Wednesday, September 14, 2011

EuroBasket 2011 Quarterfinals Preview (Part II): Russia-Serbia, France-Greece

We previewed the Wednesday quarterfinals matchups (Spain-Slovenia & (FYR) Macedonia-Lithuania) on Monday. Today we look at Thursday's quarterfinals with Russia vs. Serbia and France vs. Greece.

(Both games can be viewed at

RUSSIA (F-1) vs. SERBIA (E-4)

Probably the most anticipated game of the quarterfinals between two closely-matched teams. Should be a tightly-contested game that features arguably the two best coaches in EuroBasket, Serbia's Dusan Ivkovic and Russia's David Blatt.

Should be interesting to see what type of adjustments each of these coaches have cooked up for the opposition. Two of the best tactical minds in the field.

Both teams are deep and both have good size at each position. Would say Russia has the advantage athletically.

Russia comes into the game 8-0, but did need two game-winning buzzer-beating jumpers by Sergey Monya to stay undefeated. Serbia is 5-3, but those losses came to Spain, France and Lithuania. Russia has not played the level of competition Serbia has.

Russia's defense has been in fine form as usual and David Blatt has used his roster well, getting contributions from nearly everyone. The Russians leads the field in points allowed, 63.6 ppg, and points per possession, 63.5 per 70 poss, and are second in defensive FG pct, 40.2%.

You don't get easy shots against this team--they challenge everything. Russia swarms to the ball when it gets 10 feet & in. Their backline help is always superb. Then you have to be careful because Russia has someone coming from behind to change your shot while you're being held up by the interior help. Multiple long-armed athletes pounce on the man with the ball.

Blatt's a great bench coach adept at in-game adjustments. Expect Blatt to implement different types of zones, particularly a shape-shifting matchup zone where defenders will move out of their designated areas.

This year's Russian offense might be the best ever under Blatt. They are currently shooting 49% overall (2nd best). But they hurt themselves a bit on the offensive end by struggling at the FT line (62%). This was a sore spot last year as well.

Russia makes up for its lack of creative shot-makers by creating openings using back cuts, baseline cuts and back screens in Blatt's Princeton-inspired sets. Russia gets a decent chunk of their points off of cuts. Their spacing is usually good and they generally keep the basket area open. The ball movement is crisp.

The forward rotation of Andrei Kirilenko, Vik Khryapa, Sergey Monya and Andrey Vorontsevich is one of the best in field. All are 6-9 athletes who can play multiple positions, pass, rebound and defend.

All the forwards are great help defenders. Kirilenko and Khryapa will often be given free reign to float around on defense like free safeties.

Kirilenko (14 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2 apg) has been all over the floor on both ends, cutting off the ball, crashing the offensive glass, changing shots and jumping passing lanes (his 2.8 steals/game leads Euro '11). Kirilenko will post up some as well.

As usual, Vik Khryapa (7.4 ppg, 5.3 apg, 5.3 rpg, 1.3 spg) has been an all-purpose threat defending multiple positions, rebounding and passing. Khryapa often functions as a de facto point-forward and his entry passing to cutters is tight.

SG Vitali Fridzon (10.5 ppg) has been Russia's best pure shooter over the last few years and this year is no different, as he's been smoking from deep--58.6% on 3PA. Russia likes to curl Fridzon off of pin-downs.

Sergey Monya is Russia's other reliable outside shooter (he's been really reliable at the end of games with two game-winning buzzer-beaters already). Reserve forward Andrey Vorontsevich has been effective in limited minutes crashing the glass.

Timo Mozgov (9.4 ppg on 65% FG, 3.8 rpg, 1.4 bpg) has not been quite as good as he was at Euro '09, but he's been solid. Timo has been effective cutting or rolling to the rim and will post up a bit, but he's had trouble with TOs down low. Has kept his fouls in check (for him) and Russia needs him to keep them down, as he's the only true center on the roster.

Russia hasn't gotten great play from its PGs, but at least they have kept their turnovers to a minimum. Blatt has put more faith in combo guard Alexey Shved (9 ppg, 3 apg) this summer, allowing him to run the offense some. Combo guard Sergey Bykov has thankfully handled the ball less and has somehow kept his ridiculous TOs down.

Serbia has been pretty solid on the offensive end, averaging 81 ppg, and 76.5 points per 70 possessions, on 46% shooting. But there have been a few more lulls in their play this summer as opposed to last summer. Not quite getting enough contributions from some of their role players like they did the previous two summers.

Next to Jasikevicius, Milos Teodosic (12 ppg, 6.4 apg) has been the most creative passer in the tourney. Milos generates so much offense for his team off the dribble. So good at waiting for better passing angles to develop.

