Eurobasket '07 Playoff Picture
Quarterfinal action starts today with Russia-France at 1pm EST, then Germany takes on the homeboys, Spain, at 3:30. The quarters continue on Friday with Greece vs. Slovenia, & Croatia vs. Lithuania. The Spain-Germ. winner will face the winner of Slovenia-Greece in one Semifinal while the Russ-France winner faces the winner of Lith-Croatia in the other Semi.
Not really going out on a limb here, but the Euro '07 is shaping up to be a repeat of 2003, where Lithuania met Spain in the final in Sweden (LTU won that one, but Spain would be the favorites here). Both squads are easily the two most potent offensive units in Euro '07, and both teams' defense have been solid enough so far, making Spain & Lithuania also the most-balanced clubs in Madrid. We'll see if any other team can trip up either of two favorites before they can meet in the finals.
As a reminder, Spain has already qualified for Beijing thanks to its 2006 World Championship. Two other Olympic spots are up for grabs here, so the 3rd place game will likely be a huge one (assuming Spain makes the final).
Beyond that, the next four Euro teams will get spots in the World Qualifying Tournament next July (12 teams competing for the last 3 spots), so the 7th place game will actually likely be a big one, too, as it will be an elimination game for the qualifying tournament (and I wouldn't be surprised if Euro teams sweep the last three spots there).
Below is a quick-hitting look at the playoff round of Eurobasket:
SPAIN vs. GERMANY: Rematch of Euro '05 Semifinal where Germany prevailed on a last-second jumper by Dirk. One key difference between '05 & this year: Spain was without the services of Gasol in '05.
Spain just has too much firepower across the board for Germany to counter. The only chance for Germany is if they can get strong production from all their role players like Herber, Jagla, Hamann, & Demond Greene. Basically, Germany is going to need a perfect storm of career nights from their entire rotation to pull the upset. Though, I could see the Germans make the game competitive for awhile. Germany should just concern themselves with winning one game in the loser bracket portion--one win secures them a spot in the pre-Olympic qualifier.
RUSSIA vs. FRANCE: If you want defense, you got it. Battle of two teams who rely heavily on their defense for their success. Neither team is blessed with much natural offensive talent, and have to find creative ways to cover up for their flaws.
I'm going with Russia in this one just because I think their offense has shown more stretches of continuity in Euro '07. Though, this game could just come down to which one of these poor shooting teams gets luckier from the outside. I imagine Russia is gonna load their defense up to surround Parker with multiple guys wherever he goes, specifically not letting him ride roughshod thru the lane for lay-ins. They will most likely leave the other Frenchies wide open, daring them to shoot, which is always a wise plan of attack vs. France. France might have to consider using Cedric Ferchaud more since he's France's best pure shooter, and someone who can hopefully open up some alleys for Parker to operate.
Would be kinda nice if France could get Boris Diaw to show up. I guess his strong play in the Turkey game was an encouraging sign, but then again the game was pretty meaningless for both teams, so can't get too excited about Diaw.
GREECE vs. SLOVENIA: Wavering back-n-forth on picking the winner of this game. Greece has steadily improved their play on the offensive end the last two games, and looked like they have regained some of the mojo of last year's squad.
Have not been blown away with Slovenia's play, but they have been solid, and just have found ways to win. The offense has not been overwhelming overall, but Matjaz Smodis has been consistently impressive & Rasho has been an underrated presence in the interior on both ends of the floor. Slovenia has also gotten nice contributions from Goran Dragic (particularly defensively) and the Lorbek brothers.
To me, Slovenia has to consider sagging on defense to make Greece prove they can hit from outside. Greece has struggled with tightly packed defenses in the tourney & have not consistently shot the ball well. Packing in the defense also should be able to cut down on Theo Papaloukas' creativity, and he has struggled all tournament trying to get his game on track. Dimis Diamantidis has to be the go-to-guy for Greece from here on out, and he has to be more aggressive looking for his shot.
If Greece can just shoot from the perimeter half-way decent, which I think they can, they should be in good shape, because they bring great defensive effort every night. But two underrated factors to watch for, and two things that could hurt Greece, are free-throw shooting & rebounding. Greece has been subpar in both areas the last few years, and the same is true this summer. But I'll give the nod to Greece in this one.
CROATIA vs. LITHUANIA: Would not be surprised if Croatia was able to make this a tight game, they have the capablility of getting red-hot from the perimeter (guys like Kus, Popovic, Tomas, & Planinic), and have already shown they can knock off an elite team (Spain) in this tourney. Croatia does have a lot of raw talent with a nice combo of shooters & solid athletes, but they can't seem to piece their talent together into a cohesive unit so far. Also, Saras re-aggravating his hamstring/groin is something of some concern for Team Lithuania. But ultimately, Lithuania is firing on all cylinders right now, and can't see how they are going to get tripped up before the finals. Their offense has been awesome, rebounding has been tight, and best of all, their sometimes spotty defense has been fairly durable.