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.

How can ARG and ESP compete with USA?

"How can teams like Argentina and Spain compete with all of the NBA stars on Team USA?"

This is a very basic question that was asked to me by a casual fan recently, and I think it's something that commonly perplexes the average American fan.

Obviously, it's a very complex answer, but I at least want to illustrate part of the answer with some pretty basic numbers.

See below for a breakdown of minutes per game at the 2002 Worlds, 2004 Olympics, and 2006 Worlds (players who have played in all 3 events are in bold):


Oberto 27
Sconochini 23
Wolkowisky 23
Ginobili 22
Sanchez 20
Nocioni 20
Scola 18
Montecchia 17
Palladino 16
Fernandez 8

Ginobili 30.0
Scola 25.3
Nocioni 24.1
Oberto 22.7
Wolkowisky 21.8
Montecchia 19.9
Sanchez 18.5
Sconochini 13.8
Hermann 12.8
Fernandez 12.1
Delfino 9.5

Scola 24.4
Oberto 24.1
Sanchez 23.7
Ginobili 21.7
Nocioni 20.4
Wolkowisky 20.0
Delfino 18.7
Hermann 16.7
Prigioni 14.0
Fernandez 10.0


Gasol 30
Garbajosa 29
Navarro 28
Jimenez 23
I Rodriguez 22
Angulo 16
F Reyes 15
Paraiso 15
Marco 13
A Reyes 12
Calderon 6

Gasol 31.9
Calderon 31.4
Garbajosa 26.9
Navarro 23.7
de la Fuentes 19.9
Jimenez 18.3
F Reyes 14.0
Comas 10.7
Fernandez 9.0

Garbajosa 28.6
Gasol 25.9
Jimenez 21.6
Navarro 21.3
Calderon 21.0
Fernandez 19.7
Mumbru 17.1
M Gasol 11.9
B Rodriguez 11.1
Cabezas 10.1
F Reyes 9.5
S. Rodriguez 9.0


Finley 25
Pierce 24
B Wallace 22
A. Miller 22
B. Davis 21
Marion 21
J O'Neal 19
A Davis 18
R Miller 17
Brand 16
LaFrentz 10
J Williams 6

Iverson 27.1
Duncan 26.0
Marbury 26.0
Odom 22.0
Marion 19.6
Jefferson 18.5
Wade 17.5
Boozer 17.1
James 11.4
Stoudemire 7.1
Okafor 7.0
Anthony 6.7

Paul 24.3
James 22.4
Anthony 22.3
Wade 20.5
Hinrich 19.6
Johnson 19.4
Brand 16.7
Battier 14.9
Bosh 14.8
Howard 14.0
Miller 12.5
Jamison 9.0

Argentina has had the same 6 guys in the top 7 in minutes in all three events (if not for injuries to Manu in '02 and Pepe in '04, it might be the same top 6 throughout), with Delfino and Hermann developing through time to naturally inherit the rotation spots of Montecchia and Sconochini.

Spain has had the same 4 guys in the top 6 in minutes in all three events, with Calderon developing through time and Felipe Reyes (who would have more minutes this year if not for injury) a solid rotation guy throughout.

USA has no one who's played in all 3, only 5 who've played in 2 events, only Elton Brand, D-Wade and Marion getting significant minutes in 2 events.

Obviously, this is what J. Colangelo is trying to change with the three-year commitment, but for now, this disparity really shows. ARG and ESP look like exactly what they are: cohesive teams who've played together year in and year out. And it's a big reason why the U.S. is going to have a really tough time winning gold in this tournament.

*P.S. USA '02: Am I the only one who still gets the shakes thinking about Baron Davis throwing entry passes into Ben Wallace with his back to the basket in the low post (wider intl lane, no less!). What terrible point-guard play this team had - that was a much bigger problem than shooting in '02 and '04, IMO.

*P.S. USA '04: that minutes breakdown for the '04 team always provides a good laugh, esp. RJ and C-Booz getting LeBron and Amare's minutes. Great job, Larry. For all of the crap that those players took, the coaches didn't get nearly enough.

Enjoy the semis, people.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

2006 FIBA Worlds-USA 85, Germany 65

- As ugly as a 20-point victory for the US squad can get. I do not think the final score was quite indicative of how competitive the game was. Obviously, Team USA's defense was a major key to this victory, but I think their work on the offensive boards was just as important. I am not really sure what the US second chance point total was (FIBA does not record them), but from what I saw it must have been significant.

Once again, the US defense was superb. The US was effective just in a straight half-court look, shunning most of their traps & doubling. The ball pressure was suffocating, and Germany was having a hell of time trying to run their offense all game (Hinrich was tremendous as usual) The US was also effective single-teaming Dirk with a platoon of Battier, Lebron, Bosh, & a little Melo. Dirk never really went off offensively. The US also did another good job covering the 3pt. line, by not only holding the Germans to 23%, but by only letting 13 attempts. The entire US team did a good job altering & blocking alot of shots, especially in the 2nd half.

On the other hand, the US offense had probably its worst day of the tourney. They finally played against an adequate zone and they could not find the range from outside. If it was not for their dominance of the offensive glass, this game could have been alot more worrisome then it turned out (E. Brand hauled in 5 off. rbs.).

They built some breathing room at the start of the 3rd with some points off of turnovers & some quick run-outs off of missed baskets. Carmelo was a key to this mini-run with some points in transition and a couple 3pts. thrown in--Melo led the team with 19 pts. Lebron started the game off hot, but sort of tailed off as the game went on & was plagued by 7 TOs--Bron did pitch in 13, 5 rebs. & 4 assts. Chris Bosh has really turned the corner & seems to have supplanted A. Jamison in the regular rotation--he had his 3rd straight strong game in a row (10 & 7 on 4/5). Although, D-Wade was downright awful shooting the ball (I saw at least 2 airballs), he still did a decent job driving the seams in the zone to create shots for his teammates (5 assts & 7 rbs). Joe Johnson was the only US player to provide any kind of threat from outside with 3/7 from 3pt., besides Melo.

The German defense can not be faulted with the outcome of this game, they played as well as they could. Granted, they could have done a little bit better on their defensive glass, but that is a necessary evil of a zone. Germany easily played the best zone that the US faced all tourney. It was not just because the US was missing their jumpers, it was because the Germans were not letting huge lanes in their defense like Slovenia & Australia. I thought they were disciplined all game-- their wings & guards at the top did not venture too far from the paint. It also helps that Germany had two 7-footers to deter alot of shots at the rim.

Another good thing about the German zone--was they rarely let any drives deep into the lane. The US only got to the line 15 times, after averaging 32.3 ft attempts per game so far in the tourney. This is what a good zone does. I have been harping on all the benefits of playing a zone vs. the US, and I always point out that it keeps them off the free throw line, if played properly (Wade only got to the line 2 times after averaging 7 attempts per). A zone also does a good job taking the rhythm out of an offense, which it did in this game.

Again, going back to my lesser-of-two-evils theory vs. the US: Would you rather man-up the US & have them shred you apart off the dribble, which often leads to more drawn fouls, or would you rather have them prove themselves from the perimeter? It's a no-brainer--pack in the zone, make the US shoot jumpers, if they are hitting jumpers, live with it. Are you listening Italian coach Recalcati?

Now the offense for Germany was basically non-existent. Dirk never had his jumper working & after he picked up his 3rd foul (2 of which were just ridiculous), he lost any amount of aggressiveness he started the game with. He reverted back to his fadeaway jumpshot mode that he has been criticized for years about in the NBA. Coming into this game, Dirk had been doing a good job doing damage in the paint & using his size advantage. He should have been down in the post more with guys like Battier & Bron guarding him. After halftime, Dirk looked like he was in a fog and was very careless with the ball and continued to settle for fadeaway jumpers, instead of attacking the basket.

I thought Stefan Hamann did a solid job being aggressive on the offensive end and put some pressure on the US defense with his drives. Ademola Okulaja continued his strong play doing a little bit of everyting--he finished with 15 & 9 rebs on 6/7 shooting. The Germans did not help their cause with 24 TOs, some of which were just dumb, unforced errors--Dirk, Okulaja & Hamann each had 5 apiece.

US now faces the highly underrated Greek club. Greece likes to slow down the pace & likes to apply defensive pressure of their own--they cause more turnovers per game then the US. Greece also pounded Germany in the exhibition stage by nearly 40 points and they easily handled Germany in the Gold medal game of last year's Euros. So this team is legit.

2006 FIBA Worlds-Argentina 83, Turkey 58

- Argentina 83, Turkey 59: Argentina was extremely impressive in a near perfect game (besides going thru the motions in the 4th quarter). I can not think of anything to criticize Argentina about besides a few defensive breakdowns in the 1st half (Ironically, they were mostly getting beat on backdoor moves on the baseline). They just thoroughly outplayed Turkey in every aspect. Argentina really put this game away in the 2nd quarter, much like the US did vs. Australia, by flustering the Turkey offense--only 7 points in the quarter.

Another truly communal team effort for the Argentines with multiple guys standing out. Their entire team moved the ball wonderfully. Andres Nocioni was probably the best by scoring which ever way you want: drives, run-outs, floaters, post-ups, & outside jumpers. He finished with 21 pts on 8/10 shooting (2/3 from 3pt.) & 6 rebs. Carlos Delfino continued his stellar play with 14 & 8rebs--Argentina really loses nothing when they go to their bench at the wing positions. Speaking of another back-up wing, Charlotte Bobcat Walter Herrmann once again brought his trademark energy for 8 pts & 4 rbs. And the true unsung hero of the Argentines--Pepe Sanchez--continued conducting the offense like a maestro with his impeccable passing. Luis Scola got shots off in different areas of the painted area all game to pitch in 13 & 6.

Can not forget about their defensive effort which took Turkey out of whatever they wanted to run. Argentina held Turkey to 40 pts thru 3 quarters and never let Turkey get established from long-range--6/19 from 3pt. The only minor problem I saw was the aforementioned breakdowns on some backdoor cuts.

No one on Turkey really deserves much notice since they were completely battered by Argentina. Cenk Aykol showed glimpses of NBA potential (good size & speed)--Atlanta might need him now since they have nothing at PG. He's probably better than Speedy Claxton is now.

