Eurobasket 2009: Qualifying Round Preview
Thursday was an off day, so teams could transition from the opening round to the qualifying round (2nd round). Starting Friday in the Polish cities of Bydogoszcz & Lodz, teams play three games in their group with a day off between games. The top four teams from each group qualify for the quarters starting on Sept. 17th.
Israel, Latvia, Britain, & Bulgaria have been eliminated, leaving 12 teams divided into two groups (Group E & F). Group E appears to be a little weaker, while Group F is packed with quality teams. You will have two pretty good teams not make the quarters out of Group F, while you will see a quarterfinal slot awarded to one of the three weaker qualifying round entries (Germ, Russ, Macedonia) in Group E.
Group E: (Playing in Bydogoszcz)
1) Greece (2-0)
2) France (2-0)
3) Croatia (1-1)
4) Germany (1-1)
5) Macedonia (0-2)
6) Russia (0-2)
GREECE: Should have no trouble moving on to the quarterfinals. Greece's change from a methodical defensive-minded brand of basketball to a more free-wheeling offensive team looks successful, so far. Greece's offense has looked exacting, with constant movement & spacing. Greece has outscored its opponents by a combined 66 points & lead the tourney with 58% from the floor. The Croatia game, in which they won by 8 pts, wasn't quite as close as the score would indicate.
Schedule: Fri., vs. Germ./Sun., vs. Russ./Tues., vs. France
FRANCE: Though they went 3-0 in Group B, they weren't all that impressive. Group B was easily the weakest, and Les Bleus only beat Russia & Germany by five pts each. As usual, the half-court offense has gone thru major lulls. And obviously, this team can't hit from outside. Still having trouble shooting--14/53 (26%) behind the arc & 45/81 (56%) at the FT line. France is the worst deep shooting left in the field. We've beaten this into the ground, but still holds true: pack the painted area all game vs. France. France has counteracted its ragged offense like they always do--with great defense & rebounding.
Schedule: Fri., vs. Mace./Sun., vs. Croat./Tues., vs. Greece
CROATIA: Nice contributions from its big PG combo, Roko Ukic & Zoran Planinic. Both have done a good job getting into the lane to create scoring opportunities. Nikola Vujcic has been the leader of the deep, veteran frontline, scoring in double figures in each game. Expect them to secure a spot in the quarters with wins over Russia & Germany. France game is a toss-up.
schedule: Fri., vs. Russ./Sun., vs. France./Tues., vs. Germ
GERMANY: Not surprisingly, the Germans have found it difficult to score with no Dirk. No one who is a reliable #1 option, and the Germans shot 38% from the floor in the opening round. Jan Jagla has brought his usual activity, but when he's your leading scorer, you're in trouble. Only reason they're still playing has been the horrible FT shooting of their Group B opponents. France, Russia, & Latvia combined to shoot 65/120 (54%) from the FT line vs. Germany. Germany is in better shape for a quarterfinal berth than Russia or Macedonia because they get to carry over a win into the 2nd round. Don't see them beating Greece or Croatia, have a chance vs. Macedonia. A win vs. Macedonia would be huge for their playoff chances.
Schedule: Fri., vs. Greece/Sun., vs. Mace./Tues., vs. Croat.
(FYR) MACEDONIA: Macedonia has a legit shot at the quarters because they should be favored to beat Germany, and are closely matched with Russia. Wouldn't be shocked if they pushed France. Have gotten strong play from their frontline of Jeremiah Massey, Todor Gecevski, & Pero Antic. Vrbica Stefanov has also been his usual steady floor-general self.
Schedule: Fri., vs. France./Sun., vs. Germ./Tues., vs. Russ.
RUSSIA: Offense has not been quite as putrid as I thought it would be. Kelly McCarty's athleticism has been a nice addition on both ends of the floor after the losses of Kirilenko & Khryapa. Have gotten solid play from their PG combo of Sergey Bykov & Anton Ponkrashov. Will be tough to get victories against Greece & Croatia. Really can't afford a loss to Macedonia.
schedule: Fri., vs. Croat./Sun., vs. Greece/Tues., vs. Mace.
