Monday, August 31, 2009

'09 FIBA Americas: Argentina 89, Dom. Republic 87 (OT)

Luis Scola & timely outside shooting lift Argentina over Dominican Republic 89-87 in OT.

Forget about Canada-Uruguay, this game easily qualifies as the best game of the 1st round. Fewer TOs (total of 16) & fewer fouls than the Can-Urug game plus the added juice of a lively crowd made for a memorable match.

This win happened because of a combination of Scola's interior work and team 3pt. shooting. Argentina's shooting had been faltering lately but they turned it on from deep--shooting 13/28 from 3pt range. 69 of Argentina's 89 pts came from either Scola (30pts) or 3pt. shooting. And plenty of those 3pts. were created from doubles/extra help on Scola.

Argentina was lucky to pull out the win considering the way Dom. Rep. manhandled them on the glass: 48-35, 20 off. rebs. The Dominicans recorded 12 off. rebs over the 4th Q & OT. Had 7 off rebs. in OT alone. Though, Dom. Rep. had some trouble converting easy 2nd chance opportunities, especially down the stretch.

Dom Rep. often went with a big frontcourt alignment with Al Horford & JM Martinez upfront, C. Villanueva at the 3. These three bigs combined for 31 rebs, 15 off. rebs. Horford & Martinez were dogged on the off. glass (6 each), and scored multiple times off put-backs. Most of Martinez's 13 pts came off 2nd chance pts. Though, JM Martinez had a crucial tip-in rim-out in OT.

Martinez saw the brunt of minutes defending Scola, so as to free Horford to patrol as a help defender in the middle. But with Martinez assigned to Scola, constant help was required and this opened up space for the other Argentines.

Scola was a force near the basket scoring off righty hooks, up/under moves, drop-steps, spins, and a few put-backs off his 5 off. rebs. Coach Hernandez decided to leave Scola in the game after picking up his 4th foul early in the 4th, and the choice paid off in Argentina's next offensive possession, with Scola getting fouled on a nice up/under move. Scola sought out contact as usual--10 for 14 on free throws.

Scola did a great job moving the ball out of the post when doubled--Luis had 5 assts, including setting up Andres Pelussi for a 3pt. that tied the game 74-74 in regulation.

Pablo Prigioni seems to be rounding into his usual form after looking rusty in the first two games. Was back to making sound decisions with the ball, including wisely picking when to shoot--Prigioni connected on 3/6 3pts, including a big corner 3 that cut D.R.'s 5-point lead to 86-84 in OT.

Not sure there is a PG in the world next to Nash who has better placement on his passes than Prigioni. Master of the bounce pass. Had a superb bounce pass to Scola off the pick/roll, where he threw the ball to an area like a good quarterback. Pablo had 11 pts & 5 assts.

Leo Gutierrez's only job is to shoot standstill jumpers, and he fulfilled this duty big-time on Sunday. Leo hit on 3/8 from 3pt. range, including a monster 3pt. to give Arg. a 84-83 lead with 1:20 left in OT. Argentina was thankful that SG Paolo Quinteros regained his shooting touch that has been off for the last few weeks. Quinteros scored most of his 14 pts on jumpers--a few 3pt. makes and a few quick-dribble pull-ups.

Again there was some spotty decision making & shot selection from the Dominicans. This was amplified by a shot clock violation with 0:30 in OT with D.R. down 3 pts.

Scola's stellar interior play was replicated by Al Horford. Scored his 24 pts on a couple turnaround jumpers, couple hooks, and couple buckets on put-backs. Al's underrated interior passing skills were on display again--6 assts for Al.

2 quick fouls (drawn by Scola) really knocked Charlie Villanueva off-kilter and Charlie forced the action the rest of the game. He did help out on the boards with 10 rebs, but shot just 2/13 & had 3 TOs. Villanueva missed a chippy hook to win the game in regulation.

Most of Francisco Garcia's 20 pts came off of long 3pts with hands in his face--5/8 on 3pts. This seems to be Garcia's specialty in this tourney. Luis Flores' penetration effectively led to 16 pts & 4 assts.

This outcome had huge ramifications for Argentina, not to mention Panama & Venezuela. First off, the win allowed Panama to slide into the 2nd round over Venezuela. Secondly, this win means Arg. carries a 2-1 record into the 2nd round instead of an 0-3 record. Finally, Arg. gets to carry over the +25 scoring margin from their game vs. Panama in the 2nd round. Also, this outcome could possibly open up a wild-card berth for another country outside of Europe because Argentina's semifinal chances improve.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

'09 FIBA Americas: Day 4 Recap

Uruguay 71, Canada 69

Martin Osimani's clutch pull-up 25-footer with 0:20 left in a 67-67 tie game propelled Uruguay to victory over Team Canada.

Finally, a game with a compelling finish after all these blowouts. Big win for Uruguay that could be a head-2-head tiebreaker for the no. 2 seed in Group A, which should lead to a more favorable matchup in the critical quarterfinals, which determine the four qualifying teams. Riding high after pounding less-than-formidable Mexico & V. Isles, Canada was brought back down to earth by a solid Uruguay club.

Competitive, physical game throughout, just not necessarily well-played basketball. Both teams combined for 46 fouls & 34 TOs. A chunk of Canada's turnovers came the way of offensive fouls. 17 TOs combined with 26 fouls plus 5/22 3pt. shooting won't win you too many games. After their shooting barrage vs. Mexico, Canada's shooting touch has faltered--12/44 over the last two games.

Canada switched to some zone in the 2nd after Uruguay scored 25 pts in the 1st Q., and primarily stayed with it the rest of game. It was a good adjustment because your first objective vs. Uruguay is to take away Esteban Batista's touches on the block.

Another reason for zone vs. Urugauy: SF Mauricio Aguiar & PG Martin Osimani are normally subpar shooters. Batista's post-ups did dry up after the 1st quarter. And Uruguay struggled to score in the middle portion of the game. Just too bad for Canada that Osimani & Aguiar chose to locate their shooting strokes, especially late in the game.

Martin Osimani is not known for his shooting, known for steady floor game, but he came up huge with three 3pts. The biggest 3pt. came with 0:20 left when Osimani isolated Andy Rautins up high and drilled a pull-up 25-footer to break a 67-67 tie. Osimani combined his surprising shooting night with his usual savvy quarterbacking off the high screens. Martin had 14 pts, 9 assts, & 2 stls.

Esteban Batista used his thick body to score off post-ups early (defenders can't get around him). Then when Canada went to zone, Esteban scored around the basket on cuts & put-backs off his 4 off. rebs. Batista helped Osimani with 18 pts on 8/13 & 12 rebs.

Uruguay has the best defensive backcourt in the tourney in the trio of Leandro Garcia-Morales, Osimani, & Gustavo Barrera. Very aggressive and have quick hands. Garcia-Morales was a defensive pest in '07 and is a steal merchant. But I've been as impressed with reserve guard Barrera's disruptiveness. Their ball pressure created some of Team Canada's problems on offense. Did a good job digging down on the post as well.