This sets up the semifinal clash we have all been waiting for: Argentina-Spain. Should be a classic. Right now, I have no clue which way I am leaning toward--I waver back-n-forth almost hour-to-hour.

Rules: FIBA vs. NBA vs. NCAA

A couple days ago, True Hoop had a post touching upon Johnny Hollinger's rant on why FIBA's rules are so markedly different from the NBA's.

As I've been watching the Worlds, something I've been pondering is what would be my ideal set of rules if we could standardize across the board.

[For reference, here is an excellent site breaking down FIBA vs. U.S. rules.]

Here's what I came up with:
I've really grown to like this thing, which is 12' wide at the FT line, bowing out to 19'8" at the baseline (as opposed to the NBA's 16'). I just like how it spaces the floor, and forces big men to be more skillful than powerful.

From NBA
The international line (20'6") is not quite as ridiculous as the college line (19'9"), which drives me crazy and is a big reason that I have trouble watching the college game, esp. now that they shoot 3's at will. Put it like this: I am several years past my prime, such as it was, yet my fat ass can still get out there right now and knock down 3's from the international and college lines. And that's not right. Make it a man's shot: 23'9" down to 22" in the corner.

One way or the other, this one really needs to be standardized just because it's such an instinctual play that I think it's really unfair to players who aren't used to the rule. Maybe it's because I'm American, but I like the rule that you can't touch it in the cylinder. That said, I'm willing to accept the international rule if that means it's standardized - that's all I want with this one.

I really like this rule. I think it's really cheap when a team allows a guy to penetrate all the way to the goal but then some guy steps in under the hoop to draw a charge, as can be done in FIBA and NCAA. It's not good defense to let a guy get to the basket, and you shouldn't be rewarded for it.

FIBA and NCAA go alternate possession, which is just kind of wussy to me. Jump em up on a held ball and let the players go after it! Jump balls late in close games can really be quite tense and exciting.

I just like how the NBA closes all the little loopholes in terms of things like stopping the clock after buckets in the last two minutes, not allowing fouls prior to the pass on inbounds, its rules on breakaway/clear path fouls etc., although they've gotten way too soft in terms of calling flagrant fouls every time a guy lands awkwardly, regardless of intent.

NBA has none, FIBA has one but only on held balls. I like that the NCAA calls it on the dribble as well. I don't think there's any rule that promotes team play as well as this one. There were rumors that the NBA was going to institute it when they made their big rule changes a couple years ago, and I think it's too bad that it didn't happen.

It just seems unnatural to change a tried-and-true rule in order to articifially up the tempo, as the NBA and FIBA have done is cutting the 10-second count down to 8. But I suppose you could argue that the shot clock and three-point line are just as artifical. So maybe I should just deal with it.

Can't decide
I like to think of myself as a purist, and I really want to support zone defenses with no restrictions, but I have to admit that I like how the NBA's defensive three-second rule opens up the court and forces defenders to have some agility. I'm torn.

Likewise, the 40-minute game feels like the right length for a basketball game, but I'm bred on following the 48-minute game, and I can't really imagine the NBA game at anything but that. [Note: I'm cool with 5 fouls per player in FIBA - 1 foul/8 mins is the right ratio. 6 fouls in 40, like the WNBA has, and the Big East had in its 3-hour-long game era, is awful.]

In general
This falls under the basket interference category - just standardize it one way or the other! Ridiculous that the balls are different sizes.

Thank goodness FIBA has gone to three refs per game - the officiating has been markedly better in Japan as opposed to Athens, when they had two, though there are still decidedly bizarre calls quite often.

2006 FIBA Worlds - Spain 89, Lithuania 67

- What a difference two years makes. In 2004, Spain was the worst three-point shooting team in Athens at 29.9%, in no small part due to Juan Carlos Navarro's anemic 21.9% performance behind the arc. In Japan, Spain is shooting a respectable 37.8% on threes and Navarro has been sizzling at 45.5%. Against Lithuania, J.C. hit 4-9 from downtown en route to a 22-point game. In the Round of 16, it was his backcourt-mate Calderon who was everywhere; vs. LTU, it was Navarro who did it all - penetrating for hoops and dishes in addition to knocking down jumpers.

- What a difference two years makes. In 2004, Lithuania worked the ball around beautifully, setting up open shots seeming at will as they ended up shooting 47.5% on threes. In 2006, that flow dried up, open shots were harder to come by, and they shot just 31.0% on threes as a team.

Against Spain, they were just 6-22 behind the arc, but that doesn't come anywhere near telling the story. Their perimeter players looked downright helpless - as bad as China's guards looked against Greece - as they committed what Marv would call a "festival of turnovers" - 28 overall. Sure, Spain played good D as usual, but many turnovers were completely careless and ill-advised passes. 19-year-old Mantas Kalnietis showed flashes of potential, but overall, he was eaten alive - he's more suited for the World Juniors than the big boys at this stage.

- In general, Lithuania looked like it was ready to catch the first plane to Vilnius. They came out in a lethargic zone that surrendered two quick wide-open threes, and it was downhill from there.

Strangely, leading scorer Arvydas Macijauskas did not start, and then possibly more strangely, when he came in, LTU made no attempt to set him up for shots or get him the ball. He ended with a big donut - 0 points on 0-2 shooting - and Spain didn't even do anything special on him beyond solid man-to-man.

All in all, a sad display by this proud basketball nation. Where have you gone, Saras?

- Spain broke the game open with a 15-0 run that spanned the 1st and 2nd quarters and a good chunk of it was keyed by their strong second unit, which really got out into the open court nicely. Rudy Fernandez had another highlight-reel game with 10 points and a few dunks, including another nice alley connection with Spanish Chocolate.

Adding to the Spanish depth, big man Felipe Reyes made his return to the lineup with a solid 4 pts, 5 reb, 3 stl in 14 min.

I thought that the USA would have a big advantage in depth in this tourney, but really, all of the remaining teams are pretty solid down to players 9 and 10.

- Oh by the way, Pau was his utterly efficient self - 25 points, 9 boards, 3 blk in 28 mins. Dude's averaging 21 pts on 62% FG in 26 mpg for the tournament.

- Stock up on the caffeine now: we've got Spain vs. Argentina on Friday, baby. 3:30 a.m. ET, 12:30 a.m. out here in the PT.

Monday, August 28, 2006

2006 FIBA Worlds-Quarterfinals Preview (Part II)

Quarterfinal games to be played on Wed. morning-8/30 (in the US):

- USA (D-1) vs. Germany (B-2): The number one issue for the US in this game-- is how to defend Dirk. I am very curious how Coach K will go about this, and I am not quite positive how he will approach it.

I have to think Battier will start off as the primary defender on Dirk and I have to assume that Coach K will send doubles early & often to get the ball out of his hands; at least that's what I would do. It's not like you have to worry if you double Dirk that Jason Terry or Jerry Stackhouse are unaccounted for--leaving Stefan Hamann & Patrick Femerling does not quite measure up.

Although, SG Demond Greene can't be taken lightly, because he is one of the better outside shooters in this tourney. I got to believe Bosh, Lebron, & Joe Johnson could also see some minutes defending Dirk. Brand could also be a possiblity, sort of like Udonis Haslem, but I'm not sure-- he is playing the 5 in FIBA, and this would create a mismatch on Femerling, which probably will not kill Team USA, but Femerling could take some advantage of it since he is not a total stiff.

I have to think Germany will play a fair amount of zone. They did it in the '04 exhibition which was a low scoring affair where the US needed a Iverson last-second heave to avoid overtime. The last two times the Germans played the US they had competitive games: the aforementioned exhibition & a 2002 Worlds pool play game. The final score of the '02 game was a bit misleading considering the Germans were neck-n-neck with the Americans until right at the end of the 3rd, where the US went on a fluky run in the matter of seconds to change the momemtum. I remember Dirk single-handedly dismantling the US in that game. So it's not crazy to think that Dirk could single-handedly keep this game very close. Another thing to remember is that Germany is a good rebounding club--outrebound opponents by 10 per.

I believe US's superior depth will eventually wear down the Germans. But the Germans are a solid outside shooting club--Greene & Sven Schultze is a big who can float out. Ex-Tarheel Ademola Okulaja has been having a solid tourney basically being the Shane Battier of Germany, but with a little more variety on offense & giving more on the boards. So, the US needs to prepare a little for the role players, not just Dirk.

-Greece (C-1) vs. France (A-2): Do you prefer grind-it out defensive-minded basketball ? Well, do you? Because if you're a big fan of Phoenix Suns-style basketball maybe you should not tune into this game. These teams take a tremendous amount of pride in their defensive acumen. A rematch of the great 2005 Euro semifinal that France choked away in the last minute and Dimitris Diamantidis made a huge 3.

It's lucky for France their defense is so good, because their offense is a disaster. I have been pointing out all summer how I thought this team was overrated, even with Parker, and I would always point out how their outside shooting was the worst of any contending team. Well, the French have done me one better, and not only do they stink compared to title contenders, they are the absolute worst outside shooting team in the entire tourney-- a terrible 23.4% from 3pt. (something I do not think Parker would change any).

Mickeal Gelabale & Mamoutou Diarra are the only two guys to even be mildly concerned about from outside. Why you would ever come out of a zone or sagging man vs. France is beyond me. I wish the Angolan coach would have figured this fact out before the tail end of the 3rd quarter (He must have been hanging out with the Italian coach a little too much).

France does offset their lackluster offensive production to a degree by holding opponents to 37.7% overall & 26.5% from deep. France is also one of the top rebounding teams in the tourney--they finished 3rd overall in group play for rpg, but still only outrebound their opponent by 3 a game. While Greece was dead last in rpg (24.8) in group play, but they only get outrebounded by 4 a game. It will be interesting if this plays a big role in the outcome of the game.

People are raving about Team USA's stifling defense, but as always Greece seems to be an afterthought in this tourney. The defensive numbers do not overwhelm you, and some APBR-metricians will disagree that Greece's defense is that proficient, but they just find ways to get the job done; 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--24, which leads the tourney. Although France does take pretty good care of the ball--only 12.6 TOs per--so something has to give in this game.

