Monday, September 03, 2007

Eurobasket '07 Preview--Group C

• Team-by-team previews in our group breakdowns:
Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D


(Teams listed in predicted order of 1st round finish)

LITHUANIA: After skipping the Worlds last summer, 2003 Eurobasket MVP Sarunas Jasikevicius is back to run the show, and that is enough to make Lithuania a serious title contender. Saras is the motor that makes this team rumble, and his fiery leadership, not to mention his superb skillset in the international game, is invaluable. Ramunas Siskauskas also returns to the national team, and he is one of the top players in Euroleague, who is a deadeye marksman & also has the ability to attack off the dribble.

They have the ability to just out-shoot the competition from deep, sort of like a Suns' philosophy. They play the prototypical Euro-style system of crisp ball-movement & off-the-ball player movement with plenty of 3-point attempts as the scoring weapon of choice. And they always have multiple guys who can flat-out bury jumpers, including some bigs who can pop out & cause problems for opposing defending bigs. Besides Saras & Siskauskas, Lith. can rely on Rimantas Kaukenas (ex-Seton Hall) & Simas Jasaitis can bury jumpers as well.

They have a very talented, big frontline. Darius Songaila played solid ball last summer, and he seems to give a workmanlike effort every night, doing a little bit of everything. Robertas Javtokas (Spurs property) is a big, well-built center with NBA-type athleticism who is known for his rebounding & shot-blocking, but does not offer much on offense. Both Lavrinovics (Ksystof & Darjus) give some more offensive punch to the frontline--both guys are dangerous from the perimeter. Meanwhile, the Nuggets' Linas Kleiza should see action at both forward spots.

Defense has always been somewhat a sorespot for Lithuania, and has held them back in the past; perimeter defenders are suspect. One thing you can count on with Lith is their ability to shoot lights out. This team can beat you by strictly outshooting the opponent from long-range, especially with Siskauskas & Saras back in the fold this year. Have to be considered one of the top dogs in Spain, and should be in the mix to medal.

TURKEY: Have as much raw talent top-to-bottom as any team in this thing. If they put everything together, they can win a medal in Spain, even a legit shot at a gold. Very deep team, do not lose much when they go to their bench.

Memo Okur & Hedo are back this year, and there is some debate about whether they will ruin the chemistry that last year's team had. Turkey had underachieved prior to last year with the services of Memo & Hedo. And some have posited that the NBAers were a source of friction on the national team. Don't know if that was the case, but the '06 squad played pretty well together, and finished 4-1 in the brutal Group C, losing only to Greece.

Their SF position is well-covered with a potent combo of Turkoglu & Ersan Ilyasova. Ilyasova had a breakout performance last year at the Worlds, showcasing his advanced scoring ability, and it's scary he has to be relegated to a backup role. Ibo Kutluay is one of the deadliest shooters in Europe, and will be called upon to pick up the slack of Serkan Erdogen, who is out because of injury.

Underrated, deep frontline with great size & guys not afraid to mix it up. Kaya Peker is a solid big body, Ermel (Kuqo) Kurtoglu has some nice footwork, Kerem Gonlum is a nice athlete who is active & rebounds well & I'm sure most are well-versed with what Memo Okur offers.

The one position where there are questions is at the PG spot. It looks like Turkey will platoon Ender Arslan with recent NC State standout, Engin Artur. Cenk Akyol (Hawks draftee) is an athletic combo guard who played well at the Worlds, and should also get PG duty. But the status of the position is still a little unsettled--so much so that Hedo has been running the point sometimes in the exhibition stage.

If this team can just get serviceable production from their PGs, and find some type of harmony on & off the court, they are very capable of beating any team in the tourney on any given night. Have to be considered a medal contender just because of their raw talent.

GERMANY: A lot of people just discard Germany's chances saying they are a one-man gang. Yes, they lean heavily on Dirk to produce every night, but surrounding parts need to be given a little bit more credit than they get. They just keeping playing well in Int'l comps & still have the best player in the tourney.

Ademola Okulaja is a nice second fiddle who's a jack-of-all-trades type and played well in the Worlds last year. They get a decent effort from center Patrick Femerling--who you might remember as Robin to Todd MacCulloch's Batman when they combined powers to form the tantalizing, Vanilla Thunder frontline for the U of Wash. in the mid-90s. Femerling is nothing spectacular, but his size helps on the backline, especially in their zone.

Demond Greene gives the Germans another scoring option on the perimeter to relieve some pressure off of Dirk. Greene is a sharpshooter who can get lethally hot. Stefan Hamann will run the PG--he did a nice job last summer, but needs to keep an eye on his turnovers. And speedy Mithat Demirel will back him up. The loss of Sven Schultze is an underrated blow because he provided a nice lift off the bench with his ability to spread the floor. Also, recent West Virg. grad Joe Herber provides a big, heady combo guard off the bench.

Dirk Bauermann is one of the better coaches in the tourney, who gets this team to play solid defense. Also, Germany is a strong rebounding club. They might not have as much talent across the board as other top teams, but that has not stopped them from being successful in the past. They rode Dirk coattails to a Silver medal in last Euro championships, so they can't be totally discounted from at least making the Semis.

CZECH REPUBLIC Led by former Celtic/Buck Jiri Welsch & ex-Valparaiso star Lubas Barton. Welsch is a multi-talented wing who handles the ball pretty well & is an underrated defender. Barton is their go-to-guy, and is a multi-dimensional threat who does a little bit of everything.

If the name Maurice Whitfield does not seem like a name of Czech origin, well it's not--he's a naturalized player from Philly. Whitfield will be expected to run the PG spot, and he provides the Czechs with a nice dose of athleticism. Ladislav Sokolovsky adds to their depth on the wings with another solid athlete with a reliable shooting stroke. Center Petr Benda is a reliable rebounder down low.

Czech are probably the strongest 4th place team of any of the cellar-dwellers (Poland, Port. & Israel), so advancement to the 2nd round is not impossible. But just can't see them finishing ahead of any of the other 3 teams in Group C.

• Team-by-team previews in our group breakdowns:
Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D


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