Joel Anthony continues to showcase a blossoming offensive game with 13 pts on 6/7. Had a couple turnaround jumpers, not to mention a clip for his YouTube reel. Joel faced up 15 feet away on the right wing on Batista, gave a shot-fake then drove for a soaring left-handed smush on Batista's mug.

Over the past few years, the one thing we've learned about Canada is that PF Jesse Young just goes to work. Young was relentless on the floor with a monster line of 20 pts (7/11), 8 rebs (5 off), & 2 blks. Young scored by way of a few mid-range jumpers, cuts to the rim, and getting fouled on his off. rebs. Jesse went to the foul line 8 times, making all 8.

The two primary ball-handlers for Canada, Carl English & Jermaine Anderson, did not take well to the aggressive perimeter defense, with a combined 10 TOs. Though, both players did some positive things. Thought Anderson's penetration was the best I've seen from him, and it paid off in lay-ins & free throws, not to mention 6 assts. English hit some outside looks for 12 pts & 5 rebs.

Canada should be tested again on Sunday with a game vs. Puerto Rico. And it keeps getting tougher for the Canadians with the likes of Brazil, Dom. Rep. & Argentina still to come.


Dominican Republic 78, Venezuela 73

Dom. Rep. was steered to victory by their trio of NBAers. Chaz Villanueva, Cisco Garcia, & Al Horford combined for 63 of D.R.'s 78 pts.

Charlie Villanueva tore up the Venezuela defense with long jumpers, plenty of short pull-ups, and strong finishes. Some of the best all-around activity I've ever seen from Chuckie. 28 pts on 11/23 & 12 rebs for Charlie.

Big Al Horford showed off some hook shots on his way to 14 pts & 12 rebs. Horford's underrated interior passing skills were on display, along with some furious off. rebounding (6 off.). Francisco Garcia's 21 pts came on some purposeful drives and cuts in the half-court.

Dom. Rep. went with a lot of zone, which is the way to go vs. the poor-shooting Venezuela club. Venezuela only shot 41% from the field, 5/20 behind the arc. If you'd watched this game without the score on the screen, you would have thought the Dominicans were in total control of the game. But they let Venezuela hang around because of 42% shooting of their own.

The Dominicans got a little sloppy in their execution on both ends in the 2nd half, and let Venezuela creep back into the game in the 4th. Dom. Rep. seemed to have some trouble finishing, including missing tip-ins off their 16 off rebs. Actually, their 16 off rebs were created by them grabbing their missed tip-ins.

Even against the zone, rugged combo forward Hector Romero relentlessly drove toward the rim for 25 pts. Dom Rep had a tough time containing Hector and keeping him off the glass--9 rebs (5 off.). Looked like '07 vintage Romero. Crafty 52-old vet Richard Lugo scored on a bunch of mid-range jumpers and few post moves. Lugo finished with 16 pts, 9 rebs, 2 blks, & roughly 10 goaltends.

Oscar Torres was the lone Venezuela player that made Dom. Rep. pay for playing zone with 4/9 shooting from 3pt. land. Maryland's Greivis Vasquez made some questionable decisions (4 TOs) and didn't seem to have much impact but he did end with 11 pts, 7 assts, & 6 rebs.

Venezuela finished the 1st round 1-3, and have to see how Panama & Argentina fare on Sunday. If there is a 3-way tie between Venz., Pan., & Arg (which is very likely), the tiebreaker is based on goal difference (which is very similar to pt. differential). Right now Venz. has a pt. diff. of -14, Arg. is 0, Pan. -29. Panama has Brazil tomorrow so Venezuela looks safe for the 2nd round.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

'09 FIBA Americas: Brazil 76, Argentina 67

In Day 3 action, Brazil improved to 3-0 in Group B 1st-round play with a victory over its South American rival, Argentina. Argentina dropped to 0-2, and is in serious danger of failing to advance to the 2nd round.

It's obvious these teams are familiar with the others' personnel & tendencies. This is usually the case when these neighbors meet--it often leads to ragged, defensive affairs. Argentina's anemic offense wasn't aided by Scola being limited to 24 mins with foul trouble.

Most of the 2nd quarter was harsh, with Argentina scoring only 10 pts, and Brazil scoring only 2 points in the first 7:30 of the quarter. The game was made even choppier in the 3rd quarter thanks to a spate of dubious tech/intentional foul calls. There were about 4-5 head-scratching whistles that ruined the flow; it's FIBA, after all.

Leandro Barbosa led Brazil in the scoring column once again with 21 pts. He did damage with pull-ups off pick/roll action, including a big pull-up 3pt. to stop an Arg. mini-run in 4th.

But Leandro's backcourt mate, Marcelo Huertas, was the key to victory. Marcelo was a playmaker deluxe, finding Barbosa on the break with long lead passes and repeatedly scoring with his patented floater in the lane (I counted 4 floaters). Even added a nice up/under move and a key tip-in in the 4th. Huertas crushed with 18 pts on 8/12, 7 rebs, 5 assts & 2 stls.

Andy Varejao was active all over again with 19 pts, 9 rebs & 3 stls. Andy even hit a couple long jumpers, including a buzzer-beating 3pt. make to end the 1st Q. Brazil's Guilherme Giovannoni came off the bench to fulfill his role as a 4-spreader (like this term instead of Spread-4), hitting all three of his 3pt. attempts.

Tiago Splitter didn't see many touches today, but still had a solid game with 7 (2/5) pts, 8 rebs, 2 stls & 3 assts. Though, his former Tau Ceramica teammate Scola worked him over on the left block a few times.

Argentina got a fair amount of quality looks in the 1st half, just couldn't get shots to fall. They continued to struggle with their outside shooting--4/21 from 3pt.

Not really sure what possessed Pablo Prigioni to jack up so many ill-advised jumpers--2/11 overall, 0/8 from 3pt. Pablo usually makes uncanny decisions with the ball and is reluctant to look for his shot. Maybe he felt his squad needs all the scoring help it can get. At least he was masterful in whipping perfectly targeted passes--dished out 8 assts.

Luis Scola was the lone Argentine to find any success putting the ball in the basket--Luis had 19 pts on 9/16. Luis put on a clinic in the low post with spins, fake spins, drop sets, and finishing with hooks.

Paolo Quinteros continues to struggle in his role of the second scoring option--Paolo had only 5 pts on 2/9 shooting. His lack of size makes it easier for opponents to smother him. We bandied about this point in our preview but wasn't sure how it would play out.

This Arg. team is pretty much the same team that took home a Silver in '07, except they're missing C. Delfino. Knew the dropoff from Delfino to Quinteros as the 2nd scoring option was precipitous, but didn't think it would be this big of a deal.

Forces Prigioni into more of a scoring mode (like this game), and that not what's you want Pablo concentrating on. He should be setting teammates up with his precision passing.

Argentina now has a big showdown with Panama on Sat. that might determine the last Group B entry into Round 2. Even if Argentina wins, they could still be in trouble, thanks to Panama upsetting Venezuela on Fri. A 3-way tie is a possibility, and Arg. is hurting in the pt. differential dept.--currently at -25.