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. Theo Papaloukas comes off the bench to bring a near carbon copy of Diamantitidis's game & Theo was a huge factor in putting the China game out of reach.

Current Houston Rocket PG Vasilies Spanoulis brings great energy off the bench either by attacking the rim with relentless dribble penetration or relentless ball pressure on defense. 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.

Greece's offense just flows better in my opinion, better ball movement & a little bit better shooting, and I think this will push them thru to a likely semifinal showdown vs. the US. Boris Diaw has to take his play to the next level, because his play so far has been lukewarm at best. If this French offense is going to getting a kind of consistent flow, it has to start with Diaw.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

2006 FIBA Worlds-Quarterfinals Preview (Part I)

Quarterfinal Games to be played on Tuesday morning- 8/29 (in US):

- Argentina (A-1) vs. Turkey (C-2): Argentina looked pretty good once again vs. NZ, besides the putrid 3pt. shooting, but do probably face their stiffest comp of the Worlds so far in Turkey. The San Antonio contingent of Manu, Oberto, & Luis Scola basically did all the damage in the Round of 16 game, but Argentina probably will need the improved services of A. Nocioni, W. Herrmann, C. Delfino, Pepe vs. Turkey.

Turkey shot the ball very well vs. Slovenia--54.2% from the floor, 43.8% from 3pt.--and they're very capable of continuing at this kind of clip. Serkan Erdogen (who hit for 24 vs. Slovenia) & Ibrahim Kutluay can get lethally hot from outside, while MIlwaukee Buck Ersan Ilyasova can't be left alone either. Although Ilyasova sat out the last 2 games with a leg injury, and his status is still not determined. Their solid rotation of bigs have the ability to neutralize Scola & Oberto. The athletic Kerem Gonlum has had a good tourney (he was great in the Italy game) & wide-body Kaya Pekar does a solid overall job. 7-foot Fatih Solak just takes up alot of space defensively and Ermel Kurtoglu provides an array of nifty post moves off the bench. Young Atlanta Hawk draftee PG Cenk Aykol had a nice showing in the Slovenia game (11 pts.) causing problems with his speed & should be an interesting matchup for Pepe Sanchez.

It might be in Turkey's best interest to throw some zone at Argentina to see if they have a repeat performance in the perimeter shooting department. Also, 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.

Although I would not be stunned with a Turkey upset, Argentina seems to be on a mission & have been a pretty fine-tuned machine so far, and I just can't see Turkey derailing them.

- Spain (B-1) vs. Lithuania (C-3): Before everyone gets prepared for a potential classic semifinal matchup between Spain & Argentina, Spain still has to deal with Lithuania, who's no pushover. Spain was a little off their usual torrid offensive play vs. Serbia--they shot 46.6% overall & 30% from 3pt. after shooting 54.6% overall & 44% from 3pt. in group play. They also had an uncharacteristic 21 TOs. But they continued to play their legendary tight defense--holding Serbia to 38.2% from the field & 28.6% from deep.

Where Spain has a distinct advantage is at the point with Jose Calderon, who has been nothing short of spectacular so far. Even though young PG Mantas Kalnietis had a nice game vs. Italy, he's no match for probably the best int'l PG outside the US. Juan Navarro can cancel out the play of Arvydas Macijauksas, which leaves it up to the Lithuania frontline, including Denver Nugget Linas Kleiza, to step up to the plate.

Lithuania has the ability to contain Gasol with a very good rotation of bigs, similar to Turkey. Roberto Javtokas is a good, strong athlete whose calling card is defense, while the Lavrinovic twins & Darius Songalia can also spend sometime on Pau. Lithuania has not been showcasing their patented ball movement & shooting in this tourney, but are still finding ways to win. They are looking to isolate Macijauskas more and Lithuania has not really shot the ball up to their reputation in this tourney, but they are always in danger of getting hot from outside. I am not sure Macijauksas will able to go one-on-one too often vs. the stellar defense of Spain, so I think Lithuania is going to have to get more creative offensively than they have.

Just like with Turkey, I would not be stunned if Lithuania pulled off the upset. But just like in Argentina's case, Spain has been a force all summer, and I can't see them getting knocked off in the quarters. Which should set up one of the most anticipated clashes in int'l basketball history: a semifinal of Argentina & Spain.

2006 FIBA Worlds-Round of 16 Sunday Recap

Analysis of Round of 16 games played on Sat. Nite/Sun Morn. (8/27):

-USA 113, Australia 73: If the US is going to shoot the ball like this every game, might as well hand them the gold medal now. I felt this was the most impressive all-around game the US has played so far. They were drilling their outside shots all game, and when that happens they are nearly unstoppable.

Also, the US did a great job in the 2nd quarter of hounding Australia defensively in the halfcourt after a 1st quarter where the US was having some defensive breakdowns--they held the Aussies to only 6 pts in the quarter.

Overall, the US did their best job guarding the 3-point line, which was important vs. Australia (6/25 from deep). They also forced the Aussies into 24 TOs, but that was not that surprising since the Aussies averaged 20 per in group play.

It was another collabortive effort for Team USA, with no one guy standing out above the rest. I thought Joe Johnson (18 pts.) had a great all-around game and was hitting a variety of shots. Shane Battier continued to be the ultimte glue guy & continued to be Team USA's most reliable catch & shoot option (4/5 from 3pt for 12 pts.). Chris Bosh had his second strong game in a row after being relegated to 11th man status with 12 & 9. D-Wade just kept on winding his way thru the defense to either create looks for himself or for teammates (15 & 4 assts.).

Andrew Bogut led the overmatched Aussies with 20 & 6 rebs. Future draft prospect Brad Newley added 15 pts. Up next for the US is Germany who barely escaped an upset at the hands of Nigeria.

I will be interested how the US will defend Dirk: I have to assume Battier will be the primary defender and the US will send doubles to get the ball out of his hands.

-France 68, Angola 62: It was not a pretty game to watch but that is how France likes it. Angola could not get any rhythm going in the halfcourt all game, & that was due mostly to France's great defense--Angola was held to 37% overall. In the first half, it seemed that Angola could only get offense in transition, the half-court was a fruitless struggle.

France's offense was flowing as well as I've seen it in this tourney. They were doing a good job getting good looks in the paint. Boris Diaw was noticably more aggressive offensively, including a flying slam in the half-court (14, 5rbs, but 5 TOs). Current Seattle Sonic Mickeal Gelabale was doing a nice job getting good looks to combine with tremendous activity on the defensive end (his defensive prowess is a godsend for Seattle, he needs to see serious minutes behind Rashard & Ray). Florent Pietrus once again brought great all-around energy with 8 & 7 rebs. Tony Parker's replacement Ay Jeanneau did a solid job running the club, and brought something that Parker could not even bring--some good outside shooting (2/3 from deep), which is desparately needed on this team. Mamoutu Diarra came off the bench and continued to be the only Frenchmen who can provide any kind of consistent perimeter shooting (2/4 from 3pt.).

Why the Angolan coach waited until the middle of the 2nd half to switch to a zone, I am not sure. When he did, France's offense started to sputter (not surprisingly), and this kept Angola is striking distance--granted Diarra hit 2 3pts vs. the zone, France was not getting quality possessions after possessions like they were getting in the 1st half.

But Angola could not capitalize on their 2nd half defense because their offense could get no flow. They either had a hard time getting shots off in the interior because of their lack of size or they would have spotty shot selection

When France misses outside shots they miss them badly--they just lack good natural shooters, even Diarra has a weird shot release. I would never come out of a packed-in zone or extreme sagging man vs. France, never.

-Germany 78, Nigeria 77: For the first 3 quarters this game was not very interesting and had no vibe. But things started to pick up in the 4th, and Nigeria would not go down quietly.

Germany was pretty sharp out of the gates and were getting great looks offensively & knocking down their outside looks. Dirk was not only doing a good job scoring, but also setting up his teammates with some nice draw & dishes (Dirk had 5 assts). Nigeria stuck close the whole 1st half, and ex-Texas Longhorn Gabe Muoneke played a big part with his outside shooting--he hit two back2back 3s near the end of the 1st to cut into the German lead.

A very uneventful 3rd quarter where both teams could only score 14 points apiece, but Muoneke kept up the hot hand & Current U of Maryland forward Ekenne Ibekwe added some big jumpers. Nigeria tighten up their defense in the 2nd half forcing the Germans into jumper mode, where they could not find the mark.

But Ademola Okulaja saved the day for the Germans with two 3-pointers & one 3-point play the old-fashioned way off a nice drive in the 4th. I thought the game was over after Mithat Demieral made a big steal that led to a Dirk dunk with 2 minutes left that pushed the lead to 7, but Nigeria hung tough. After forcing a shot clock violation, Nigeria had a chance to win with about 6 seconds left, but NY Knick Ime Udoka missed a driving lay-in that Dirk definitely effected.

Dirk once again led the Germans with 23, 9 rebs, & 5 assts--he did a great job finding his teammates after drawing defenders, something he must do vs. the US. Ex-Tarheel Ademoka Okulaja had another huge all-around game with 19 pts., 8 rebs & 4/7 from 3pt. land. I told to you in my playoff preview to watch out for Ekenne Ibekwe & his high-wire act, he did not disappoint. He continued to really impress me with his great athleticism & activity--22 pts., 10 rebs & 3 rebs--including a couple sweet finishes. Gabe Muoneke had another solid game, especially stepping out of the interior to do some damage this time--16, 5 rebs, 4 assts & 3/5 from 3pt. Ime Udoka had a rare rough night with 5 TOs & 3/11 from the floor, including the last miss at the buzzer.

- Greece 95, China 64: Greece keeps taking care of business. I am little surprised with the score because it's not Greece's style to blowout their opponents. Amazingly, Greece got off 26 more shot attempts than China, which probably has something to do with forcing 23 TOs, and only giving up 2 of their own.

Greece's offense might have had their best performance of the tourney by shooting 51.4 % overall, and shooting better than normal from 3pt, even without Zisis--50%. Theo Papaloukas had another super all-around game with 19 pts., 6 rebs., & 5 steals. Always steady PG Dimis Diamantidis was his usual efficient self with 7 pts., 4 rebs, 3 assts & 3 steals. Recent Houston Rocket signee PG Vasillis Spanoulis came off the bench to provide an outside threat with 3/6 from deep.

