Friday, September 03, 2010

2010 FIBA Worlds: Saturday Round of 16 Preview (Spain-Greece, Serbia-Croatia)

The knockout stage of the 2010 Worlds tipss off on Saturday with two games. Serbia vs. Croatia tips off at 11 a.m. EST while Greece vs. Spain follows at 2 p.m. EST (both games can be watched on NBA TV or Winners of Saturday's games meet up on Wednesday in the quarterfinals.

Easily the toughest sub-bracket of the elimination stage. Spain, Greece and Serbia were three of the top five pre-tourney faves. Serbia has played up to expectations, while Spain and Greece have underachieved. Spain pulled this same stunt last summer, so I assume they were dogging it in the opening round.

I have my doubts about Greece. I don't think it's totally a case of them going through the motions. Greece's defense seems to lack the tenacity that was a staple under former Coach Yannakis. Something is just missing with this Greece team this summer.

Spain (D2) vs. Greece (C3) (2 p.m. EST)

This is a semifinal-level game happening two rounds earlier. Last time these two teams met, Spain laid a pounding on Greece, 82-64 in the EuroBasket semis. Spain's scrambling defense forced 20 TOs and limited Vassilis Spanoulis to seven pts after he came into the game averaging just under 17 ppg.

Even though Spain underachieved in Group D play, they still were able to shoot 49.5% from the floor (2nd-best pct. in group play).

Marc Gasol has been one of the better players in the tourney and few teams have an answer for him one-on-one. Next to Scola, the best low box scorer in the Worlds tournament. Gasol is averaging 15.4 ppg on 62%, 7.2 rpg & 2.2 blks in 24 minutes per game. Marc just needs to start connecting on his FTs--(19-for-32 so far)--he missed some crucial FTs down the stretch vs. Lithuania.

Steady diet of Gasol post-ups are in order, plus Giannis Bouroussis is nothing special of a defender. Circling JC Navarro and Rudy Fernandez off screens will be another line of attack for Spain. Navarro's usual creative shot-making skills have been on display in the tourney (14 ppg).

Much like he did last year, Rudy has given Spain great production (12.8 ppg). Rudy seems to have gotten back to his high-energy, high-wire style, especially flying in for rebounds. Right now, Rudy is the leading rebounder on the team with 7.4 rpg. Rudy's eFG% is a sizzling 67.6%, similar to his shooting numbers at EuroBasket.

Ricky Rubio's superior court vision has been on display in Turkey. But Ricky's scoring chops need refining. Ricky's subpar outside shooting is well-documented, but his finishing skills are nothing special, either. My partner has discussed Ricky's scoring issues in the past. Rubio is averaging 6.2 apg, 5 ppg, 1.6 spg, 1.8 TOpg & 28.6% shooting (1-for-11 on 3PA).

The key for Spain's defense is to contain Vassilis Spanoulis and Dimis Diamantidis' penetration. Can't allow Spanoulis to turn the corner hard because he's a terrific finisher and adept at drawing fouls. Thought Turkey and Russia did a good job in limiting Spanoulis' effectiveness. Rarely was getting the deep penetration he thrives on. Both Turkey and Russia mixed in a fair amount of zone looks.

Spain should consider some zone. Greece is an adequate outside-shooting team, just not great. Rather have them hoisting up perimeter looks than Spanoulis and Diamantidis living in the lane. Also, Greece's other line of attack is to feed Sofo in the post. A zone would clog up Sofo's space.

Greece is keeping its TOs down this summer--10.4, least TOpg in group play. A bit surprising with turnover machines Spanoulis and Sofo touching the ball so much. But Spanoulis has done a good job this summer holding onto the ball.

NBA free-agent prospect Giannis Bourousis has given the Greeks productive minutes at the center spot averaging 12 ppg & 7 rpg in 24 mins per. Reserve center Sofo Schortsiantis continues to cause problems for the opposition the moment he steps on the court. Sofo has utilized his size and skills to average 11.7 ppg, 5 rpg & 52% shooting in 18 mins per. Might draw the most fouls per minute in the tourney, though he might lead in TOs per minute.