Friday, August 28, 2009

'09 FIBA Americas: Canada 95, Mexico 40

Day 2 of FIBA Americas play saw mostly blowouts, and this game's 55-point margin was highly unexpected.

No doubt the best offensive display by Team Canada that I can remember. Came out of the gates sharp offensively, drilling jumpers all over. And Canadians never let up. Canada shot a ridiculous 19/33 from 3pt. land for the game.

Can. outscored Mex. 30-13 in the 1st Q. on 12/24 shooting, 5/9 from deep. Ex-Utah Ute PG Tyler Kepkay added an exclamation point to Canada's dominating 1st quarter with a 3/4-court buzzer-beater.

We've documented Team Canada's offensive struggles in the past. So this game was a welcomed surprise for Team Canada. Maybe Coach Rautins has figured out a better system (creating shots with player/ball movement instead off the dribble) for his talent, or this was just an aberration (Canada was idle Wednesday while Mexico had to play the late game vs. Puerto Rico). We pointed out in our preview that Canada has a fleet of perimeter shooters. And it seems Leo wants to emphasize this strength this year.

Quick, crisp ball movement was on the menu today--terrific job moving the ball side-to-side. 30 of Canada's 35 made buckets were assisted. Coach Leo has done nice job installing more movement into the offense this summer. Leo has no one who can consistently create offensive or demand doubles/extra attention from the defense. Relying less on dribbling and more on ball movement is a smart move by Coach Leo.

Ex-Hawaii star Carl English really heated up in the 3rd, scoring 14 of 17 pts in the quarter. English was pure from the perimeter, draining 5/7 3pts. Some of his makes came off quick dribble pull-ups. Syracuse deadeye Andy Rautins outdid Carl from long-range by hitting 6/9 behind the arc. Jermaine Bucknor got the surprise start at PF, and stepped up with three 3pts. of his own.

Canada has stayed competitive the last few years thanks to a commitment to taut team defense. They help each other and are always anchored by a strong interior defense that protects the rim.

Miami Heat's Joel Anthony was solid defensively, causing problems for Mex. near the rim. Anthony even showed off refined offensive skills with a couple short jumpers and few post moves, including a slam off a quick baseline spin move. Joel ended with 11 pts, 5 rebs, 3 stls, & 2 blks in only 16 mins.

Anthony teamed up with Jesse Young & Levon Kendall in commanding the painted area. Kendall & Young combined for 20 rebs, and their usual brand of physical interior defense. This trio of bigs always give workmanlike effort. The always strong-rebounding Canucks pounded the Mexicans on glass 47-30.

The wing trio of English, Aaron Doornekamp, & Olu Famutimi hounded Mexican go-to-guy Romel Beck into a putrid night--Beck was 1/9 from the field. Forced Beck into a bunch of off-balance, challenged runners. The whole Maple Leaf brigade had hands in the face of Mexican shooters all game. SF Noe Alonzo was the only Mexican to find even a sliver of success vs. Canada, with three 3pt. makes.

The strong defense & rebounding should continue for Canada. Will the continuity on offense continue? Grabbing a qualifying spot is heavily reliant on their outside shooting.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

'09 FIBA Americas: Brazil 81, Dom. Republic 68

Brazil outscored Dominican Republic 24-7 in the 4th quarter on its way to a 81-68 1st round win in Group B play.

This anticipated matchup didn't quite live up to its potential thanks to key frontcourt players saddled with foul trouble. D.R.'s Al Horford saw only 18 mins of court time, Charlie Villanueva only 22 mins. Brazil had to deal with its own foul issues, with Tiago Splitter limited to 24 mins with 4 fouls.

Even though there were only a total of 28 fouls between the two teams, the refs were a little too whistle happy. I'm sure Dominican fans feel even more furious about that assessment.

A few dubious calls against Villanueva for offensive fouls early, and Horford was clearly tagged with a foul that should have been given to Luis Flores. Though Horford's last two fouls were legit, and so was Villanueva's 5th foul.

The Dominicans simply crumbled in the 4th, scoring 7 points in the quarter, 3 pts in the last 8:00. And the team really became unhinged after the foul-outs of Horford & Villanueva with about 5 mins. left. The offense lost any semblance of organization.

Tiago Splitter had to sit long stretches due to fouls, but still was the best all-around player of the game. Splitter gave Horford all types of problems, and was mainly responsible for Horford's foul issues. Splitter finished with 14 pts, 10 rebs (3 off) & 3 stls. The Spurs win again.

Splitter really displayed his importance with a key stretch of successive possessions starting around the 5:00 mark of the 4th:

    1) 5:00, 4th: Tiago breaks a 66-66 tie with a nifty up/under move on the left block. Brazil never trails again.

    2) Next possession (4:55): Villanueva drives baseline, Tiago slides across the lane to take the charge, Villanueva done with 5 fouls.

    3) Next possession (4:35): Tiago finishes at basket off a Huertas feed, Brazil 70-66.

    4) Next possession (4:22): Tiago jumps out on the perimeter to make a great steal, keeps the ball in bounds, hit-ahead pass leads directly to a Garcia transition lay-in, Brazil 72-66.

    5) Next possession (4:18): Tiago gets defensive rebound.

    6) Next possession (3:30): Tiago posts on the left side, surveys, finds Varejao cutting on the baseline for a reverse lay-in, Brazil 74-66. Game Over.

We mentioned in the preview that Splitter's footwork has steadily improved, and he showcased two sweet up/under moves (just like he did at the Tuto Marchand Cup). No surprise Splitter was an all-around force defensively changing shots, moving laterally, and jumping passing lanes.

Man, as much as the Spurs have improved this offseason, Splitter sure would be another nice piece to add to counter the Lakers' bigs, but he's still a year away from the NBA. I wonder if, come next May, we'll be writing in this space that Tiago was the one key missing piece of the puzzle that the Spurs needed to overcome L.A.

Brazil's interior defense was excellent with Varejao & Splitter providing stellar resistance & help. Varejao was his usual pesky self with activity on the glass & defensively--Andy had 10 & 10.

Brazil were led in the scoring column by their explosive shooting guards, Leandro Barbosa & Alex Garcia--both recording 21 pts & 4 assts. Barbosa could never find the touch from long-range (1/8 3pt.), but did his damage finishing in transition or driving in the half-court.

While the rest of his teammates had trouble finishing, Brazil's Alex Garcia helped reel the Dominicans back in with some timely shooting in the 3rd. Garcia drilled two 3pts & one long 2 pt. in the quarter. Like Barbosa, Garcia did a nice job getting to the rim in transition & the half-court.

Brazil really advances the ball quickly in transition. It's not just that their backcourt is speedy, they pass the ball well on the break. Did this well at the Tuto Cup last week.

D.R.'s zone alignment was effective in the 2nd quarter. The zone messed up some of Brazil's motion and post-up opportunities. SF Marcelo Machado came in the 2nd quarter and did what he's known for--knocking down three long-bombs & sweet dishes. Machado scored all his 9 pts in the 2nd.