Greece's rock solid defense totally shut down Yao Ming, who only got off 5 shots for 10 pts. Wang Shipeng was the only other Chinese player to get double figures (16 & 6)

The Greece-France matchup should be a defensive battle, where both teams could struggle to score with any consistency. I do not expect a high-scoring affair at all--were looking in the 60s, maybe low 70s, it will be by no means a pretty game.

FIBA Worlds--Greece 95, China 64

Vanilla Thunder's take on the Greece-China quarterfinal tilt:

-China jumped out to an early lead as they hit a couple threes, didn't turn the ball over, and seemed to feed off some nice fan support.

-Then Greece brought in V. Spanoulis (about to join Rockets) and Euro-stud Theo Papaloukas and things changed in a big way. These two guards changed everything with their ball-hawking pressure on defense and penetration on offense. Spanoulis looks like he should be able to help the Rockets as a backup at least - he seems to fit the Van Gundy mentality with the way he attacks on D. Papaloukas is just a playmaker on both ends - he was everywhere.

-This was my first look at Greece in the tourney. I went into this game thinking that the U.S. would just be too talented for Greece in a potential semifinal matchup, but after seeing the Greeks, I think they're really going to be a tough out, b/c they are so scrappy and smart as a team. Also, they have a bunch of great penetrators on O - and we know how much trouble that has caused Team USA.

-The story re: China's failures was the same as always - atrocious floor games by their guards. Beyond the extreme turnover differential, they simply could not get the ball into Yao. 5 shots! Big fella had to be unbelievably frustrated.

-To that point, China's 17-year-old point guard Chen Jianghua got some run - and he's an interesting prospect. He's way too green to be effective - Greece's guards really preyed upon him with success - but he really does have good speed and dribble moves. There's a little bit of And1 flair in the young fella. Obviously, he needs to polish things quite a bit, but he could be a revolutionary player in China - first of all, if he can simply become an effective point guard, but also if he can become a guy who plays with style. (Search on 'Chen Jianghua' on if you have the TimesSelect product - there was an NYT Mag feature on Chinese basketball including him back in 2003.)

-Despite playing ferocious, suffocating defense, Greece once again strangely gave up a high FG% - China shot 52.1%. I'm guessing they're leaving more open shots than I realize with their gambling D. This could really be the story of the game if they meet the U.S. - can Paul, Hinrich & co. keep the TOs low and can the guys continue to hit the open shots when they arise.

I know I'm getting ahead myself b/c France certainly has a shot vs. Greece, but I'm expecting the four favorites to prevail in the quarters, and I absolutely can't wait for the semis.

Friday, August 25, 2006

2006 FIBA Worlds-Round of 16 Preview (part II)

Games to be played on Sat. nite/Sun morn. (in US).

- Germany (B-2) vs. Nigeria (A-3): Well, I thought that Dirk would be able to curtail his minutes in Group B, but Angola put a crimp in that plan. Dirk has just been Dirk: 25 ppg & 10.6 rpg. Doing the same things he does in the NBA, but with a little bit more willingness to work down low. Germany is pretty much a one-trick pony & if Dirk is off, they could easily lose this game. The only other German in double figures is sharpshooting SG Demond Greene at 12.2. Former Tarheel Ademoka Okulaja has been a good glue guy for Germany with his defense, rebounding (5.2) & his effective post game. Germany has done a very good job on the boards-- outrebounding their opponents by 10 a game.

I don't think Nigeria should be discounted. They have looked pretty solid in group play and have a nice collection of well-built athletes. They are led by NY Knick Ime Udoka, who has been doing a solid job playing out of position at the PG for the Nigerians. He does an efficient job running the offense and has a nice floor game, doing a little of everything (15.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg, & 4 assts). Former Texas Longhorn Gabe Muoneke has done a good job using his strength & athleticism to command respect in the paint (10.8 & 4 rpg). Former Oklahoma Sooner Ebi Ere, another good athlete, provides Nigeria with one of the few servicable shooters they have--Nigeria shot 29% from 3pt. Watch out for current Maryland Terrapin Ekenne Ibekwe (6 & 6 rpg), who is good for a few high-wire finishes per game.

Germany really struggled putting away Angola who used their speed to constantly attack the paint, so I could see the Germans struggling the same way vs. Nigeria. Although NIgeria's offense can go thru some rough patches where they have trouble hitting shots.

-USA (D-1) vs. Australia (C-4): I think the US lucked out a little having the Aussies slip in over Brazil. The Aussies really don't matchup well at all & really should not be a concern for Team USA. We pretty know what we get with the US, and expect their pressure defense to work wonders in this game since the Aussies average 20 TOs per. The US should command the board battle as well, as the Aussies are severely undersized outside of Bogut and start a 6-6 PF. Although, one thing the US has been a little spotty at is guarding the 3pt. line and this is the Aussies' bread-n-butter.

The Aussies' offense revolves around them looking for outside looks even more than going thru Bogut--the Aussies have shot 41.4% from 3pt. Andrew Bogut has had a solid tourney with 11.4 ppg & 6.2 rpg and plenty of nice passes, but he still needs to get more touches and look to get up more shots. They have a pretty solid PG in CJ Bruton who does a nice job running this club (13 ppg). An underrated player to watch for is jack-of-all-trades forward Sam Mackinnon who does all the little things (7.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.5 assts, & good for some steals).

The Aussies like to mix up their defenses & I expect them to show alot of zone. But even with that, they just do not have enough firepower overall to hang for very long.

-France (A-2) vs. Angola (B-3): Do not just hand this game to France; Angola is legit & very dangerous. I thought Angola was a fluke as well but then I saw how they played Spain & Germany, and I became a believer.

I've been saying that France is somewhat overrated all summer (even with Parker) and I always pointed to the fact that they had a major flaw--outside shooting. Well, I thought they would be bad, but they have been atrocious, the worst in the whole tourney--21.7% from 3pt. to go with 38,4% overall. This has led to really looking ragged on the offensive end & not putting up a ton of points. Boris Diaw has probably been their best player, but still has not played up to his potential; he needs to give more, if France wants to advance. Florent Pietrus totally outplayed his NBA-employed brother with 11.2 ppg & 6.6 rpg and just playing with great energy. Current Sonic Mickeal Gelabale has been alright overall & has been one of the few Frenchmen with any success fron long-range (35.7%). Mamoutu Diarra is basically the only other guy to be mildly concerned with from outside (38.5%). Former NY Knick draftee Fred Weis has been pretty solid on both ends of the floor, and has looked as least as good as Jerome James, so maybe Isiah can tender him a $30 mil offer.

Angola has been the surprise of the tourney. I was a little skeptical when they went 3-0 out of the gates vs. Panama, Japan, & New Zealand, but they made me a believer when they gave Spain their closest game & they battled Germany to 3 overtimes. They are a very scrappy, undersized ballclub that likes to constantly be on the attack, especially getting into the paint on offense. Joaquim Gomes likes to finish in the paint & will draw fouls (16 & 8.6 rpg). Olimpio Cipriano is probably their best shooter (14.2 on 42.3 from 3pt.) who went berserk from deep vs. Germany in the 2nd half. They also get help in the paint from athletic Ed Mingas with 15.8 ppg & 7.6 rpg. Although their key weapon might be PG Milton Barros who creates so much havoc on both ends with his speed & relentless attacking with the dribble. If I am Angola I would be crazy not to sit in a zone and let France brick away from outside. I really feel this game is a toss-up.

-Greece (C-1) vs. China (D-4): Much like Germany, China is a one-man gang, but Yao does not even have the surrounding cast of Dirk. Yao has done his part by leading the tourney in scoring with 28.4 ppg on 64% shooting with 9.3 rpg. Besides him there is not much: Wang Zhi Zhi has been decent with 9.6 ppg & 50% from deep & Wang Shipeng is the only other Chinese player in double figures with 10.6.

Gritty Greece is the ultimate definition of a team. It's really hard to say who is their best player & they really don't have anyone who's spectacular, just a great collection of smart, savvy basketball players. A team that is much better than the sum of their parts. Even though some APBR-metricians might beg to differ (Greece's Def. FG % was 47.7 in Group B), Greece's defense is excellant. Their help rotations are the best I've seen, outside of maybe Spain, they just make the opponent work so hard for their shots. One thing they do better than any team, even better than the US, is force turnovers--24 per in group play. This is usually led by the handiwork of Euroleague Defensive Player of the Year Dimis DIamantidis who averages 4 steals per. Offensively, this team will not overwhelm you with their talent, but they usually do just enough to win the game. They like to dump the ball into center Lazaros Papadopoulas alot where he likes to showcase his nice footwork to get off his hook shots or he will find guys with his passing skills (9.8 ppg & 2 assts). Combo forward Antonios Fotsis is probably the most naturally gifted Greek player with a good inside/outside game & pretty good athleticism. With Nikos Zisis out with a busted face, Fotsis is the best outside shooter left on a weak outside shooting team.

I see Greece pulling out this game. The score might not be a blowout, but that is just because of Greece's deliberate style of play on both ends. China should try some zone out to force Greece to prove themselves from outside--this has been Greece's Achilles Heel even when Zisis was healthy (31% from 3pt.). This might be the only chance China has at pulling an upset.

2006 FIBA Worlds-Round of 16 Preview (part I)

Games to be played on Friday night/Sat. morning (in US):

-Argentina (A-1) vs. New Zealand (B-4): Argentina should breeze thru this game. Even after a sluggish performance vs. Serbia, they still showed great toughness by winning a game that meant nothing to them, besides going undefeated in group play. It's really hard to pick out the most impressive player so far, since the wealth is so spread out. Take your pick: Manu, Luis Scola, Nocioni, Pepe Sanchez, Walter Herrmann, or Delfino, they all have been superb. Argentina is shooting 50 % overall & 41 % from 3pt. Their outside shooting use to be a little spotty but guys like Manu & Nocioni have refined their stroke over the last couple years.

