Thursday, September 8, 2011
EuroBasket 2011 Group F Preview & Predictions
The Greeks were looking pretty good, right up until they choked badly against FYROM. Nothing was dropping for Ilias Zouros' boys. That's a worry going forward. But when they needed a win on the final day, Greece took care of business against Croatia. Nikos Zisis, Antonis Fotsis, and Ioannis Bourousis are all that remain from the 2005 EuroBasket winning squad. Zisis has disappointed with his lack of consistency on both ends of the court, while the other two are showing true leadership and are the rocks of the team. Coach Zouros has had to depend a lot on young and inexperienced fresh blood to fill out the roster.
Denver Nuggets fans should be very interested in Kosta Koufos. His game is blossoming along with his new found confidence. Him and Bourousis in twin tower mode is something special to watch. Nick Calathes can be better, but so far he's the best point guard the Greeks have to run the show. It's up to guys like Mike Bramos, Papanikolaou, and Vassiliadis to nail the open 3-pointers that will come their way.
Greece has some strong beef with Slovenia as they're meeting together for the 4th straight EuroBasket on Thursday. There's already some trash talking going on there. Greece took bronze over Slovenia in 2009, winning in very tight 57-56 fashion. That's nothing compared to the craziest 63-62 Greece comeback you'll ever witness. The clip still give me chills. Down 12 with 2:35 remaining, and to somehow claw back and be victorious in the quarterfinal. Hellas is also looking for some group stage revenge with the Russians who beat the Greeks last year. The two sides did meet in Cyprus last month where Greece won the friendly 83-80.
The clear shocker of the entire competition is clearly FYROM winning Group C and landing at the pinnacle of Group F along side of Russia. Few saw FYROM qualifying out of Group C. An opening day overtime loss to Montenegro seemed to show what we all thought would be a trend. Then they pull a complete 180 degree turn and beat the group favorites Croatia and Greece back-to-back. In the driver's seat, FYROM stumbled to dispatch of Finland and Bosnia & Herzigovina. With great fan support on their side though, coach Dokuzovski's side have far exceeded any initial tournament expectations.
So we really have no idea which FYROM will show up. They could be hungry for more or their faults may start to creep back into their style of play. I will say that Pero Antic is proving to be one of the better leaders of this tournament so far. Guy is just a bull. He'll also shoot the Molten from anywhere. Almost averaging a double-double for the competition.
The real star is Bo McCalebb, the Louisiana native, who is lighting up almost all opponents. Bo though will be facing tougher defenses in Group F. The only other man on the roster who scores double digit points is Todor Gechevski. FYROM basically works with a 9-man rotation it seems like. Vlado Ilievski is having an atrocious shooting campaign and will have to find a remedy quickly.
The other major pleasant surprise is seeing Finland qualify while Croatia got sent home. Finland's fans may be extra drunk and boisterous by the time Thursday rolls around. This is quite the Cinderella story considering they were fighting with the likes of Portugal and Hungary to get into this tournament. Day 1 comes around and they nearly beat Croatia.
Finland's triumph came on Day 3. They turned a must win situation into a flat out murdering of Bosnia & Herzigovina. At the death, Finland almost pulled out another one against FYROM. Day 6 proved a nerve-racking one for Finland. They had to beat Montenegro (which they did for victory number two), but also Greece and FYROM needed to win. The basketball gods made sure this occurred and the dream continues.
It's a very young squad filled with some American faces. Petteri Koponen, Gerald Lee, and Mikko Koivisto are seemingly the main guys leading the way. The promising news though, is that there's room for Sasu Salin, Teemu Rannikko, and Shawn Huff to step things up a bit more. Don't expect much more positive news for the northerners.
The Russians have Sergey Monya to thank for being undefeated at this point. Monya drilled the game-winning basket in the Group D first place matchup versus Slovenia. These guys are lengthy, will suffocate you on defense, and are more than willing to run a transition clinic. Other than that Slovenia game, Russia have cruised through Group D for the most part and very well can duplicate those results in the new Group F.
It's still Andrei Kirilenko's team. The man looks rejuvenated for the 2007 EuroBasket champions. AK47 has been a fearless warrior who seems comfortable handling the scoring load. He's not blocking many shots, but 2.8 steals per contest more than compensates. Timofey Mozgov needs more touches. The guy is shooting 65.2% and I'm shocked David Blatt hasn't been feeding him more.
Victor Khryapa is still around folks, and he's looking pretty sharp. However, Vitaliy Fridzon is shooting the ball like his target is the Baltic Sea. 66.7% from downtown is absurd. Some of those attempts he's launching from St. Petersburg. The depth of this roster is very underrated. A legitimate 10-deep roster that can give any opponent fits, Blatt being the well respected coach he is, will do a lot of damage and dash plenty of hopes.
Georgia have Ukraine to thank for getting them in. Who would have thought Bulgaria could almost sneak in? Goodness. Still, Georgia's blowouts versus Belgium and Ukraine are why they get to duke things out in Group F. No Zaza Pachuliameans Georgia's knockout stage hopes are basically toast, which is unfortunate because that's a very athletic team. I view Georgia as a poor man's Russia. If they had the Atlanta Hawks center, I'd say Georgia would make the knockout stage as FYROM and Finland are very beatable.
So who picks up the slack? Their point guard George Tsintsadze is a start. I'd look more at Manuchar Markoishvili, Texas native Marquez Haynes, and Viktor Sanikidze to increase point production. So I'd say all hope isn't lost quite yet. The men who will be forced to attempt to fill Zaza's shoes are Tornike Shengelia, Giorgi Shermadini, and the familiar Nikoloz Tskitishvili who has been parked on the bench a lot. I just see a huge drop in quality at center. It's about element of surprise and Coach Kokoshov's ability to maximize his roster's output.
Slovenia could very easily take Group F, but few are giving them hope. There's just something missing (aside from Boki Nachbar) and it seems to be a motivation problem. There were so close calls early on in Group D versus Bulgaria and Ukraine. Every match has been close. Coach Maljkovic's side just sleepwalked into this second group stage.
Jaka Lakovic, Saso Ozbolt, Matjaz Smodis, Goran Dragic (1-of-17 from 3-point range?!) all need to wake up and get their acts together and pronto. Uros Slokar could actually use some more playing time. I'm also a tad bit perplexed as to why Samo Udrih has been buried on the pine. Even the intimidating Erazem Lorbek has appeared mediocre in the first group stage. In fact, the only Slovenians players performing above expectations are Mirza Begic (needs more minutes) and Zoran Dragic who are shooting above 60% so far in Lithuania.
5. Finland (Eliminated)
6. Georgia (Eliminated)
Barring another miracle from Finland, the top four teams are pretty obvious. Just a matter of the order. FYROM has proven me wrong so far, let's see if they can shut me up again.