Surprised with how Brazil commanded boards--outrebounded D.R. 43-32. The Dominicans allowed 15 off. rebs. to Brazil--three each to Splitter & Varejao. Brazil chased down a lot of long rebounds, and would be curious to know 2nd chance pts tally.

Dom. Rep. hurt themselves with turnovers as well--17 overall. A fair amount of these TOs seem to result from offensive fouls.

Brazil seemed to be outplaying Dom. Rep. early but the Dominicans stayed close strictly because of their deep shooting. The Dominicans finished the 1st half shooting 7/11 from 3pt. land (11/24 for the game). But tempered that with 11 1st half turnovers.

Francisco Garcia was groovin' early, banging deep 3-balls with hands in his face. Garcia was 5/10 from deep for the game, 2 or 3 of which came in transition (Reserve guard Kelvin Pena kicked in three 3 pts. himself). Garcia's alertness helping his teammates led to 5 blocks.

Villanueva looked to be forcing the action early, but sparked the Dominicans in the 3rd, scoring 12 of 14 pts in the quarter. Chuckie had success driving for short pull-ups on Varejao and hit a 3pt. as well.

Combo guard Luis Flores did some productive things like getting into lane to dish off 9 assts. But he also showed some of his negatives with some ill-advised shots and careless playmaking (6 TOs). Horford didn't get much going offensively in his limited time, but was effective on the backline defensively in help situations & grabbed 7 rebs.

These teams are pretty closely matched, and expect to see them meeting again in the semis or finals. Hopefully, in the next meeting, the FIBA refs don't have as much influence on the outcome.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

2009 FIBA Americas: Team Capsules

The 2009 FIBA Americas Tournament starts on Wednesday in San Juan, Puerto Rico with a potential gold-medal game preview between Brazil and the emergent Dominican Republic on opening day.

10 teams are split into two groups. The top 4 in each group advance to knockout play. The 4 semifinalists will automatically qualify for the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Turkey. (The U.S. has already qualified for the Worlds based on its gold medal in Beijing, and is sitting this tournament out.)

All of the games can be watched for free on ESPN360. If you are unable to access ESPN360, FIBA is offering the tournament on a pay-per-view basis for $15.

Here are preview team capsules for the 10 participating nations:

TIER I: (Semi-Final Favorites)
Key Players: L. Barbosa; A. Varejao; T. Splitter; M. Machado
Missing Players: Nene; R. Araujo; M. Vinicius;

Played very well in the exhibition stage, and rolled thru the Tuto Marchand Cup last week in Puerto Rico. Best starting five in the field. Nice balance between backcourt & frontcourt. This team will look to get out in transition, as they should.

As usual, this team has great team speed with L. Barbosa, M. Huertas, & A. Garcia. Not to mention their bigs run the floor hard. Thought they were more dangerous at the '06 Worlds when they played uptempo, and scrambled defensively. Did a nice job pushing the pace last week in Puerto Rico.

Coach Moncho Monslave was brought in to instill some type of order after the near mutiny at the '07 Americas under Coach Ferreira. In '07, Brazil would bog down offensively often up against the shot clock. Looked directionless, and would often forget to get the ball to Nene & Tiago Splitter on the blocks. Moncho has already seemed to solve some of these problems with better spacing & movement on offense.

In exhibition games, had a lot of success getting the ball to the baseline wing area then finding Andy Varejao or Splitter diving down the middle of the lane. Brazil likes using double-high post sets where bigs peel-n-seal. Looking to set up Splitter on the left block, sometimes even Varejao gets his number called. Obviously, Barbosa gets the majority of the perimeter plays.

Have noticed for a few years that Tiago's footwork has been improving, and showcased a few sweet up/under step-thru moves at the Tuto Cup. Will finish with either hand, but his touch can falter sometimes. Tiago can put the ball on the deck as well, but more in a straight-line way. Basically, best all-around big not in the NBA.

Splitter & Varejao are the best defensive frontline in the tourney. Both guys are comfortable moving away from the painted area, and adept at covering pick/rolls.

The underrated weapon of this team is veteran SF Marcelo Machado. His deadeye shooting skills are renowned, but it's his terrific passing skills that might be more impressive--great entry passer. Machado runs the floor well, and rebounds well for a SF.

Jeff Buckley-lookalike Marcelo Huertas is a speedy 6-3 PG who can penetrate and finish with variety of floaters. Former Spur/Hornet Alex Garcia likes to play aggressive defense, and brings more explosiveness to the backcourt off the bench. Combo forward Guilherme Giovannoni can step out to the perimeter. Former Gonzaga PF JP Batista is wide-body with nimble footwork on the block.

Still seem to have some issues with their free throw shooting; the foul line killed them in '06. They're the favorite for Gold, but not an overwhelming fave. The Dominicans matched up very well with Brazil, and Puerto Rico's depth rivals Brazil.

Key Players: Francisco Garcia; Al Horford; Chuck Villanueva
Missing Players: Trevor Ariza

The new contender on the Americas zone scene thanks to recent addition of handful of solid NBAers in the last few years. The trio of Al Horford, Francisco Garcia & recent add Chuck Villanueva usher in a new era for the Dominican Nat'l team. Earned a trip to '09 Americas by finishing 3rd in the '08 Centrobasket.

Like Splitter & Varejao are the best defensive frontline, Horford & Villanueva are arguably the best offensive frontline in the tourney.

Nice rotation on their wings with Garcia, Ricardo Greer, Franklin Western. Western played at Providence in the mid-90s, but the 37 year-old is still a reliable scorer. Euroleague & French league standout Ricardo Greer brings a solid all-around game. The 6-5 Greer rebounds well for his size, has great passing skills and is a disruptive defensive presence. Though, Greer & Western are not deep threats.

Kelvin Pena is a lanky wing who can knock down perimeter shots. Jack Michael Martinez is sort of a shorter version of Horford thanks to his strong rebounding, rugged defense & nice interior passing skills. Villanueva's shooting should complement Horford & JM Martinez's more interior-inclined skills well.

Biggest question mark for the Dominicans is the point-guard position. 6-2 PG Carlos Morban shot the long ball well last year, but in general is erratic shooter and a subpar distributor. The Dominicans would like to anoint Luis Flores (starred at Manhattan College & briefly played for Golden State) as their quarterback, but 6-1 Luis is a 2-guard at heart.

Have the goods to bring home the gold. Open the tourney on Wednesday with a possible Gold Medal game preview vs. Brazil. Should surely grab a qualifying spot at least.

On a side tangent--I know the D.R. federation doesn't have the cash reserves of USA BBall, but I hope the unis they have been wearing in exhibition games are just practice jerseys. Couldn't the NBA boys spring into their pockets and place an order for proper game gear. I used to find better jerseys in the $3 irregular bins at the Champion Factory Outlet back in the day.

Key Players: C. Arroyo; L. Ayuso; D. Santiago
Missing Players: JJ Barea

Probably the deepest roster in the tourney, and filled with battle-tested FIBA vets. Carlos Arroyo, Larry Ayuso, & Dan Santiago are back once again trying to win a FIBA Americas title in front of the home crowd.