New Zealand backed their way into the last Group B spot and really do not deserve a berth, it just happens that Group B is so weak. They have not shot the ball well at all--40.3 % overall & 30.3 %. Former Wisconsin PG Kirk Penney has led the way with 14.2 per game and is followed up by the rotund Pero Cameron's 13.8 per game--both guys are shooting a respectable 39% from deep. The only other NZ player of note is current Winthrop University center Craig Bradshaw who pitches in with 11.4 & 6.4 rebs per. Argentina should be on their way to a matchup vs. the winner of the Turkey-Slovenia tilt.

- Italy (D-2) vs. Lithuania (C-3): Should be a competitive game. The outside shot is a big part of both teams' offensive attack, but both teams have been uncharacteristicly subpar from the 3pt.--Italy-35.5% & Lith.-31.5. But don't be fooled by those numbers because both teams have multiple guys who can get real hot & bury jumpers. Lithuania has Arvydas Macijauskas who is one of the deadliest shooters in the world. He has been a little off with his shot (37% from 3pt.), but is still 50% overall and adds 3 rebs & 3 assts a game.

Lithuania does have one distinct advantage in this game--their frontline. They have a good rotation of 4 bigs that Italy can't match up with in the painted area. Darius Songaila has been his steady self with 12.4 ppg & 6 rpg on 52.2% shooting. Darjus Lavrinovic provides a versatile big offensively--9.4 ppg, 5 rpg & 5/6 from 3pt. SA Spur draftee Robert Javtokas brings a strong athlete who is limited offensively, but does a great job on the boards & defensively. Lithuania's defense has been a slight surprise by holding teams to 39.4% overall & 33.1% from 3pt. This combined with them being the best rebounding team in the preliminary round--38.8 per, & 12 rpg more than their opponent. But their 20 TOs per game in group play is something that could come back to haunt them.

Italy likes to play a more methodical pace and does a good job taking care of the ball--11 TOs per. They have been led by lottery-bound SG Marco Belinelli who has averaged 14.4 ppg, but needs to sharpen his shot selection--34.8% overall & 27.3% from deep. With his crazy athleticism he needs to drive more instead of jacking up off-balance jumpers. Matteo Soragna is another solid shooter for Italy who has pitched in 11.4 ppg on 52.6% overall. Somewhat disappointing has been the play of Gianluca Basile, who had a great 1st game but really fell off the next 4 games--8.2 on 35% from both the field & 3pt. But again he his extremely dangerous in a one game scenario because he's as pure a shooter as Macijauskas. Wily veteran Denis Marconato provides a big to throw at the Lith. bigs. This game is a toss-up in my mind, could possibly come down to which team gets hotter from outiside, but I'm leaning toward Lith. because of their frontline, but watch for the turnover difference.

-Turkey (C-2) vs. Slovenia (D-3): Another game that should project to be a good one. Turkey has been a small surprise by finally playing well together. Slovenia was a small disappointment with the way they finished off their group play being upset by China, and needing Italy to barely hold off Puerto Rico to slip back into the playoffs.

Turkey has been led by their sharp shooters Serkan Erdogan (15.5 ppg) & former Sonic Ibrahim Kutluay (12.8). Their shooting percentages have not been super but believe me these guys can bury it from outside--Kutluay is on the same level as Macijauksas & Basile. They have a nice rotation of bigs, no one who is great, but just good by committee. Athletic Kerem Gonlum has been very active off the bench with 10.2 & 6 rebs on 67%. Kaya Pekar is a nice big body who does a little bit of everything (8.2 & 6). Ermel Kurtoglu uses his great footwork to give Turkey a nice post option. Fatih Solak does a decent job by just taking up alot of space. And their secret weapon is young Milwaukee Buck Ersan Ilyasova, the kid is legit. He has solid numbers of 10 ppg on 45.2% overall & 53.8% from 3pt., but he shows glimpses of NBA starter talent like step-back 3pts. Their free throw shooting is a little bit of a worry--63.4%.

Slovenia has pretty good balance on their roster where 6 players have averaged between 10 to 13 ppg. Both NBA bigs Primo Brezec & Rasho Nestorvic have been consistently solid with each guy averaging around 12 ppg & 6-7 rpg and both being a presence in the middle. Slovenia also was the 2nd best 3pt shooting team in group play with a stellar 46%. Undersized speedster Jaka Lakovic is both dangerous with the dribble & from outside (he's shooting a blistering 67% from 3pt.) and leads Slovenia with 13.4 ppg. I felt NJ Nets Bostjan Nachbar has provided a nice spark of energy for this team and has showcased more athleticism then I realized (he is pitching in 10 & 5rpg). Like the Ita-Lith game, this one could possibly just come down to which team is hotter from outside.

-Spain (B-1) vs. Serbia (A-4): Like with Argentina, its difficult to pick out who 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--21.4 ppg, 8 rpg, & 2 blks on 69%. Juan Navarro has looked great as well and has continued to show his improved shooting stroke--45% from 3pt. Toronto's Jose Calderon, draft prospect Rudy Fernandez and recent Toronto signee Jorge Garbajosa have also been great. Spain pretty much cruised thru Group B with a point differential of 28 ppg, even pounding their closest comp Germany. They have shot the ball great--54.6% overall-- and really have improved upon their 3pt shooting--44%--which use to be a significant flaw for this team. Their renown defense has stayed the same--39.7%-- and they play the finest zone in the tourney.

Serbia really is just a two-man show: former T-Wolf Igor Rakoveic & Darko Milicic. Igor has been one of the top players in the FIBA Worlds & has kept this young team afloat with his deadly combo of outside shooting & blistering drives to the rim. He's up there with Gasol on the scoring leaderboard with 20 ppg on 55.7% from the floor & 50% from 3pt. This guy definitely needs another shot in the NBA. The much maligned Darko has continued his summer of redemption with showing off his outside shooting touch & sweet post moves for 15.8 ppg & 8.2 rpg. He also has set a tone by being one of the most imposing physical presences in the tourney right up there with Dwight Howard--3 blocks per & numerous changed shots.

Darko could possibly neutralize Pau & Igor could easily do the same to Navarro, so if Serbia's role players step up big in this game this could be more competitive than Spain would have liked for a 1st round game. I expect Spain to come away with this one, but would not be stunned if Serbia gives a run for their money before finally fading down the stretch do to Spain's superior talent & depth.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

2006 FIBA World Champs--Thursday Roundup

- USA 103, Senegal 58: Not much to take away from this game, basically just a scrimmage. Chris Bosh finally got some good minutes & he delivered with 20 & 10 on 7/9. This could be the confidence booster he needs for the playoff round after really struggling most of the summer. Bron had 17 pts in 18 minutes on 7/8 shooting. Melo kept up his sweet shooting stroke by hitting 4/7 from 3pt. land. Team USA faces Australia next & I do not see too much of a problem for the US. Australia turns the ball over alot (20 per in 5 games) & they do not have much size outside of Bogut. The only thing to be concerned about is keeping track of the Aussies' 3pt. shooting.

- Nigeria 95, Lebenon 72: Nigeria pulled off a must win game fairly easily & secured the 3-seed in Group A. Former Oklahoma Sooner Ebi Ere led the Nigerians with 19 pts. NY Knick Ime Udoka had another solid all-around game running the offense with 10 pts., 7 rebs., & 9 assts. (maybe the Knicks have a decent back-up PG on their hands who's unselfish). Current Maryland Terrapin Ekenne Ibekwe tallied 12 & 8 and ex-Texas Longhorn Gabe Muoneke continued his strong effort with 11 pts. Now it's on to face Germany in the round of 16, and if they pull that upset off, they have the reward of playing the US in the quarterfinals.

- France 81, Venezuela 61: France rebounded from their last second lost to Lebanon the nite before by laying the hammer down on Venezuela. But once again the French showed their major issues with outside shooting--they were 3/22 from the 3pt. line. Florent Pietrus continued his strong play with 19 (9/10 fts) & 8. Florent has been outplaying his NBA-employed brother, Mickeal, and maybe it's time a NBA tryout or contract should be tendered to him. Boris Diaw was solid with 11 pts., but he has not been playing up to his potential so far & really needs to turn up his effort in playoffs for the French to get far. But once again Fred Weis had another strong showing with 10 pts. & 6 rebs (4 off.). France plays surprising Angola in the 1st round, and should not take them lightly, just ask Dirk & Germany.

- New Zealand 65, Panama 54: Even though N. Z. doesn't deserve a playoff spot with their lackluster play, someone had to get the final spot in Group B. Former Wisconsin standout Kirk Penney led the way with 16 pts. The Charles Barkley of New Zealand, Pero Cameron, had 14 on 4/7 from downtown. Current Winthrop Univ. star center Craig Bradshaw had 17 & 8. But New Zealand better enjoy this victory now, because it should be their last: they get Argentina next.

- Spain 104, Japan 55: Like the US game, basically just a scrimmage where Spain can rest their players. Spain did keep up their improved 3pt. shooting--46 %. Pau led the way with 21, 16, & 4 blocks. Guard Juan Navarro showed off his improved shooting stroke going 3/3 from deep for 18 pts. Toronto Raptor Jose Calderon pitched in 7 assts & jack-of-all-trades PF Jorge Garbajosa brought 12 pts., 7 rebs., & 4 steals. Spain has Serbia in the 1st round and this game could be a tougher test then Spain would have hoped for in the round of 16.

- Australia 93, Qatar 46: Australia finally got a break from the rigorous nightly competition in Group C with the lightweight of the group. And they need the rest, since the US waits in the 1st round. Australia continued its sharp 3pt. shooting--45%. Andrew Bogut gave the Aussies 10, 7 & 4 assts, but still needs to take more shots (5/8). Mark Wortington chipped in with 17, 5 rbs. on 4/5 from deep. Jason Smith was also hot from deep--4/7 for 16. Australia will have to keep their turnovers down the next game--they have averaged 20 per game in group play.

- Italy 73, Puerto Rico 72: Italy held off P.R. in a game that saw both offenses struggle. Italy shot 24% from 3pt & P.R. shot 28.6%. Veteran big Denis Marconato led the way for Italy with 10 pts & 8, and ex-Princeton Tiger Mason Rocca was the only other Italian in double figures with 10. Larry Ayuso had another explosive scoring nite with 25 pts. and Rick Apodaca added 12 & 9 rbs. for Puerto Rico. Italy now faces Lithuania in the 1st round and it should make for a competitive game.

