EuroBasket 2011 Preview: Overview
• EuroBasket 2011 Preview: Overview | Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D
• 2011 FIBA Americas Preview
EuroBasket 2011 begins in a week, so we wanted to set the table with a general primer. 24 teams will convene in basketball-mad Lithuania from Aug. 31-Sept. 18 to determine the king of European basketball. In the U.S., every game can be viewed for free via ESPN3.com.
Two automatic bids (1st & 2nd place) to the Olympics and four bids (3rd-6th place) to the Pre-Olympic Qualifying tourney next July are at stake. But EuroBasket is more than just a qualifying tourney. It's an entity of its own, as there's a tremendous amount of pride in winning the Euro crown.
American fans should be prepared to see much more off-ball movement than in the NBA game--more moving parts to deal with in FIBA ball. Expect plenty of back cuts, back picks, moving picks and big guys squirting out to the 3pt line from the interior. Offenses with reads, counterplays, and counterplays to the counterplays.
You'll see a lot of double-high post action--basically every team runs some Horns set (double-high post with the wings spread wide in the corners). A lot of international coaches like to keep the basket area open. Expect to see some teams run variations of the Princeton offense, some will run variations of the flex, others run UCLA sets.
Hopefully this summer's EuroBasket will turn out better than the lackluster '09 tournament, which was a rather unsightly affair that was tough to watch in spots. It would help if this time around the refs would not feel obligated to blow their whistle at every touch foul that happens 20 feet out. Too many whistles led to too many games with choppy flows.
There is a possibility for more lopsided games this summer since the field has been unnecessarily expanded to 24 teams this year. The field of 16 kept the level of disparity to a reasonable range.
The field will be divided into four opening-round groups of six teams apiece:
- Group A: Britain, Lithuania, Poland, Spain, Turkey, Portugal
Group B: France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Serbia
Group C: Bosnia, Croatia, Greece, (FYR) Macedonia, Montenegro, Finland
Group D: Belgium, Bulgaria, Georgia, Russia, Slovenia, Ukraine
Opening-round group play will be hosted in the Lithuanian cities of Panevezys (Group A), Siauliai (B), Alytus (Group C) and Klaipeda (Group D). Each team plays the other five teams in its opening-round group once. The top three teams in Group A and Group B move onto the second round where they form Group E. The top three in Groups C and D form Group F.
Second round format:
Group E: A-1st, A-2nd, A-3rd, B-1st, B-2nd, B-3rd
Group F: C-1st, C-2nd, C-3rd, D-1st, D-2nd, D-3rd
Each team plays three games against the three teams from the opposite opening-round group. All second round games will be played at the Siemens Arena in Vilnius.
The top four teams apiece in Groups E and F move on to the quarterfinals, which becomes a knockout stage, with semis and finals following. The entire playoffs will be played at the brand-new Zalgiris Arena in Kaunas. All told, it will require a somewhat-absurd 11 games in 19 days to win the tournament.
I wish they would re-draw the field; it's all kinds of lopsided. I would say eight of the top 12 teams are in Groups A and B. Group A is absolutely brutal, while Group B is nearly as deadly. Meanwhile, Groups C and D are clearly inferior. Groups A and B will combine for what looks to be a monster Group E--much tougher than Group F.
Current power rankings (Not necessarily how we think the final standings will shake out, just how we would rank the teams going into the tourney best to worst):
TIER I (Medal Favorites):
Reigning Euro champ Spain is once again the odds-on favorite to win gold this summer. Pau Gasol and Jose Calderon are back plus Serge Ibaka has been added to an already loaded roster. Not winning the gold would be a disappointment and not medaling at all will be a major underachievement.
After Spain, there's not a whole lot that separates teams 2-thru-10. Could juggle these teams in a variety of ways. Think Serbia and Lithuania are evenly-matched and expect one of these teams to meet Spain in the finals.
Gave Serbia the slight nudge above Lithuania because they kept basically the same lineup intact for the third straight summer--a lineup that got to the last EuroBasket final and was a few kooky plays away from last summer's World final. Serbia has a deep roster led by Nenad Krstic and PG Milos Teodosic, and managed by a master tactician, Coach Ivkovic. Though, the recent loss of Novica Velickovic is an underrated blow, particularly on the defensive end.
Lithuania is coming off a surprising run to the World semis and will have the huge advantage of playing in front of the best fan base in Europe. Lithuania will be without Linas Kleiza, but they have added veterans Saras Jasikevicius, Rimas Kaukenas and Darius Songaila back into the mix. They are going to need steady play from PG Mantas Kalnietis--always a dicey proposition. NBA fans can get a look at Toronto lottery pick Jonas Valanciunas, though his minutes could be limited due to foul trouble.