Arroyo & Ayuso gives the home team one of the top backcourts in the tourney. Both guards can give you 20+ points every night. Arroyo is run thru constant ball screens while Ayuso is run thru off-ball screens. Ayuso can get extremely streaky (think a FIBA Ben Gordon) where every off-balance chuck finds the bottom of the net. Cat-quick reserve PG Filiberto Rivera (ex-UTEP) is a crafty passer, but ain't much of a shooter.

Plenty of long-distance weapons on the P.R. roster--Arroyo, Ayuso, C. Lee, AD Vassallo, & R. Sanchez. And the 3pt. shot is a big part of the P.R. offensive arsenal.

Have underrated combo at the SF position in 6-7 Carmelo Lee (ex-Long Beach) & recent VA Tech star, AD Vassallo. Lee is a reliable shooter, and his long arms wreck havoc on defense. The 6-6 Vassallo gives Puerto Rico another solid outside shooter, not to mention an athletic finisher off the bench.

Dan Santiago can do some scoring on the block and rolls well off high screens. 7-foot PF Ricky Sanchez (Nugget draftee) loves to spot-up behind the arc. Also, Sanchez has shown some glimpses of improved driving ability.

Puerto Rico's frontcourt depth could be in some doubt because of the questionable status of PF Angelo Reyes & 7-3 PJ Ramos. The possible loss of 6-8 Reyes could be a huge blow because Reyes' does the dirty work that the trio of 7-footers fail to do. Reyes is a bull on the boards. PJ Ramos has surprisingly spry post moves, but seems to be playing the game just because he's 7-3.

Have a shot at gold thanks to their depth and home-court advantage. Were beaten thoroughly by both Brazil & Dominican Rep. in warm-up games, but P. Rico was not at full-strength.

Key Players: Luis Scola; Pablo Prigioni; Paolo Quinteros
Missing Players: Manu; Nocioni; Delfino; Oberto

Tentatively penciled into the the last qualifying spot. Have not looked very sharp in the exhibition stage. Kind of hard to gauge since they look uninspired in exhibition stage, especially on the defensive end, and Pablo Prigioni has not played a single prep game.

The multiple no-shows have depleted the usual depth. And the no-shows probably upset Daryl Morey more than anybody. Arg. will have to ride Luis Scola hard because just don't have the requisite offensive firepower around him. I see Scola getting 35-37 mins/game.

Run plenty of pick/rolls, move Scola all over the floor 18 feet & in. Continue to run some of their patented flex sets. Basically, getting the ball to Scola on the block or for mid-range jumpers is the main objective.

Prigioni is the best point guard in the field, and he should give this team a totally different look than what we saw in the prep games. Not the greatest athlete or shooter, he just plays efficiently & under control. Precision passing is his calling card, and is sneaky jumping passing lanes. The Prigioni-Scola pick/roll is a dangerous play for opposing teams.

SG Paolo Quinteros is the designated sharpshooter who Argentina will constantly run off baseline screens. Sometimes Quinteros is used as playmaker in pick/roll, and was used this way a lot at the Tuto Cup. But I have to imagine his pick/roll will lessen with the return of Prigioni. Paolo can be frustrated if the opposing team keys in on him because he's only 6-1.

Big man Roman Gonzalez can hit a face-up jumper and occasionally score with a lefty hook. It looks like Roman was hired from his main gig as strip-club doorman to play just for summer. Perhaps the Arg. federation bribed Roman with a daily quarter-keg of his preferred cerveza in his locker-room stall so he can refresh pre-game, half-time, and immediately post-game.

Painted Area fave Federico Kammerichs is back this year but disappointedly has chosen to sport the full beard as opposed to the 'stache. Kammerichs (6-8) & Matias Sandes (6-7) provide Argentina with activity & rebounding at the SF. Neither is much of a shooter.

Not sure this squad's shooting is up to snuff. Besides Quinteros, reserve PG Juan Cantero is the only reliable shooter. Have to hope for Prigioni rekindling his hot hand from '07.

Not really much to play for besides pride. This roster is similar to '07 Silver Medal version, but the absence of Delfino changes the dynamics. It forces Quinteros into the secondary scoring role, and he's probably better suited for a strictly shooting role. But really doesn't matter how they fare, since they are essentially a lock for a wild-card berth into the Worlds if they don't make the semi-finals.

TIER II: (Each team should advance to 2nd round)
Key Players: Carl English; Joel Anthony; Jesse Young
Missing Players: Nash; Sam Dalembert; Juan Mendez; Greg Newton

The Maple Leaf Boys have had their ups & downs under the guidance of Leo Rautins the last few years. They had a solid showing in '07 with a 5th-place finish thanks in large part to dominant defensive play from Sam Dalembert. But at last summer's Olympic qualifer in Athens, something went seriously wrong behind the scenes and Sammy was sent packing.

Canada really didn't have high hopes earlier this summer, but things have slowly brightened in the Great White North. Canada has played not-terrible ball in the exhibition stage. The offense is still ugly, but the defense is stout. Team Canada recently throttled Argentina at the Tuto Cup.

There's really no one to create easy offensive looks on Team Canada. No one who's adept at running an offense or getting the team smoothly into sets. The pride of Newfoundland, 6-6 Carl English, is probably their best playmaker, but he's no great shakes himself. The athletic Newfie does a little bit of everything adequately, but nothing really well. But when he's considered your best option, your offense is in some trouble.

Canada can really go thru lulls on the offensive end, and I foresee this trend continuing. The lack of a potent scorer is compounded by the fact that they really don't have a strong pure point in the post-Nash era. 6-1 Jermaine Anderson (ex-Fordham) is an effective jump-shooter but can't really penetrate off the bounce, and has little in the way of point guard instincts.

Athletic swingman Olu Famutimi shows glimpses of big-time talent, but he only seems to show them in small bursts. Showed in the past he can create in the mid-range area, but he would disappear for long stretches.

This squad makes up for their lack of offensive continuity with strong work on defense & on the boards. Like they have been in the past, they're a solid rebounding unit and solid interior defense. Former Pitt Panther Levon Kendall is the first big off the pine and provides stout positional defense on the block & timely help. Miami Heat's Joel Anthony can't totally make up for the loss of Sam Dalembert, but he's an active body who will board & defend well. Starting PF Jesse Young is one tough hoser who can score some on the block with a decent jumper.

Off the bench, the Canucks turn to Syracuse's Andy Rautins for sharpshooting. Will run Rautins off screens, usually getting him open up high. 6-7 combo forward Aaron Doornekamp & 6-0 PG Tyler Kepkay (ex-Utah Ute) provide more perimeter marksmanship off the bench.

Canada actually has a collection of solid shooters--English, Anderson, Rautins, Kepkay, & Famutimi--they just have no players who draw extra defenders.

If Canada underachieves this summer and fails to push Argentina for the last qualifying spot, it's probably the end of Leo's coaching stint. And I would nominate Mr. Lahey to replace Leo because he knows what it takes to be in charge. Randy will join him as an asst. coach, sans polo shirt, of course.

