Thursday, August 06, 2009

Italy's EuroBasket Hopes Nearly Kaput

I guess the Italian sporting public can now funnel 100% of their energy toward their defending World Cup soccer team for the summer of 2010. 'Cause the basketball team's chance of playing next summer are close to over.

France went into Cagliari, Italy and gained a huge advantage in the round-robin stage of the Eurobasket Additional Qualifying Round with an 80-77 win in OT. Italy couldn't afford to cough up this game at home, with France sans Tony Parker, and with a 5-point lead in OT.

Have to imagine this loss is the nail in the coffin of Carlo Recalcati's national coaching career. We have been less than impressed with his leadership the last few years; should have been relieved of his duties a few years ago. He's been at the helm since 2001, which is a mighty long time for a national coach.

Not positive of the Italian Federation's protocol on hiring coaches, but if the bylaws need to be changed to bring back Ettore Messina as the national team coach, make the change immediately.

Failing to construct a cogent defensive game plan has been a recurring theme during Recalcati's tenure. At the '06 Worlds, he refused to mix in zone in the 2nd half vs Team USA. Failed to load up his defense on Parker at the '07 Euros, and Parker single-handedly shredded Italy's porous defense.

And again on Wednesday, Recalcati failed to recognize & exploit the weaknesses of the opponent. Arguably, one of the most important aspects of coaching.

It's fairly straightforward--make France take jumpshot after jumpshot. All the overplaying & ball pressure was unnecessary vs. France, and just encouraged driving the ball, especially Boris Diaw.

I feel this game would never have gotten to overtime if Italy just forced France into a perimeter game from the start. Yes, France hit a handful of long jumpers late in the game, but they were bricking shots earlier & often.

Why would you not try to pack the painted area? Why Andrea Bargnani was following his man away from the lane? The French bigs are not a danger to face-up. Should have had Bargnani sloughed off in the middle all game.

It's not just defensive game planning where Recalcati is lacking. Italy has too much raw talent of shooting, passing & athleticism to struggle like this offensively the last three years.

What happened to the beautiful movement that was a staple of the '03/'04-era teams? Why not get Bargnani involved in more pick/rolls with Belinelli? Why not find some ways to get Andrea involved? Bargnani had a few post-ups called for him, but never saw consistent touches. Andrea had a so-so outing of 10 pts on 5/10.

This loss is not totally at the hands of Coach Recalcati--he can't really do too much about shooting 3/22 from 3pt. range. Wow, those are France-type numbers. Also, 18/27 on free throws didn't help Italy. Italy also made a handful of unforced errors thru-out, including Luca Vitali's costly bad pass in OT. France won the rebound battle 36-29, but that was expected.

Angelo Gigli & Stefano Mancinelli gave Italy a great lift off the bench in the 1st half. Mancinelli showed off his nifty post game with a couple patented hooks. And added a sweet behind-the-back drive as well. Set up Angelo Gigli for dunks in transition three times (finished with 4 assists). But was knocked out of the game late in the 3rd with a shoulder injury (maybe karmic justice for not being suspended for his role in the recent fight vs. Canada).

The 6-11 Gigli was his usual active self on both ends--finishing, boarding, and helping defensively. Been impressed with Gigli the last few years, and think he could possibly be a reserve big in the NBA. Though his slender frame gives you pause.

Marco Belinelli caught fire in the 2nd half, scoring in a variety of ways---Marco ended with 26 pts & 3 stls. Recalcati had him running the offense at crunch time, which worked fairly well in '07. He hit multiple off-balance jumpers/runners, and had a few purposeful drives, including blowing right by Batum for a soaring slam in OT. His combo of athleticism & handle got him to free throw line 12 times. Marco sprinkled in a few of his patented careless decisions (3 TOs), but was pretty good overall offensively.

It was nice to see Boris Diaw come out of the gates aggressive. We have slagged Diaw in the past for his passiveness in FIBA & NBA play, but Diaw did a great job attacking the rim all game. He finished off some sweet drives, created for teammates, created fouls & created offensive rebounding opportunites consistently--Diaw finished with 15 pts & 4 assts.

Nic Batum was quiet for most of the game but was huge in crunch time with 12 of his 20 pts in the 4th & OT. Hit a huge pull-up 3pt. near the end of regulation, and followed that up with a monster 3pt. in OT after Italy went up by 4. Nic also mixed in some nice drives to the rim. France was even iso-ing him up high late in the game.

Though France didn't shoot the outside shot well overall, have to give them credit for making some big perimeter shots down the stretch: Batum drilled two big 3s late, Spur draftee Nando De Colo hit a 3-pt. off a baseine screen, & Pietrus hit a long 2-pointer to give France the lead in OT.

Florent Pietrus led France early with his activity, and played well thru-out with 20 pts & 7 rebs. Florent has been France's most consistent player the last few years next to Parker.

Italy will need an upset win in France on Aug. 14 to keep any hopes alive. And Parker is expected to be back. Also, Italy has to travel to Finland as well, and can't afford a slip up in Scandinavia.