TIER II (Knockout phase-caliber teams):
France is loaded with quality NBA talent (Tony Parker, Joakim Noah, Boris Diaw, Nic Batum) and should have one of the top defensive units in the field. The question marks for Les Bleus come at the offensive end where this team has a tendency to go through some brutally inept stretches in the half-court. The problems arise from not being able to space the defense because of inconsistent outside shooters.
Russia is always dangerous because their defense is simply awesome and they have one of the best coaches in the tourney, David Blatt. Russia is kind of like France--strong defensively but has trouble consistently generating points. Don't really have a big-time natural scorer or shot-creator on the roster. Andrei Kirilenko is forced to be their primary option.
Turkey has as much raw talent as any team besides Spain but I wonder about the mental makeup of this team. The frontcourt rotation is one of the best in tourney: Omer Asik, Semih Erden, Ersan Ilyasova, Hedo Turkoglu, and Enes Kanter. [Note: Erden was a late scratch due to injury.] Rode the home crowd to an 8-1 record at the Worlds. I can go both ways with team: they could easily medal but I also wouldn't be surprised if Britain upsets them and they don't make it out of the first round.
Once again it's a shame we don't get to see Slovenia at full strength but they do have the services of Goran Dragic and Erazem Lorbek, the second-best player at EuroBasket '09. Slovenia has the luxury of being placed in the easiest opening round group (Group D) and a spot in the quarterfinals is likely.
Germany immediately became a contender when Dirk Nowitzki (and Chris Kaman) signed on for the summer. The last two times Dirk played in EuroBaskets, he led Germany to a fifth-place finish in '07 and a silver medal in '05. Team has great size and has plenty of shooters. Germany's room for error is very slim because finishing in the top three in Group B won't be easy. Italy is right on its heels for 3rd place in the group.
Croatia should be considered the favorite to win Group C and is expected to advance to the knockout phase. Nice center rotation of Ante Tomic and Stanko Barac coupled with a terrific wing tandem, Bojan Bogdanovic and Marko Tomas.
Honestly can't get a good read on Greece right now with all the roster upheaval and loss of their two best scorers, Vassilis Spanoulis and Sofo Schortsanitis. On a positive note, they will be getting Nick Calathes back after it seemed he would be sidelined with a bad ankle. Still have some top-level European talent on the roster--Antonis Fotsis, Giannis Bourousis and Nikos Zisis. Lucky they're in Group C, which is wide-open.
TIER III (Have a shot of advancing out of group play):
12) Great Britain
14) (FYR) Macedonia
Italy looks to regain its footing in the upper echelon of Euro teams. Danilo Gallinari joins Andrea Bargnani and Marco Belinelli after being sidelined the last few summers. Italy can definitely score points and spread the floor. But their frontline rotation is weak--no true interior presence--and they always get beaten up on the boards. Getting out of Group B won't be easy, but think they can challenge Germany and France.
Britain could not get Ben Gordon cleared for play, but they do have Luol Deng available. Besides Deng, Portland draftee Joel Freeland will be Britain's other key player. Don't see the Brits beating Spain or Lithuania, but do think they can challenge Turkey for the 3rd-place in Group A. The good news: they already have a Olympic berth locked up as the host country.
Slavic neighbors Montenegro and (FYR) Macedonia are pretty closely-matched and their matchup on the first day could determine 3rd place in Group C. Both teams have tough frontcourts with talented naturalized American PGs--Montenegro's Omar Cook and (FYR) Macedonia's Bo McCalebb. Also, both teams are beneficiaries of a lucky draw, being placed in Group C with an injury-riddled Greece team. Either team could sneak into the second round and even grab one of the four knockout-phase spots in Group F.
Georgia has benefited as much as any team from the luck of the draw. If they were in Group A or B, no chance at advancing to the second round. But being placed in Group D gives them a great shot at the second round. Zaza Pachulia is the leader of this team with multiple shooters and impressive athletes.
Bosnia is not far behind the the other Slavic teams in Group C and could legitimately compete for a top-three finish in their opening group. This team can drill shots on the perimeter and has multiple bigs who can float out. Should be better than they were last summer with the addition of PF Mirza Teletovic--one of the best shooters in Europe.
Dropped Israel a few spots after it looks like Omri Casspi won't be able to go. Israel loses its best offensive threat and likely loses any chance at advancing to the second round.