*--I will have more in-depth recaps for the following games later today: Germany 108, Angola 103 (3 OT); China 78, Slovenia 77; Lithuania 79, Brazil 74; Greece 76, Turkey 69

2006 FIBA World Champs--Argentina 83, Serbia 79

--Carlos Delfino saves the day. Delfino continued his stellar play this summer with a huge offensive lift off the bench for the Argentines. Soon after entering the game in the 2nd half, Carlos made his presence known with a 3-pointer to spark a sluggish Argentina. Then followed it up the next possession with a beautiful dish to Ruben Wolkowisky to help trim the Serbia lead to 68-66. A little later, Carlos hit a nice pull-up, then soon after added another sweet pass off the dribble to a cutting Scola. But, he was not done yet--he then buried two huge 3pts. back2back to tie the game at 74-74. He had 11 pts. in the 4th, and finished with 14 pts. on 5/6 shooting.

Pepe Sanchez, not known for his shooting, drilled two 3pts. in the 2nd half to help the Argentina comeback--he had 9 pts., 3 3-pointers & 10 assts. Luis Scola was a force in the paint either scoring off of straight post-ups or lay-ins--he had 22 pts & 5 assts. He also worked the glass, including some big offensive boards late--13 rebs (8 off.). I thought Manu forced too much one-on-one action, but he did have the touch from outside--3/6 on 3s.

I thought Argentina really struggled to score in the middle portion of the game & were looking to go isolation too much. Some of that had to do with Serbia's smart defensive gameplan. They played a lot of a sagging man where they really dropped their bigs in the paint, especially Darko who basically camped out in the lane. This really did a good job disrupting Argentina's flex offense--the good cutting & passing lanes were not readily available. The classic Argentina offense just wasn't as prevalent on Thursday. They were fortunate they offset this with some sharp outside shooting--12/26 from 3pt. range.

Serbia was basically a two-man show: Igor Rakocevic & Darko Milicic. Igor continued his FIBA all-star level play by scoring in a variety of ways & really putting the Argentina defense on their collective heels with his great speed--25 pts.(3/4 form deep). He was matched against Manu some, and he seemed to get the better of him. I really feel this guy should get another look from the NBA because he has improved his shot, and the NBA-level speed is still there.

Darko also did damage inside & out--25 & 12. He really likes the elbow jumper, maybe too much. But he also was a presence in the paint at both ends. He had some pretty post moves & some nice finishes (including an aggressive put-back slam in the 4th). But he also missed a handful of point-blank shots where he seemed to go up too soft--including a huge missed lay-in that could have cut the Argentina lead to 1 with 20 seconds left. Serbia missed a bunch of chip shots in the 2nd half. He did do a nice job on defense just using his size to deter a ton of shots. But he still fades away too much on some shots, even jumpers.

Another minor problem that reappeared in this game for Argentina was their slight lack of size. This has always been a minor issue for a couple years--it hurt them in '03, when Duncan & J. O'Neal were the difference in the close pool play game--and it was magnified by how Darko used his size to cause problems.

I mentioned in my Worlds preview that you should consider throwing some zone at Argentina because it can really mess up their offensive rhythm & continuity. A zone is very effective vs. Princeton-type or motion offenses, which is somewhat similar to what they run. It can limit the cuts, passing lanes, back picks & backdoor cuts. Argentina is a solid 3pt. shooting team--they have been shooting 40% thru 4 games. But I'd rather have them do that sometimes because when they get that offense rolling, they get a tremendous rhythm that permeates the rest of their game. Definitely mix up the defenses to try to ruin their flow.

Sort of like playing the US, where you want to discourage driving lanes. Instead with Argentina, you want to cut down their passing & cutting lanes. US builds rhythm with their drives (which often lead to drawn fouls) and Argentina builds rhythm with their great ball movement. Simply, both teams should be defended with plenty of zone or sagging man.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

2006 FIBA World Champs--Greece 91, Brazil 80

- Once again, a highly entertaining game in Group C. Greece seemed to have this game totally under wraps & were in total control for the 1st 3 quarters. But Brazil fought their way back with a 20-0 run in a 5 minute span in the 4th quarter thanks mostly to tremendous ball pressure in their defensive half-court. But for the second game in a row, Brazil killed themselves at the foul line--10/23.

- Greece had a comfortable cushion during the middle part of the game & were having little trouble with either the Brazilian man or zone defense--they shot the 3pts. surprisingly well all game (47.1%) Greece just did a great job moving the ball in quarters 1 thru 3. Again, they looked to Lazaros Papadopoulos (12 pts.) in the low post & he delivered a few nice moves & finished some hooks with either hand. His back-up Dimos Dikoudis did a great job off the bench, by providing 7 quick points in the 1st half & finished with 14 overall.

- Basically, Greece really spread the wealth around offensively all game. A. Fotsis played with some passion with a couple 3pt. makes & a soaring follow-up jam--he finished with 11 pts., & 6 rebs. (4 off.) on 3/4--he needs more looks. Theo Papaloukas got to the line 12 times on his way to 14 pts. And last but not least, their heady floor general D. Diamantidis had a super floor game with 9 pts., 4 assts., & 6 steals--Greece had 14 steals & forced 22 TOs, but sort of neutralized that with 22 TOs themselves.

- The only reason that Brazil was in reasonable striking distance at the end of the 3rd quarter was the torrid shooting of Marcelo Machado. He had 14 pts. in the quarter on 4 3pts. & ended the game with 25 pts. on 7/11 from 3pt. land. Tiago Splitter was the other bright spot for Brazil, since Barbosa & Varejao really struggled. Splitter was very active once again and finished a ton of lay-ins, but also hit a couple huge elbow jumpers in the 4th--one to give Brazil the lead with 4 minutes to go. Tiago had 18 pts. on 8/11 & 8 boards. Former SA Spur Alex Garcia helped out by hitting some big 3pts. (4/5 on 3s) to total 17 points. Marcelo Huertas provided great energy all game long on both ends. He was a key component to their defensive pressure & also really did a great job pushing the ball in transition. Barbosa did contribute 8 assts & Varejao was active which led to 7 rebs. (4 off), but he was 0/5 from the floor & had 4 TOs.

- Brazil is like Team USA-lite, because they are so much more effective when they push the pace & get out in transition. They also took another note from Team USA's playbook with really increasing the ball pressure late in the 3rd quarter. They were making it really hard for Greece to get into their offense & forced a handful of turnovers. I was surprised to see Greece lose its composure in the 4th. But after they made a 3 to tie the game at 72-72, they never relinquished the lead & made their free throws down the stretch. You wonder if Brazil maybe should have gone to more aggressive defense earlier.

- Greece did just enough to get the win once again. Even after looking very flustered in the 4th and in danger of squandering a game that was well in hand, Greece regrouped with about 3 minutes left to regain control of the game. The one thing that should be of some concern to the Greeks--was the way they were bothered by the Brazil half-court pressure. It makes you wonder how they will handle the US in a possible semi-final matchup.

- 4-0 Greece now faces 4-0 Turkey to determine the king of Group C. This should turn into another great Group C battle, and has even more intrigue knowing these two countries do not care for each other, to put it lightly.

USA vs. Italy: Acceptable & Unacceptable

I'd like to add a couple thoughts to Jay Aych's post on the USA-Italy game below.

- It's grudging, of course, but I have to accept that Team USA is going to struggle to stop penetration and cover the three-point line. That's just their makeup and the way it is - they need to play a gambling style of defense to force the pace and take advantage of their depth, and they're just not used to the int'l style of O. At least it's better than '04, when the U.S. struggled with penetration and threes, yet *didn't* take advantage of huge strengths like athleticism and depth.

- 19-34 FT shooting. Horrendous. Even got a glimpse of Coach K muttering "F***ing free throws" after one miss. Margin would have been where it should have been if the U.S. had shot 'em reasonably.

- Rebounding! This was the part of the game that drove me crazy: Italy was at a serious athleticism disadvantage, barely played anyone over 6-8, and RAN AN OFFENSE WITH NO POST PLAYER for half the game, yet still outrebounded the U.S. 31-26, including 10-8 on the O-boards. Completely, utterly unacceptable.

- LeBron. I just don't understand the standstill threes with a hand in his face, esp. when they're playing man defense. There's not a soul who can guard him man-to-man in the tournament, and I don't for the life of me understand why he's not attacking at will a la D Wade. They're really going to need him to do this if a team like ARG or ESP comes out in man-to-man.

2006 FIBA World Champs--USA 94, Italy 85

- After looking scary good the day before, Team USA came back down to earth vs. Italy. Italy made a concerted effort to be more methodical on offense & were very careful with the ball, especially in the 1st half. And this slowed-down pace definitely made Team USA uncomfortable. But Melo saved the day in the 2nd half, to push the US past Italy.

The US offense in the first half did not look real good, and only managed 36 points. Not many turnovers were forced, which pretty much eliminated their transition game. The US finished the 1st quarter strong, but really fell apart in the 2nd quarter, only scoring 11 points. The US did not get their first FG in the quarter until about 6 minutes in. The scary part was they were having trouble vs. a straight man defense.

The defense was not too special either in the 1st half, and once again had trouble with dribble penetration & defending the 3pt. line. (Italy shot a nice 58% from the field in the 1st half). After the halftime break, the US made some adjustments and cut down on Italy's proficiency from outside--Italy were only 2/8 from deep in the 2nd half, after going 5/13 in the 1st.

If Melo was not lethally hot in the 2nd half, particularly in the 3rd--he had 19 pts, the US could have been in serious trouble. Melo did about everything imaginable on the offensive end: drilling an array of jumpers & driving the ball. Wade also did a great job penetrating in the 2nd half, and was crucial to Team USA's comeback from 12 points down in the 3rd. The US just attacked the Italy man defense better in the 2nd half with some nice screen action & especially drive & dishing to Brand.

Since they couldn't cause enough turnovers, I thought the US did a good job running out after missed shots by Italy, which was key to taking the lead in the 3rd (Probably an adjustment made by D'Antoni).