Key Players: Esteban Batista; L. Garcia-Morales
Missing Players: Nicolas Mazzarino

Uruguay finished 6th in '07, and project as a middle-o-pack team again. They do have a decent chance of stealing a qualifying spot if Argentina plays lackluster ball. Though, this team can't afford any suspensions that might be doled out for their recent tap-dance with Mexico in a "friendly" game:

At least their first-round matchup with Mexico should be very interesting.

Have patterned their offense after their successful neighbor, Argentina. Like to run motion-type sets with some double-high post formation thrown in. Like Argentina, have good cohesion, and often play above their talent level.

Led by ex-Atlanta Hawk Esteban Batista, who's an absolute beast in the interior in FIBA--averaged 20 & 12 in '07. Will often have to navigate consistent double-teams, and draws a ton of fouls. His touch is a little dodgy, and can miss chippies, but has a knack for corralling his misses.

Batista badly needs help on the frontline--Uruguay has been undersized & deficient on the boards in the past. They hope 6-9 Reque Newsome (naturalized American) can aid Batista with rebounding.

Big PG Martin Osimani has a nice all-around floor game, and directs the offense with patience. Though, Osimani's health is questionable and if he can't go, Uruguay qualifying chances shrink. 6-4 Gustavo Barrera gives Uruguay another big PG with nice passing skills in case Osimani is laboring.

Leandro Garcia-Morales (ex-Tex A&M) is another combo guard that Uruguay can count on to provide solid shooting & some ball-handling. Garcia-Morales is also a dogged defender on the perimeter, who's a steals machine. 6-6 SF Mauricio Aquiar is an athletic scorer who likes to attack, but lacks a steady jumper.

The retirement of SG Nicolas Mazzarino is a significant loss. Springing Mazzarino open off screens was a big chunk of the Uruguay offense. His flawless jumper was a nice complement to Batista's interior work. Their outside shooting could be a problem, encouraging more doubles/triples on Batista.

Key Players: Hector Romero; Greivis. Vasquez; O. Torres; R. Lugo
Missing Players: None

Will be aided by some important vets who were absent from the '07 squad that finished 8th. 6-10 Richard Lugo returns to fold after a few years away from the national team. Lugo was the best player on the '06 Worlds team, averaging a double-double in group play.

Oscar Torres had a short stint in the NBA with the Rockets, where he pitched in 6 ppg for the '01-'02 season. A injury shelved Torres right before the '07 Americas. Torres shuns the outside shot to attack off the dribble.

They actually project to have a pretty nice frontcourt rotation this summer. The aggressive undersized PF Hector Romero was their go-to-guy in '07. Romero (6-7) looks to attack the basket 12-feet & in, and his powerful package draws fouls. 6-6 Axiers Sucre provides another tough, undersized forward who can score & rebound behind Romero.

Miguel Marriaga was considered a NBA prospect a few years ago but has never developed as hoped. The 6-11 athlete does showcase rare glimpses of promise with an occasional jumper, and nice shot-blocking ability. Young wide-body Greg Echenique adds some more talent up front. The Rutgers soph. was one of the top rookies in the Big East last year, and can board & bull his way to points.

The offense is directed by Maryland Terrapin stud Greivis Vasquez. Vasquez is a shifty floor general who makes up for his subpar speed with taut ball-handling & smarts. Vasquez can finish in traffic, but has an erratic jumper. Combo guardsCarlos Cedeno & Jose Vargas provide Venezuela with other ball-handlers, but both are subpar shooters.

Venezuela is held back by their inability to spread the floor. Zones can really put a crimp in their strengths: Lugo & Romero's interior work, and Vasquez & Torres' dribble penetration.

This team seems to have many more options than in '07. Could even see Venezuela finishing in 5th place ahead of Canada & Uruguay, maybe even sneaking into the Top 4. Though, they're gonna have to piece some decent shooting together.

Key Players: Cuthbert Victor; Jason Edwin; Kitwana Rhymer
Missing Players: Holman Harley

Surprised last year by finishing in 2nd Place at the '08 Centrobasket tourney, and want to approve on their 10th place finish in '07. Have one of their better rosters in recent memory, and picking them to advance to 2nd round. Though, closely matched with Mexico.

Nice collection of athletes across the board who like to attack and will try to push pace. Like to cause turnovers. Their strength lies on the perimeter with the trio of Jason Edwin, Cuthbert Victor, & Kevin Sheppard.

The 6-5 Edwin (ex-Kent St.) is a potent scorer & quality shooter (3rd-leading scorer in '07). Cuthbert uses his superb athletic gifts to rebound well for his size, change shots & play passing lanes. Victor ('04 Ohio Valley P.O.Y.) plays above his height (6-5) & was a terror at last summer's Centrobasket with 22 ppg & 10 rpg. The speedy Kevin Sheppard can dart past defenders but also has to be respected from the perimeter.

This summer, V.I. has added even more offensive potency to its perimeter in the form of former U. of Texas scoring machine Reggie Freeman & recent Florida Gator guard Walter Hodge. Though, Freeman is a volume shooter who's probably past his prime. Hodge adds more speed and solid 3pt. shooting to the backcourt.

6-10 ex-UMass standout Kitwana Rhymer is this team's best interior option. Raw offensively, but bangs the boards, and protects the rim. V.I. has gotten hurt on the boards in the past due to their lack of size. Hope to address a few of those size issues with the inclusion of two 6-10 college bigs, Phil Jones (UNC Char) & Greg Washington (Hofstra). Like Rhymer, they don't bring much offensively but can bring some goods on defense & on the boards.

I like this team as a scrappy sleeper. I expect them to fight with Mexico for 4th place in Group A. Could push Canada & Uruguay in group play. Only imagine what heights this team could reach if they called V.I. legend Holman Harley out of retirement for some in-game off-the-backboard dunks.

[Note: When initially published, we had Mexico at 8 and Virgin Islands at 9, as we misread the groups and incorrectly thought that V.I. was in the much tougher Group B, with Brazil, Argentina and Dominican Republic. We have since swapped the two countries - our apologies to Timmy, Raja and all of our devoted readers in St. Thomas and St. Croix.]

TIER III: (Just Hoping to Advance to 2nd Round)
Key Players: Romel Beck; Anthony Pedroza
Missing Players: Ed Najera; Earl Watson; Adam Parada

Mexico's '10 Worlds qualifying chances took a serious hit with the recent departures of Earl Watson & Ed Najera. Both NBAers declared their intention to join Mexico earlier this summer, but Najera's still dealing with injuries & Watson could not secure papers in time.

We'll be interesting to see if FIBA reprimands any Mexican players for their role in the Uru-Mex brawl. Romel Beck seemed to be a main participant the proceedings, though it seemed like the whole Mexican team was involved.

So the roster will look similar to the '07 version that finished in 7th under the guidance of Nolan Richardson. Looks like no more "Cuarenta Minutos de Infierno", but will still try to pile up points on offense. Mexico generates the majority of its points from its talented collection of backcourt players.