Belgium has played solid ball over the last few years and likely will fight Georgia for 3rd place in the weak Group D. Axel Hervelle is the primary option, though NBA player DJ Mbenga was a surprising late cut from the roster. [Note: Hervelle suffered a last-minute injury which will cause him to miss the tournament; Mbenga has been brought back to replace him.] Quality shooters on the perimeter but they lack size.
TIER IV (Likely won't get out of first round):
Mike Fratello (plus asst. coaches Brian Hill and Ed Pinckney) will try to get Ukraine past the first round of EuroBasket for the first time. Pretty solid frontcourt rotation of the likes of Sergey Lishchuk, Kyrylo Fesenko and Ole Pecherov. Dealt a blow recently when Atlanta Hawks draftee Sergey Gladyr had to be scratched because of injury. Lucky to be in Group D where 3rd place is up for grabs.
Poland will be without its starting frontline (and two best players), Marcin Gortat and Maciej Lampe. It probably would not have mattered if those guys were available as Group A is loaded. Poland will call on former Washington State guard Thomas Kelati and Szymon Szewczyk to be its primary options in Gortat & Lampe's absence.
Bulgaria is led by Ivanov bros. (Dejan & Kalo) and naturalized American guard Earl Rowland. Bulgaria was the weakest team at the last EuroBasket and likely won't fare much better this time around.
Latvia is missing most of its key players (A. Biedrins, K. Kambala, K. Valters) and will be forced to play with a threadbare squad. The frontline does not offer much at all, but Latvia does have plenty of guys who can drill jumpers. Even if they had their top-level talent, they likely would have not done much damage in a very tough Group B.
Finland and Portugal will round out the field after finishing ahead of Hungary in the recent play-in tourney. These two teams still have to play a final qualification game to determine group placement. Finland will likely get to be in Group C (because of pt. differential tiebreaker) and Portugal gets rewarded with a Group A entry.
>PLAYERS OF INTEREST
NBA players in the tournament:
-France: Tony Parker, Joakim Noah, Boris Diaw, Nicolas Batum, Kevin Seraphin
-Georgia: Zaza Pachulia
-Germany: Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Kaman
-Great Britain: Luol Deng
-Greece: Kosta Koufos
-Italy: Andrea Bargnani, Marco Belinelli, Danilo Gallinari
-Montenegro: Nikola Pekovic, Nicola Vucevic
-Russia: Andrei Kirilenko (FA), Timo Mozgov
-Slovenia: Goran Dragic
-Spain: Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, Rudy Fernandez, Serge Ibaka, Jose Calderon, Ricky Rubio
-Turkey: Hedo Turkoglu, Ersan Ilyasova, Omer Asik, Enes Kanter
-Ukraine: Kyrylo Fesenko
Players with their rights held by NBA teams:
Group A: Vic Claver (Spain/Blazers); Sergio Llull (Spain/Rockets); Emer Preldzic (Turkey/Wizards); Cenk Aykol (Turkey/Hawks); Joel Freeland (Britain/Blazers); Robertas Javtokas (Lithuania/Spurs); Jonas Valanciunas (Lithuania/Raptors); Szymon Scewczyk (Poland/Bucks).
Group B: Nemanja Bjelica & Milan Macvan (Serbia/Wolves); Nando De Colo (France/Spurs); Tibor Pliess (Germany/Thunder); Lior Eliyahu (Israel/Rockets); Yotam Halperin (Israel/Thunder); Davis Bertans (Latvia/Spurs).
Group C: Ante Tomic (Croatia/Jazz); Bojan Bogdanovic (Croatia/Nets); Stanko Barac (Croatia/Pacers); Nick Calathes (Greece/Mavs); Edin Bavcic (Bosnia/Sixers); Petteri Koponen (Finland/Mavericks)
Group D: Erazem Lorbek (Slovenia/Spurs); Vik Sanikidze (Georgia/Spurs); Serhiy Lishchuk (Ukraine/Lakers).
Possible Draft prospects: Ninad Dedovic (Bosnia); Tornike Shengalia (Georgia)
Possible Free Agent targets:
- Milos Teodosic (Serbia), Bo McCalebb ((FYR) Macedonia), Vlad Dasic (Montenegro), Mirza Teletovic (Bosnia), Giannis Bourousis (Greece), Giorgi Shermadini (Georgia)
*--Stay tuned for in-depth group previews over the next week
• EuroBasket 2011 Preview: Overview | Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D
• 2011 FIBA Americas Preview