GROUP F: (Playing in Lodz)
1) Turkey (2-0)
2) Slovenia (1-1)
3) Serbia (1-1)
4) Spain (1-1)
5) Poland (1-1)
6) Lithuania (0-2)
TURKEY: Turkey has looked like a totally different team than the one that stunk up the '07 Euro. The Turkish offense that couldn't get out of its own way two years ago has been smoking this year. Most importantly, they are converting shots around Hedo. Turkey has a pt. differential of +54 and is shooting 54% overall, 42% from 3pt. Their NBA pair of forwards have not disappointed. Hedo & Ersan Ilyasova have shown their mismatch ability, creating offensive opportunities all over the floor. Ilyasova has led the Turks with 17 ppg on 58% & 7 rpg, while Hedo has added 13 ppg. Hedo has teamed with Kerem Tunceri & Ender Arslan to bring some type of order to their PG position. The PG play has left a lot to be desired the last few years, but nothing to complain about this year. Arslan has been hitting runners off ball screens & burying his open shots (8/11 on 3pts.).
schedule: Sat., vs. Spain./Mon., vs. Serb./Wed., vs. Slov.
SLOVENIA: There were some questions about how all their talent would mesh, and so far, so good. Looked sharp vs. Serbia, and pushed Spain to OT with Matjaz Smodis only playing 5 mins. The strong defense from their '07 run seems to have transferred over. No surprise that the offense has looked crisp, given the collection of shooters this team can put on the floor at once. Slovenia is shooting 51% overall, 36% from deep. PG Jaka Lavovic (14 ppg) has led the way, burying jumpers off of screens--Jaka is 9/19 from 3pt. Boci Nachbar has been ballin' as well, with 12 ppg on 54% & 5.7 rpg. Erazem Lorbek has been a nice option on the blocks with his sharp footwork--13 ppg & 5.7 rpg. Phoenix Sun Goran Dragic has been a defensive pest once again--gave Rubio & Spain issues--and is even adding a little scoring to the mix with 11 ppg. They can take it up a notch if Smodis can go heavier minutes in the next round. Supposedly, his back is feeling better.
schedule: Sat., vs. Lith./Mon., vs. Pol./Wed., vs. Turk.
SERBIA: Have gotten nice contributions up & down their deep, young roster. 10 players average at least 14 mins/game. Stunned Spain with an impressive defensive effort. Nenad Krstic (12 ppg & 4 rpg) has been a solid option on the blocks & protecting the rim. Guards Milenko Tepic & Milos Teodosic have run the offense efficiently and stayed away from forcing the action. Need to get their shooting back on track after a poor display in the 1st round--24% from 3pt.
schedule: Sat., vs. Pol./Mon., vs. Turk./Wed., vs. Lith.
SPAIN: Not sure what's going on with this team. Serbia totally whupped them, Britain gave them a huge scare, and Slovenia roared back to push them to OT. Maybe there are too many players to keep happy with playing time. Maybe it's the coaching change (Spain's 3rd change in as many years). Maybe they're disinterested. Whatever the reason, it's hard to figure because this team has rarely, if ever, gone thru the motions in recent years. Should get props for controlling Slovenia for most of the game, but questions resurfaced when they let Slovenia come back in the 4th to force OT. Expect them to get in a groove in the next round, but I thought they would destroy Britain, and that didn't happen.
schedule: Sat., vs. Turk./Mon., vs. Lith./Wed., vs. Pol.
POLAND: Our sleeper pick has performed admirably in front of the home crowd. The frontline has been killing it. Marcin Gortat has been an interior force and also turned himself into an offensive juggernaut in the last week. Gortat is averaging 17 ppg (5th best) on 67% (4th best) & 11 rpg (2nd best). PF Maciej Lampe has been an inside-out terror, scoring 18 pts (3rd best) & grabbing 7 rpg. We high-lighted some of Gortat's newfound offensive skills the other day. Gortat & Lampe are leading the tourney in blocks as well. The offense has functioned very well, shooting 50% from the floor and 38% from 3pt. land. Don't have an easy road to the quarters, with Serbia, Slovenia, & Spain on the upcoming schedule.
schedule: Sat., vs. Serb./Mon., vs. Slov./Wed., vs. Spain
LITHUANIA: We knew there would be struggles without their two legendary playmakers, Saras & Siskauskas. The shot selection has been spotty, which is a rarity with the normal precision offense we expect from this national team. Their patchwork backcourt has been predictably lackluster. Deep frontline has been solid, but they could play better as well. Burly big Marijonas Petravicius (16 ppg on 71%) has been a nice interior presence drawing fouls, finishing around the basket, and pushing people around. Linas Kleiza has been a little uneven and can't find his deep touch (0/7 on 3pt.) The normally sweet-shooting Lithuanians have been off from deep--32% from 3pt. Lithuania's quarterfinal chances are dicey with a 0-2 record and having to face brutal gauntlet of the top three of Group C.
schedule: Sat., vs. Slov./Mon., vs. Spain./Wed., vs. Serb.