Expect Spain to advance to play Serbia.

Serbia (A1) vs Croatia (B4) (11 a.m. EST)

Expect a competitive contest between the two Slavic rivals.

Outside of USA and Spain, Serbia might have the deepest team. All 12 guys play at least 15 mins. a game, which is similar to last summer. Right now, Serbia has six guys averaging double-figure points.

Serbia rebounded the ball very well in group play and has kept its TOs to a minimum. Croatia is a dangerous offensive rebounding team (always are) but for some reason are subpar on the defensive glass.

Another advantage for Serbia could be at the FT line, where they're shooting 78.5% and Croatia is shooting 63%. Not too surprising both teams are stroking the ball from deep--Croatia 39%, Serbia 38%.

Nenad Krstic vs. Ante Tomic matchup is intriguing and we'll see if Nenad tries to body him up early. Nenad seems to show no lasting effect of the epic brawl and was terrific vs. Argentina on Thursday. In his two group play games, Nenad averaged 16 ppg & 9 rebs. His back-up hasn't been too bad either--Kosta Perovic is putting up 10.6 ppg & 4 rebs in 20 mins. per.

Serbia's also gotten great play from two guys who were not expected to see much floor time before the tourney, Alexander Rasic and Dusan Savanovic. Rasic has filled the void left by the absent Uros Tripkovic as Serbia's resident sharpshooter. Savanovic is a combo forward who's adept at creating mid-range looks. Dusan averaged 12.6 ppg & 5 rpg in group play.

For Serbia, expect plenty of post-ups for Krstic and Velickovic and numerous ball screens for Teodosic. Milos Teodosic and Novica Velickovic are other featured players for Serbia. Teodosic (14 ppg) is one of the top PGs in the tourney and is a terrific shooter. Velickovic (10 ppg & 6 rpg) is a smart, all-around forward with underrated defensive skills. Both are possible NBA free-agent targets.

Croatian big Ante Tomic was alright in group play, averaging 9 ppg & 5.6 rpg. Can bury hooks with both hands. Croatia will try to establish Tomic early on the block. Can hit jumpers out to 17 feet. Good offensive rebounder and good passer.

Serbia needs to be physical with Tomic right from the start. Tomic does not respond well to physical play and has a tendency to disappear for extended stretches.

After shooting the ball well at Eurobasket, Roko Ukic has reverted to his old ways--30% on 3PA. Zoran Planinic has not given Croatia a heck of a lot either. Both these guys were among Croatia's most consistent players last summer.

Croatia has five to six guys who can handle the ball and most of their perimeter players are reliable shooters (besides Planinic). Croatia likes to get their guards working off of side ball screens, particularly Ukic.

We dubbed combo guard Marko Popovic the Croatian Vinnie Johnson at the start of the tourney and he has certainly lived up to the billing. Marko comes off the bench to score points in bunches and leads Croatia in scoring with nearly 13 ppg. Marko is scorching the nets with a ridiculous eFG% of 82% (12-for-23 on 3PA).

NBA prospect Bojan Bogdanovic has been nearly as potent as Popovic shooting the ball--Bojan's eFG% is 68%, 10-for-15 from long range.

SF Marko Tomas is another dangerous shooter on the catch or off-the-dribble. Adept at quick dribble pull-ups. Tomas is a solid athlete who's a good ball-handler who use some isos and ball screens.

Serbia has to locate Marko Banic. Marko is a smart player who does a great job at finding the open spots in their offense. Effective scoring off cuts and likes to squirt to open space inside the arc looking to spot-up for mid-rangers, particularly likes to set up shop on the baseline for short-corner jumpers. Need to get a body on Banic because he's great on the offensive glass.

Croatia should keep this game competitive but Serbia's defense is tough with tight help.


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