Thursday, August 31, 2006

2006 FIBA Worlds-Semifinals Preview

-Argentina (A-1) vs. Spain (B-1): The stats between the two teams are eerily similar. Argentina has a point differential of +24 per game, Spain is +25. Argentina is shooting 49% overall & 37.5 from 3pt. land, Spain-51.5% overall & 37.8% from 3pt. Both teams average 13 TOs per game, while Spain only averages 2 more forced TOs per. Argentina's defensive numbers are a little bit better, but the actual differences between these teams is nominal, I might even say Spain has been slightly more impressive on defense. But I already knew before looking at the stats that not much separates these teams.

Last time they played in an official game was at the '04 Olympics where Spain came back in the 4th quarter to win 87-76 in pool play. Gasol had a big day with help from Jose Calderon and Spain's zone was effective in the 2nd half, taking the Argentines out of their offense somewhat.

Argentina has gotten a great collaborative effort from their whole team; no one player has shined aboved the rest. Their wing spots are as good as any in the tourney with Manu, Nocioni, Delfino, & Herrmann all having great tourneys. Luis Scola has been one of the best post players in the Worlds & is an offensive force in the paint. Fab Oberto has done a solid job filling in the holes around his teammates & continuing his history of good int'l play. And you can't forget about their unsung hero, Pepe Sanchez. He might not score a lot, but he is magnificent being the linchpin of all the great ball movement that is key to Argentina. He has also been shooting the 3-ball well in the tourney (8/13), something that he is not known for.

Like with Argentina, it's difficult to pick out who has been the most impressive for Spain, they spread the wealth just as well. I guess you would have to go with Pau Gasol who has not surprisingly been one of the most dominant players in the Worlds--21.6 ppg, 9 rpg, & 2 blks on 62.4%. Juan Navarro has looked great as well and has continued to show his improved shooting stroke--45% from 3pt. Toronto's Jose Calderon has had a sterling tourney so far & might be the best point guard in this competition, better than Chris Paul. When you hear Jorge Garbajosa's name, think garbage, but in a good way. He is the ultimate garbage man who just does a little of everything for Spain: rebounding, defense, shooting, & a clever slashing game. Spain has shot the ball great--51.5 % overall-- and are doing just as good a job on the defensive end holding teams to 40.4% shooting.

Both teams have tailed off their production from the 3pt. line in the playoffs--Spain is shooting 24% from deep in 2 games, after shooting a blistering 44% in group play. Argentina had a horrid shooting nite vs. New Zealand, but rebounded somewhat vs. Turkey--8/23.

It might be in Spain's best interest to throw some zone at Argentina. I like some zone vs. Argentina because it can mess up their motion offense and the rhythm it produces. Take a note from Serbia--clog the paint and discourage the cutting & passing lanes they thrive on, its worth a shot. Argentina should think about returning the favor since Spain has been off the last few games and this also makes it a little bit more difficult for Gasol to operate.

I like Argentina's depth better, especially at the wings, they just don't lose much of anything when they bring in Delfino & Herrmann. Manu & Navarro cancel each other out. I give Calderon the advantage at the point, but Pepe can't be taken lightly for the way he commands the offense. I love all the little things Garbajosa brings at the 4 but Scola is just a beast in the paint & has been superb the whole tourney. But Spain might have the deciding factor with Gasol. Oberto has been his usual rock solid self, but Pau is & has been one of the best players in the FIBA Worlds.

I know I should probably lean toward Spain because of the decisive factor of Gasol & their recent success vs. Arg., but just something inside me says Argentina. But I waver back-n-forth basically every hour on who I think will win, so maybe don't put too much stock in my prediction. I know it sounds cliche but it might come down to which team shoots the ball better from outside. My best advice is to sit back & enjoy this potential classic int'l matchup.

-Greece (C-1) vs. USA (D-1): I think we are all familiar with Team USA, so I will not spend too much time breaking them down. The US should have a distinct advantage on the boards & possibly do as much damage on the offensive glass as they did vs. Germany. Obviously, the US outside shooting has to be better, if they want to make the game flow smoother. Although, I am not sure what Greece has planned on defensive end since they take tremendous pride in their man2man. Their help rotations are excellent & they get their hands on a lot of balls either leading to steals or just disrupting the opposing offense.

Greece's guards are very smart players, who should do a better job as a whole handling the US ball pressure than did Germany. But Greece did have major issues vs. Brazil when Brazil decided to turn up the defensive pressure in the 4th quarter of their Group C game. Brazil's defense was the impetus that led to a 20-0 run in the 4th that tied the game late, before Greece recaptured control in the last minute. Brazil's perimeter speed is similar to the US, so this could be something to look for.

Greece's defensive numbers do not overwhelm you, but they just find ways to get the job done & keep their opponents score down--holding teams to 68.3 ppg; they're a team you really have to watch to appreciate. Their pressure defense is nearly as good as Team USA's, and they are causing more turnovers per game than the US--22.5, which leads the tourney.

This defense is spearheaded by their oversized combo guards: Dimitris Diamantidis & Theo Papaloukas. Euroleague Defensive Player of the Year PG Diamantidis is just a smart, savvy player who is nothing spectacular but just has a great floor game & is good for a handful of steals per game. He had a classic outing vs. France--13 pts, 8 rebs, & 5 assts. Theo Papaloukas comes off the bench to bring a near carbon copy of Diamantidis's game, but Theo is not much of a shooter.

Greece's main option on offense is dumping the ball into center Lazaros Papadopoulas who can finish his sweet post moves off with retro hook shots with either hand or he will find teammates with his passing skills. Current Houston Rocket PG Vasilies Spanoulis has good size & speed who likes to attack the rim with relentless dribble penetration and also does an admirable job on the defensive end.

A minor flaw for this team is their outside shooting--it's not very good. Is does not help they lost probably their best pure shooter, SG Nikos Zisis, to a broken face thanks to a questionnable elbow from A. Varejao. SF Antonios Fotsis is probably their next best shooter and Diamantidis is known to knock down big shots & has been shooting the 3-ball really well in the tourney (9/18). Greece has kept the turnovers down the last 2 playoffs games--2 vs. China, 8 vs. France.

One problem that could come back to haunt the Greeks in this game is their rebounding. Contrary to what Chris Sheridan has insisted in his recent article, Greece is not a better rebounding club than Germany--as it happens to be, Greece was dead last in rpg in group play. While Germany was actually pretty good--4th overall in rpg (a few spots better than the US) & they outrebounded their opponent by nearly 10 a game. Greece was outrebounded by their opponent by 4 per game.

Ultimately, I feel the Greeks can keep the game close with their defense & conservative style of play, but in the end I don't think they have enough firepower on offense to finally put the US away.


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