Mexico has one of the most dangerous players in the tourney is 6-7 Romel Beck. The former UNLV stud is a lanky wing with good quickness. He can stand-still shoot and create shots off the bounce. Beck was huge in '07, averaging 20 ppg on nearly 60% shooting, including a big showing vs. Team USA.

Anthony Pedroza (Fat Lever's son) joins Beck on the wings as the second scoring option. PG Omar Quintero provides more offensive pop in the backcourt.

The Mexican frontcourt has some decent size but lacks scoring acumen. Painted Area favorite Horacio Llamas returns for possibly his last national team go-round. The former Phoenix Sun Llamas is sort of fun to watch--he reminds me of a very poor's man version of Sabonis. 6-11 Llamas ambles his generous physique down the court like your father, but has nimble footwork, a silky touch, & nice passing skills.

Gustavo Ayon (ex-San Jose St.) replaces Adam Parada as a big who can pass & rebound. The athletic forward Noe Alonzo adds a bit of scoring up front.

Are closely matched with Virgin Islands in Group A, and their first-round game should determine who is final team into the 2nd round.

Key Players: JR Pinnock; Jaime Lloreda
Missing Players: Gary Forbes; Jamal Levy

In '07, Panama failed to make the 2nd round, and advancing to the 2nd round this year will be a chore as well. Didn't initially qualify for this tourney, slid into after Cuba decided to pull out of the tourney.

The worst outside shooting outfit in the field--awful past 15 feet. PG Jair Peralta & SG Max Gomez are the only rotation players with semi-reliable range. Should see a lot of packed-in defensive looks.

The poor shooting transfers over to foul line as well. Tend to be sloppy with the ball. Poor overall shooting combined with turnovers is a recipe for failure. Not a particular big team either. Keep their head just above water thanks to an active defense.

Led by former George Washington standout JR Pinnock. Pinnock is an explosive SG who loves to slash, but has a broken jumpshot. Feel free to give him a big cushion. Former LSU standout Jaime Lloreda gives them a solid inside presence who can score on the block & clean the boards. PG Joel Munoz splits time with Peralta at the point, and add some scoring into the mix.

Added the services of recent San Diego standout forward Gyno Pomare. 6-9 Pomare can hit the 15-footer and provide decent defense. Former Ark. Razorback Dionisio Gomez should aid Lloreda & Pomare on the boards.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

FIBA 2010 Worlds Qualifying Update

The 2010 FIBA World Championship field of 24 is starting to come into focus a little better with the conclusion of Asian Zone Championships and African Zone Championships last weekend. This summer, six teams (Angola, Iran, Ivory Coast, China, Tunisia, Jordan) have secured their place in next year's World Championships in Turkey. This brings the total of qualified teams to 10.

The 10 Teams currently qualified for 2010 FIBA World Championship:
1) USA (Olympic Champ)
2) Turkey (Host)
3) Australia (Oceania)
4) New Zealand (Oceania)
5) Iran (Asia Champ)
6) China (Asia 2nd)
7) Jordan (Asia 3rd)
8) Angola (Africa Champ)
9) Ivory Coast (Africa 2nd)
10) Tunisia (Africa 3rd)

10 down, 10 of 14 berths to be filled in the next few weeks. Six berths still to be filled in Europe, four berths still to be filled in the Americas. Four wild card berths will be chosen in December by the FIBA executive committee.

Have to imagine Spain, Argentina, Greece, & Lithuania are unofficially qualified for the Worlds--99.9% assured of a wild card berth if they don't qualify this summer. Will have to see how Euro '09 and Americas '09 play out to start figuring which non-qualifying teams make a strong case for wild card berths.

Below we take a cursory cruise thru what's happening in each FIBA zone to date:

ASIA: Last Sunday, Iran defended its '07 Asian Championship belt successfully with a mild upset of host country China, 70-52. Memphis Grizz center Hamed Hadaddi dominated with 31 pts & 17 rebs and overpowered the Chinese frontline of Yi Jianlian & Wang ZhiZhi in the title game. Jordan took home the bronze medal and punched a ticket to its first-ever World Championship appearance.

AFRICA: No real surprise with Angola ruling the African Championships once again (6th-straight African Zone title). The undersized Angola squad finished a perfect 9-0 for the tourney, including a 82-72 triumph over Ivory Coast in the title game on Sunday.

The real surprise came with Nigeria (clearly best team besides Angola), and to a lesser extent, Senegal & Cameroon, failing to bring home a medal. Upstarts Ivory Coast & Tunisia hurdled over Nigeria, Senegal, & Cameroon into the Top 3, and both countries qualified for their first World Championship appearance ever. Nigeria (coached by John Lucas) could be in the running for a wild-card berth considering they were solid at the '06 Worlds and finished this African tourney 7-2 overall.

OCEANIA: Kind of a joke they even call this a championship tourney considering Australia & New Zealand are the only teams competing (play home-n-away series Aug. 23 & 25). Plus, both teams already qualify for Turkey because FIBA takes two teams from Oceania.

Can't fault Australia's EZ-pass to Turkey, they're legit. But New Zealand's free ride to Turkey probably takes a spot from a more deserving squad in Europe. Always thought this zone setup was a joke.

Think they should do away with the Oceania zone and just place Australia & New Zealand in Asia. Possibly give Asia one more qualifying slot, or just keep three entries.

[M. Haubs note: Another option would be to have the loser of the Aussie-Kiwi series play the 7th-place team at Eurobasket or something similar.]

AMERICAS: The Tourney of Americas starts next week on Aug. 26th in Puerto Rico. Top four finishers advance to Turkey. Right now, I'm liking Brazil to take home the gold medal. They have the best starting five, a balanced roster and have smoothed over the coaching issues that plagued them the last few years.

In no particular order, Argentina, Puerto Rico & Dominican Republic should fill out the other three qualification slots. I would put Mexico, Uruguay, & Canada on a tier below those top four teams. Think Mex., Can. & Uru. each have the ability to sneak into 4th place if one of the top 4 slips up.

EUROPE: The crown jewel of qualifying tournaments is rightfully saved for last on the summer calender--starts on Sept. 7 in Poland. The top six finishers earn a trip to the '10 Worlds (If Turkey finishes in the top six, the 7th place team qualifies).

Spain is the overwhelming favorite, but then again they were in '07 and choked that opportunity away at home. Even if Pau can't go for Espana, would still project Spain as the favorite.

After Spain, the competition is tightly packed with little separation between roughly 10 teams. The order of finish can play out in a multitude of different ways, which makes Eurobasket a great event every time.

I would lean toward Slovenia as the 2nd best squad, and just happen to be in the same opening round group with Spain. Then maybe Greece, Croatia, & France (if they qualify), with Turkey, & Lithuania on a tier right below. Would go with Russia, Latvia, Israel, Poland, and Serbia slightly below on a 3rd tier. But really could combine both these tiers since all these teams are closely matched.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Eurobasket Qualifying Update

Team Italia heads to Pau, France on Friday for a rematch with Les Bleus. You might remember Italy suffered a serious blow to its Euro '09 hopes with an 80-77 loss in OT to a Parker-less France on Aug. 5th. Currently, France leads Group B with a 2-0 record, Italy is 1-1, & Finland 0-2 (Bosnia leads Group A at 2-0).

