelabale ever did was cut those dreads off, he's played out of this world. 64.7% from downtown will make any coach's mouth water. I'm also curious to see if Kevin Seraphin's minutes will grow as he's been a pleasant surprise. France's youth is really adding depth (see Nando De Colo) which makes them even more dangerous.
Serbia again looks to be getting ignored with so many NBA names being discussed in Group E. They were one Dusko Savanovic basket away from being unbeaten and top of this newly formed group. That was on Dusko's birthday as well. Ouch. The Dusan Ivkovic factor rendered true for the most part. The best coach in the tournament can still very well get this team on the medal podium.
I have been concerned with how passive Milos Teodosic has appeared in certain stretches. You can't tell if he's injured, in cruise control, or just struggling to find his groove. Milos got his rear kicked by Tony Parker when you'd expect the European Player of the Year to step things up. A very difficult individual to read body language wise.
Marko Keselj has been one of the darling discoveries of this tournament for anyone that doesn't pay much attention to Euroleague. The Olympiakos man is shooting an unheard of 61.5 % from 3-point range for his nation. Nenad Krstic and Savanovic have been doing their thing. Actually, Krstic has looked rejuvenated against the likes of Joakim Noah and other decent centers so far. But I'm expecting more fromTepic and Macvan moving forward.
The hosts definitely should have a plethora of concerns. Lithuania were just abysmal versus Spain. It's not good when only Jonas Valanciunas plays well (no matter how great that is for Toronto Raptors fans). Jonas hasn't really been used that much by Coach Kemzura. That will change for a variety of reasons. The crowd, whether in the U.S. or Lithuania, LOVES him. His energy off the bench is unmatched. Oh yeah, and Petravicius is out for the remainder of the tourney.
Sarunas Jasikevicius at times looks like the wily veteran we've come to know him as. Other times, he looks old and needs to retire. He's played his way back into basketball rhythm. Now though, you just wonder if he can up his level of play to match the high decibel levels of the Lithuanian crowd. I'm not convinced. The worst news for this squad is that no one can come close to running the show as well as Sarunas, no matter how rusty and unrecognizable he may appear. Delininkaitis, Kaukenas, and Kalnietis all can provide scoring assistance. But, I don't them necessarily making the other Lithuanians on the court better. I hope they prove me wrong.
They did beat Turkey though. When Lithuania can maintain a balanced attack, they do look like a medal contender. Even with being driven by the crowd, there are too many mental lapses. The ball movement dies when Jasikevicius sits down. That, and Kemzura seems to be going nuts. Unless Darius Songaila, Jasaitis, and Pocius can man up, reaching the knockout stage may not happen as badly as this tournament needs the Lithuanian fans to keep their high interest in this competition. It's not good for business or attendance.
5. Lithuania (Eliminated)
6. Germany (Eliminated)
I really hope I'm wrong about Lithuania. The knockout stage would miss them dearly.