You can see why Marco Belinelli is high on everyone's lottery board. He was easily the best player on the floor in the 1st half, raining down crazy jumpers & showcasing his great athleticism. Although he does still need to improve his shot selection--he took a couple ridiculous shots. Stefano Machinelli showcased his nice athleticism to go along with a nice jumper & solid ball-handling. He was 6/6 from the field for 12 pts., but only got 16 minutes. Fabio Di Bella did a great job putting pressure on the US defense with penetration & activity--he had 12 pts. & 5 assts.

Well, you can see now the US really has a hard time adjusting when they can't produce a ton of turnovers--they got 16 overall, & only 8 steals. What was a little discouraging for Team USA was how they had trouble putting Italy away with Italy playing the whole game in man defense. Italy did nearly everything right when playing the US--slow the pace, take care of the ball & stay packed in a zone. Oh wait, erase the zone part. Don't forget I said "nearly", not just "everything".

Why the Italian coach never switched to zone in the 2nd half, I will never know--this was a massive mistake by him. I think if Italy played more zone they could have possibly won the game. You basically enticed Wade to kill you & he eventually did. Italy put him on the line 10 times--zones naturally cut this down. Why not make Wade settle for jumpers? A zone could have put a damper on the dump-offs to Brand off the dribble in the 3rd--Elton was on the line 9 times. This combined with leaving Di Bella & Machinelli on the bench did not make me think highly of Coach Recalcati.

Granted, Melo was drilling shots--he was helped by getting rhythm into his shots by having him try to shake a defender before he shoots. But he was the only guy who proved he could hit from outside. I'll say it again--make Team USA beat you with jumpers. If they are hitting, live with it. Do not, I repeat, do not entice them to drive. You knew it was just a matter of time before the US started to get hot vs. a man.

2006 FIBA World Champs--Wednesday Games Recap

Games played on Wednesday (8/23):

- Argentina 98, Nigeria 64: Argentina keeps on rolling & secured a 1st place finish in Group A. Andres Nocioni was the star of the day by shooting a perfect 9/9 from the field for 23 pts & a perfect 5/5 from 3pt. Manu pitched in with 20 pts., & 3 assts on 7/9 shooting (3/4 from 3pt.) in only 17 minutes. Walter Herrmann cooled off a little from deep (1/5) after going 9/15 from 3pt in the two previous games, but still added 12 pts. Luis Scola has another highly efficient night by shooting 5/7 for 12 pts. & 5 rebs. Former Texas Longhorn Gabe Muoneke had another solid game for Nigeria with 10 pts & once again drew fouls. Former Mich. State Spartan Aloysius Anongoyne bulled his way to 11 rebs (4 off) to help Nigeria to grab 15 off. rebs. Nigeria needs to beat Lebanon tomorrow to keep their playoff hopes alive.

- Serbia 90, Venezuela 65: Igor Rakocevic was downright awesome with 26 pts on 9/12 shooting (5/5 from 3pt.), with 4 rebs. & 3 assts. Darko also was pretty darn good with 18 pts., 11 rbs., 4 assts., & 6 blocks. Serbia improved to 2-2 in Group A, but it's too early to tell if they're in the playoffs because there could possibly be a 3-way tie for 4th place. If Serbia can somehow beat Argentina, they can assure a spot.

- Lebanon 74, France 73: Biggest upset of the day. Lebanon is now surprisingly 2-2 & in serious contention for a playoff berth. France's main sorespot was exposed again--France shot 3/26 from 3pt. Boris Diaw was alright in the loss--14 pts. & 6 rbs. (5 off.) Fred Weis had another good game with 10 pts. on 5/7 & 7 boards (4 off.). Florent Pietrus (Mike's brother) pitched in with 13 & 11 rbs. France's playoff life is now in a more precarious position, when they could have sewn up the 2-seed with a win.

- Spain 93, Angola 83: Maybe a little bit closer than Spain expected, but Angola has been the best surprise of the tourney. Pau had a great performance with 28 pts., 5 rebs., & 4 assts. on 11/16 shooting. Possible lottery prospect Rudy Fernandez continued his strong tourney with 16 pts (3/3 on 3pts.) & 3 steals. Current Toronto Raptor PF Jorge Garbajosa was 4/7 from 3pt. for 15 pts. J. Gomes led the way for Angola with 24 pts. & 11 rebs. The Angola-Germany game will determine the 2-seed in Group B--don't count out Angola for an upset, with the way they've been playing it's not out of the question.

-Germany 81, Panama 63: Germany cruised to victory with Dirk leading the way with 25 pts. & 13 minutes. Demond Greene added 12 pts. Germany next plays the surprising 3-1 Angola--the winner of the game gets the 2-seed in Group B. The only question I have--is why Coach Bauermann playing Dirk 32 minutes in this game?

- New Zealand 60, Japan 57: Real ugly game--both teams combined for 40 TOs & a combined 32.4% from the floor. New Zealand has really underachieved this whole tourney. Pero Cameron led the way with 23 & 8. Current Winthrop University center Craig Bradshaw had 12 & 10, and former U of Wisconsin guard Kirk Penney chipped in 13 pts. If New Zealand beats Panama, they get the 4th seed; if they lose, they have to go to a tiebreaker scenario.

-Lithuania 78, Australia 57: A less competitive game than expected; I have to imagined Australia was still licking their wounds after they let the Greece game slip away the night before. Arvydas Macijauskas led all scorers with 20 pts. and also added 7 assts & 3 steals. San Antonio property Robert Javtokas was a presence in the middle with 16 pts. on 7/8, 12 boards (4 off.) & 2 blocks. Wash. Wizard D. Songalia had another solid game with 14 pts. & 3 steals. Andrew Bogut again did not get many shots up (4/7 from the floor for 12 pts) & he had 6 TOs. NBA draft prospect Brad Newley led the way for Aust. with 15 pts. on 4/6 3pt., but he had 6 TOs himself. Sam Mackinnon had another good all-around game with 7 pts., 7 rebs., & 5 assts. Australia hurt themselves again with 28 TOs, after 23 TOs vs. Greece the nite before. Australia's still in good shape for a playoff berth because they should beat Qatar.

- Turkey 76, Qatar 69: A little tighter game than Turkey would have liked, but they got to rest Kutluay & Erdogen, who both sat out the game, in preparation for a much anticipated battle for 1-seed vs. Greece.

-China 100, Senegal 83: China won their 1st game of the tourney fairly easy with Yao leading the way with 26 & 9. Former Miami Heat towel-waver Wang Zhi-Zhi helped out with 19 & 9 on 3/6 from 3pt. land. China needs to beat Slovenia to have any chance at a playoff berth.

- Slovenia 90, Puerto Rico 82: A long-distance shootout--Slovenia shot 54% from 3pt, compared to 55% by P.R. PG Jaka Lakovic led Slovenia with 24 pts. on 6/10 from 3pt. Brezec (Charlotte) had another solid outing with 14 pts. & 7 rbs. Rasho again was solid with 12 & 9. Bostjan Nachbar was active again with 11 rbs to go with 10 pts. Beno Udrih added 16 pts. Carlos Arroyo & Larry Ayuso paced P.R. once again combining for 41 pts. If Slovenia beats China, both Slov. & P.R. get a playoff berth, so a Slovenia win benefits P.R. as well.

*--I hope to have a more in-depth analysis of the Greece-Brazil game later today.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

2006 FIBA World Champs--Turkey 73, Brazil 71

Recap & Analysis of Turkey vs. Brazil (Tuesday 8/22):

- I know I am repeating myself, but Group C provides another entertaining game. Before the tourney, I felt this was the best group & there was not much separation between the teams, excluding Qatar. Turkey held off Brazil thanks in some part to Brazil's poor foul shooting, including Barbosa missing 2 with Brazil down 70-69 with 6 seconds left.

- The game started with some nice back-and-forth action where Turkey looked sharp offensively & Brazil countered by looking to push pace with Barbosa the focal point. Turkey was spreading the wealth around offensively early & was particularly sweet from long-range--8/19 from 3pt. land in the 1st half. Turkey's Ibrahim Kutluay & Serkan Erdogen were doing much of the damage from outside--Kutluay finished the game with 14 pts. (3 3pts.); Erdogen led Turkey with 19 overall (4 3pts.)

- Barbosa & Tiago Splitter were basically the majority of the Brazil offense in the 1st half--combining for 28 of Brazil's 37 1st half points. Brazil stayed close by forcing TOs (20 overall), which help them get out in transition. Barbosa was super the whole game driving the ball to the basket & drawing fouls in the process--Leandro led Brazil with 26 pts. But once he got to the line he struggled mightily--8/16 including 2 big misses late. Splitter scored all his 13 pts. in the 1st half to go along with 8 boards. Varejao had a real rough night shooting the ball--2/12 overall--but did bring some nice effort on defense & on the boards (7). But why he took so many 3pt. shots (0/4), I'm not sure. Marcelo Machado provided some support for Barbosa in the 2nd half, finishing with 13 pts.

- Once again, Turkey got a nice effort from their rotation of big bodies. The athletic Kerem Gonlum brought some great energy off the bench to crash the boards (5) & finish around the rim (10 pts.). E. Kurtoglu finished with 8 pts, 3 of the 4 baskets were pretty post moves showcasing his superb footwork. Those 2 guys, combined with Kaya Pekar & Faith Solak, kept Splitter & Varejao under check. Ersan Ilyasova (Bucks) had a rough night (1/7 overall), and looked to be forcing the action too much.

- Right now, Turkey is a little more impressive than Greece in my opinion. Their offense just has more balance: they have great deadeyes--Kutluay & Erdogan, and can offset that with bigs who score some in the painted area, and also have a guy who can shoot & create some offense in Ilyasova. To me, Greece's offense is not that smooth & their shooting is suspect. The question is-- can Turkey match Greece's play on the defensive end.