Now Italy is faced with a must-win situation, because if France wins, they're likely headed to Poland (they would clinch Group B and would be big favorites to defeat the Group A winner). If Italy pulls the road upset, Group B will likely be decided by a tiebreaker because both teams should finish 3-1. Though, Finland could play a spoiler for either squad.

France still has to travel up to Finland to finish off round-robin play. Finland was competitive in a 10-point loss last Saturday in France, and nearly beat Italy at home.

Total point differential for round-robin play is the tiebreaker, and France has the upper hand. Right now, France is +13 point diff., Italy is -1.

Not sure of Tony Parker's stamina or overall health status. Parker only played sparingly vs. Finland, but I imagine that was a strategic move. Assume he will play a bigger role vs. the Italians. Though, Team France has been fortunate that their young guards, Antoine Diot & Nando De Colo, have played with such poise.

The status of Nic Batum is questionable, as well, because of a bum shoulder. Nic was a huge factor in the 2nd half of the Aug. 5 meeting.

Athletic Italian SF Stefano Mancinelli will be absent because of a shoulder separation suffered in the Aug. 5 meeting vs. France. Underrated loss for the Azzurri--Mancinelli was playing superb off the bench before his injury late in the 3rd.

Italy was lucky to hold off Finland on Tuesday, 77-75. Marco Belinelli continues to shine in FIBA play--Marco led Italy with 23 pts on 10/18, but still showed his carelessness, 5 TOs. Andrea Bargnani got involved more with 21 pts. on 8/17 & 8 rebs, but was limited to 24 mins. because of foul trouble. Italy really needs to open up their offense more, put more points on the board. They were too conservative at Euro '07 as well.

You would hope Italy throws some packed-in defensive alignments vs. France, make the Frenchies prove themselves from the perimeter. But hoping for astute strategizing by Coach Recalcati is a dubious request. Also, getting Bargnani more involved than he was in Game 1 would be helpful.

Gotta go with France on Friday. Playing at home, Parker back in the fold, & Italy's questionable coaching should swing the favor toward Les Bleus.

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.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

France & Italy Begin Quest For Eurobasket

We'll mainly concentrate on Italy and France in this quick preview of the Eurobasket Additional Qualifying Round (AQR) that runs from August 5 to August 30. France opens up tourney play today vs. Italy, minus Tony Parker.

Six teams fighting for the one last open spot in the field of 16 for Eurobasket '09. Group A consists of Portugal, Bosnia, & Belgium, while Group B has Italy, France, & Finland.

Round-robin format where each team plays the other two teams in the group twice (home & away). The round-robin stage is spread out over two weeks. The teams with the best record in each group after four games face off in a final playoff for a trip to Poland.

Italy & France are clearly a level above the rest of the field, and the Group B winner should have no trouble with anyone in Group A. Finland is not to be totally overlooked. Finland could provide a tough challenge for either France or Italy when they have to travel up to Finland. The Finns are led by former Utah standout Hanno Mottola, Portland Blazer draftee PG Petteri Koponen, and former Valparaiso star Shawn Huff.

Probably the biggest news surrounding the mini-tourney---France's difficulty dealing with NBA front offices. After some haggling, Tony Parker has been ruled out of the first game on Wednesday vs Italy. Tony was initially going to play with a mild ankle sprain, but the Spurs were not taking any chances (probably hyper-vigilant after Manu's Olympic injury) and scratched Tony. Supposedly, Parker & France are a little miffed.

France can't be too pleased with the Bulls management, either. Joakim Noah was allowed to participate in some friendly games & training camp, but Bulls' pulled the plug on Noah's involvement with Team France for the rest of the summer. France could really use both NBAers, especially vs. Italy, and these decisions by two NBA front offices could cost France a berth in next year's World Championship.

As usual for Team France--they can't spread the floor at all. Continue to be a terrible outside shooting team, and this continues to be their biggest flaw. Don't really have a single reliable outside shooter on the roster; Parker might be the best, but he has the ball in his hands (They could use Mickael Pietrus, who is not playing in the AQR). In Euro '07, Parker could not get deep penetration very often because defenses were free to load up on him thanks to the severe lack of shooting around him. It's no surprise France can go thru extended lulls on the offensive end in the half-court.

They have shot the 3-ball terribly in the exhibition stage, not to mention their free-throw shooting has been bad as well. Team France should expect plenty of zone and sagging man. The one-foot-in-the-paint rule vs. France would be heavily emphasized if I was an opposing coach.

France has somewhat counteracted their perennial offensive woes with great effort on the defensive end & on the boards. France is the most athletic team in Europe, and has the ability to create havoc defensively. Boris Diaw, Nic Batum, and Florent Pietrus can guard multiple positions, and switch assignments. They have the ability to create turnovers, which should come in handy to create transition offensive opportunities. Also, always a very strong rebounding club.

Looks like recent Spur draftee Nando de Colo will be thrust into the playmaker role in Parker's absence. Wouldn't be surprised if Diaw is called upon to direct the offense as well. Though no Noah, France will have some NBA help on the frontline thanks to Ronny Turiaf & Johan Petro.

Marco Belinelli has been Team Italia's standout in the friendly stage. Italy had some success at Euro '07 when they let Belinelli handle the ball. When he keeps his flashy tendencies in check, Marco is a tough player to stop. Andrea Bargnani has looked solid so far, but needs to have better shot selection this summer than he had at Euro '07. Wouldn't hurt if he would use his size to rebound & defend the paint, something Italy badly needs from him.

Rebounding has been an issue for the Italians last few years, and looks to be a weakness again this summer. The subpar rebounding goes along with Italy's lack of a traditional interior presence. We know Bargnani really is just a oversized SF, and Angelo Gigli is too slender, and kinda a combo forward himself. Don't really have any servicable big bodies on their roster with the retirement of Denis Marconato. This is where France has the advantage.

6-11 Angelo Gigli is a very active big who will crash the glass, and has some range on his jumper. AJ Milano's Marco Mordente is a veteran combo guard who can drill coming off screens and will do a little ball-handling. Multi-skilled SF Matteo Soragna can handle as well, and do a little post-up work. Giuseppe Poeta will get the nod at point guard, and is adept at dribble penetration. Have multiple players who can handle the ball and initiate offense, and have plenty of shooting across the board. This is where Italy has the advantage.

It looks like that Team Italia will have the services of athletic SF Stefano Mancinelli for the tourney. Stefano has solid post-up ability and a good finisher. I guess FIBA chose not to suspend Mancinelli for his little ditty upside Canada's Aaron Doornekamp's head in a recent friendly game:

This is possibly both teams' last chance at keeping the hopes alive for next summer's FIBA World Championship. Tough to imagine a wild card berth being awarded to France or Italy if they can't even qualify for Eurobasket. Have to give Italy the slight nod to advance mostly because of Parker missing the game in Italy.