2006 FIBA World Champs--Tuesday Games Recap

-USA 114- Slovenia 95-- Now this was impressive. I thought not much could be taken from the China game because I did not think their guards were very good, but Slovenia's guards are pretty solid, & the US defense gave them serious problems after the 1st quarter. Slovenia's offense was getting whatever they wanted for most of the 1st quarter, especially doing damage with dribble penetration. It seemed like we were headed for a competitive game where Team USA was going to have more problems in the half-court. But Coach K's boys came out in the 2nd quarter with a newfound intensity on defense, & their on-the-ball pressure was suffocating for the rest of the game, besides a lapse late in the 4th.

The turnovers started to pile up in the 2nd quarter, helping the US to outscore Slovenia 36-22 in the quarter. What was interesting, the US was causing turnovers (25 overall) without much trapping or scrambling, they did it with just great ball pressure in a more straight-up half-court alignment. Slovenia was having major problems just getting into their offense especially in the 3rd--I am still shocked they were only outscored by 4 points in the 3rd quarter, because it seemed the US totally dominated that quarter.

It was not just the half-court defense that was encouraging, the US offense probably played its best game of the summer. Most importantly, they shot the ball well from outside--10/20 from 3pt. But also, I thought they attacked the zone very well overall & were driving fairly easily vs. the zone. It's hard to pick which few players deserve the most praise in this game since basically every player contributed, besides Chris Bosh who continues to struggle. Wade led all scorers with 20 pts. & was one of the key factors in the US defensive display (4 steals). Lebron had another efficient game with 19 pts. on 8/12 overall & also found the range from outside (2/4 on 3s). Chris Paul once again did a great job running the offense with 9 pts. & 9 assts. Elton Brand had his mid-range shot working again & was drawing fouls seemingly everytime he touched the ball (8/10 free throws). Although, Dwight Howard's numbers were not impressive, I thought once again he was a physical presence in the paint with his most active defensive game so far & was drawing fouls again.

Slovenia started off the game looking very crisp on offense with dribble drives for lay-ins, jumpers, & solid ball movement. But they could not handle the increased US ball pressure in the 2nd quarter & the TOs started to pile up. I thought Bostjan Nachbar (Nets) was pretty aggressive all game & was clearly not phased by playing NBA players--he ended with 15 & 7. The two Slovenian NBA bigs, Rasho & Brezec, both had a pretty solid showing: Rasho--14 & 7; Brezec--15 & 12 (7 off.). If those guys did a better job finishing off their shots, Slovenia maybe could have been closer at the end. PG Jaka Lakovic came on strong in the 2nd half (14 pts.) after looking flustered in the 1st half vs. NBA guys. I was not too impressed with the Slovenia's defense, especially a pretty porous zone besides a nice stretch at the end of the game.

The only minor concerns for the US were the boards & opposition's 3pt. shooting. I was a little surprised that the US got beat on the boards by 11, even with the Slovenia's good size, I thought Howard's strength & speed who get him more rebounds (only 2). Slovenia shot 40% from 3pt. which is a tad worrisome, but the US has to be commended for just getting Slovenia off the 3pt. line (only 15 attempts after Slov. averaged 22.5 attempts in the two first games.

-Greece 72 - Australia 69-- Australia is going to be kicking themselves for this one. Group C does not fail to disappoint once again. Greece shows once again stone-cold resiliency & determination by miraculously pulling out this last second victory. Just an improbable finish.

Greece could never get any type of offensive consistency going all game, besides a stretch in the 2nd quarter--they only shot 6/22 from 3pt. They did not look pretty. But every time they needed a big lift on offense, they ironically turned to their defensive stalwart, Dimis Diamantidis. He hit three 3pts. during the 2nd quarter and sprinkled in a couple nice drives to the rim throughout the game--he ended with 20 pts., 6 rebs., & 3 steals. He also dished out the last 2 assists on both the game-tying 3pt. & game-winning 3pt. Theo Papaloukas had another great floor game on both ends where he did a little of everything: drives, steals, & passes (one beautiful bounce pass)--Theo had 11 pts. Again, Greece chose to feed Lazaros Papadopoulas in the post and he delivered a workmanlike effort with a couple nice hook shots & drawn fouls (He had 12 pts & 3 assts).

I was saying to myself at halftime that Australia does not give Bogut the touches he needs, because the few times they run the offense thru him, good things usually happen; either a nice score or a great pass. I felt in the Turkey game they did not give him enough touches either. It seems like Australia is just as happy trying to set-up their perimeter shooters than go thru Bogut.

Well finally in the 4th, the Aussies decided to make Bogut their main option & good things followed. Bogut made two tough moves in the paint early in the 4th. Then with the shot clock running down Bogut hit a 3pt. to tie the game at 63 with about 1:30 left. Then the next Aussie possession, Andrew finished off an authoratative dunk from a nice feed from Mackinnon where he was fouled & hit the free throw to give the Aussies a 66-63 lead with about a minute.

Australia was up by 5 in the last minute, but they missed a couple of free throws, and they combined that with two costly turnovers that let Greece steal the game. Fotsis hit a long 3pt. to tie the game with 10 seconds left, then Papaloukas made a great poke steal that Diamantiids recovered & fed Nikos Zisis for a game-winning 3pt. with one second on the clock.

Bogut ended with 18 pts. on 8/13 shooting with 7 boards & 3 assts. Sam Mackinnon had a super all-around game with 9 pts., 8 rebs., 7 assts. & 3 steals. Vet PG CJ Bruton had somewhat of a problem getting his shot up over the big Greece PGs, but he still managed 11 pts., 5 assts & 5 steals. What did not help the Aussies were turnovers--23 total.

Other games--
-Lithuania 106 - Qatar 65: Lith. finally got their 1st win after two close losses & kept their playoff hopes alive. K. Lavrinovic led 5 Lith. guys in double figures with 20.

- Italy 64 - Senegal 56: Italy struggled to pull this game out after being down double figures in the 2nd half. Italy improves to 3-0, & faces 3-0 USA tomorrow. Their usually sharp shooting was way off--33.3% overall & 25 % from 3pt. NBA lottery prospect M. Belinelli could not find the range (2/10 from 3pt.), but Matteo Soragna had another solid game with 15 pts. Italy obviously needs a better performance vs. the US--they have better athletes than Slovenia, but their guards are probably lesser ball-handlers than Slovenia.

- Puerto Rico 90 - China 87 (OT): The P.R. backcourt was the difference in this game. Carlos Arroyo had a super game with 25, 10 assts, & 8 rebs. But Larry Ayuso was just as big with 27 pts. on deadly shooting (7/9 from 3pt.), helping P.R. most likely secure a playoff berth. Yao did his part to keep China close--29 & 8. China has to beat Slovenia if they want a chance at a playoff berth.

*--I hope to give a summary of the Turkey-Brazil game later today in its own separate post.

2006 FIBA World Champs--Monday Games Recap

-Argentina 96, Venezuela 54-- Simply, Argentina looks downright scary. I know Venezuela is no juggernaut, but that can't take away from the precise execution by the Argentines. The ball movement is just downright amazing. Not just from a couple of guys, I 'm talking every player on the team. This fact coupled with good athleticism, especially at their wing positions, you start to understand why they are one of the main contenders. Right now Spain & themselves might be the most impressive teams because they are looking super sharp in the half-court at both ends. They held Venezuela to a paltry 27.1 % from the field.

Luis Scola started the game out providing the offensive punch with jumpers, post points, & running the floor (Luis had 17 pts., 5 rbs.). Carlos Delfino came off the bench and did a masterful job as a playmaker with a great passing night, especially on the move--Delfino ended with 9 pts., 6 assts., 6 rebs. & 3/3 from deep. The other wing back-up, Walter Herrmann, brought his usual energetic play & led the team in scoring for the second game in a row with 25 pts., 9 rebs & 3/7 3pts. Oberto did a wonderful job passing as well & finished with 10 pts.. Wily vet Ruben Wolkowisky kept up his strong play (11 pts. on 4/4 shooting) & showed he still is dangerous for a few of his patented top-of-the-key 3pt. shots. And can't forget about Pepe--Sanchez kept up his floor general ways with 7 pts & 7 assts. Argentina's depth rivals Team USA--they do not lose much when going to the bench corps.

-France 64- Nigeria 53--Well, it was not pretty, but France came thru with their second ugly win in a row. France's defense was pretty darn good, especially in the 1st half--they held Nigeria to only 15 points total. France held Nigeria to 27% shooting overall & 2/18 from 3pt. But France did not shoot too well themselves--35 % overall. Throw in 17 TOs for France and you can see why I said this game was ugly. Nigeria was definitely frustrated by France's defense, but they also could not get any type of rhythm going at all in the 1st half. Ime Udoka (Knicks) was the only Nigerian to score more than 3 points in the 1st half, and he only had 6 pts. himself.

Nigeria clawed their way back in the 2nd half after moving Udoka to the point, helping their offense run smoother. Nigeria's defense was tighter in the 2nd half, thanks in part to some zone that made things tough for France. Nigeria's Gabe Muoneke (ex-Longhorn) used his superior strength to carve out some space in the paint forcing France to put him on the line 10 times. (Gabe finished with 14 pts. & 7 rebs.)

France's Mamoutu Diarra hit two big back2back 3pts. after Nigeria had cut the lead under 10 with 4 minutes left. These shots pretty much secured the win. Diarra ended with 9 pts, all from 3pt. land. Mickeal Gelabale (Sonics) was the best player for France by providing great all-around activity--he was the only Frenchmen in double figures (14 & 7 rebs). Center Fred Weis was not too bad himself with 8 pts. & 6 rebs on a couple nice post moves. France looks like they have sewn up a 2nd place finish in Group A.

Other games---
Serbia 104 - Lebanon 57: Serbia finally got their 1st win in style. 7 players scored in double figures & Darko had 18 on 8/11. Serbia found their touch from outside--12 for 20 from 3pt. Serbia is now in a 4-way tie for 3rd place in Group A.

Angola 95 - New Zealand 73: Angola's the surprise of the tourney. 3-0, and assured of at least 3rd place in Group B & a berth in the playoffs. Not only did they upset New Zealand, they pounded them.

Japan 78 - Panama 61: Japan pulled off a minor upset over the very disappointing Panama. Panama has a few guys who were pretty darn good NCAA D-I players & they have looked terrible vs. Japan & Angola.

*-- the Spain vs. Germany summary has its own separate post. Its directly below.