But Milos has not been shooting the ball as well as he can (35% overall, 31% on 3PA), and it has hurt Serbia's effectiveness somewhat. Also, Milos' decision-making has been a bit sketchy, as he's been chucking up some bad shots and forcing bad passes. But Milos has proven he's a dangerous shooter in the past and his shooting heroics in the '09 semis put Serbia in the finals.

Nenad Krstic is having another strong FIBA tourney leading Serbia in scoring (16 ppg on 61%). Nenad will get his fair share of post touches where he has been effective with hooks. Nenad will be used a popper and a roller as well.

Forward Dusko Savanovic has been a terrific third-option for Serbia, pitching in 14.6 ppg on 53.7%. Dusko uses smarts, good ball-handling and sharp footwork to make up for poor physical attributes. Savanovic is very crafty getting into shots in the mid-range and finds ways to sneak to the rim. Serbia will run Dusko off screens and post him.

SF Marko Keselj has been a deadly spot-up threat (54.5% on 3PA) for the second straight year, plus he's clever moving to open spots. Keselj and Savanovic have been the only consistent deep shooters for Serbia. They need Teodosic and Alex Rasic to step up their shooting.

One of the strengths for Serbia over the last few years has been a stout team defense. But for whatever reason, Serbia's defense has fallen off to a degree this summer. Have not guarded the pick-n-roll all that well and are allowing their opponents to shoot 46.4% from the field. Need to get this rectified pronto.

Extremely hard to pick a winner in this one, but leaning toward Russia. You can count on their defense every game, can't say the same for Serbia. They can rotate four different forwards on Savanovic who can give him trouble and take him out of the game. Keep an eye on the FT line as Russia is subpar and Serbia is solid. Should be a dandy.

FRANCE (E-2) vs. GREECE (F-3)

Some might have France already penciled into the semis, but Greece has the goods to challenge France. Greece is missing some of its top players but they have meshed together nicely and have regained their defensive swagger.

Greece knew they wouldn't generate points as easily without Vassilis Spanoulis and Sofo Schortsanitis around. So they made a concerted effort to get back to their old grind-it-out, defense-first ways. And Greece has been one of the top defensive units at EuroBasket. They are currently holding opponents to 66 ppg (5th best) and 68 points per 70 possessions (6th) on 40.3% shooting (3rd).

Those are former Coach Giannakis-era numbers. Keeping the scores in the low-70s/mid-60s. Though this year's team doesn't generate quite the number of turnovers that those mid-2000s Hellas teams did. Like Russia, Greek players help each other and contest shots well.

After years of ragged half-court offensive play, France has been successful in this EuroBasket playing some of the best offensive ball they've ever played. They are currently shooting 48.7% overall (3rd best) and putting 81 ppg and 77 points per 70 possessions on the board (both 4th best).

Tony Parker has led France by abusing every defense he's come in contact with over the last two weeks. Parker has been getting anywhere he wants on the court either in pick-n-roll or iso action. Parker is the top scorer left in the tourney (22.3 ppg). But Tony's 3pt. shot has been way off (27%).

Why teams have continued to pick up Parker up high, and failed to go underneath Parker ball screens, not sure. It's been a bit maddening. You want to keep Parker from turning the corner and living in the lane at all costs. And a zone or sagging man can best prevent Parker from shredding your defense.

Hopefully Greece has watched how France's opponents have tried to guard Tony, then do the opposite. Saw too many times where the defender was coming out 25+ feet to meet Tony. If you choose to go over the screen with Parker, your bigs better show hard to string out Parker laterally toward the sideline.

After starting the tourney shooting well, France's 3pt. shooting has slowly crept back toward reality--currently shooting 34.5% on 3PA. And we still think this is the area that other teams need to expose when preparing their game plan for defending France.

We've beaten this into the ground before but the m.o. vs. France still has to be to pack the paint and force the French to beat you over the top. They've improved their collective shooting ability over the last few years but they are still a team that you test. Mickael Gelabale is the one guy you have to locate. But make the rest of players prove they can make their jump shots. If they make jumpers, then that's how you lose.

Why teams haven't stuck with zone longer vs. France, not sure. Thought Germany's zone was giving France issues in the first half of their opening-round game, but Germany inexplicably went away from it.

Turkey went with a 2-1-2 zone in the 4th quarter vs. France. They held France to 2-of-17 from the field in the quarter and Turkey almost made up a 15-point deficit in the 4th. France looked awful clanging shot after shot.

We've always wondered why France has never really committed to pushing the ball more. This year things have changed as France has looked to increase tempo, and their transition has been good. Expect Greece to give fouls when France is trying to get out in transition.

Nic Batum has been a quality second option behind Parker. France has gotten good mileage curling Batum into the lane and Nic is always a danger to drive baseline. Batum has been a defensive menace as usual and his 2.4 steals/game puts him behind only Kirilenko on the leaderboard.

Joakim Noah (9.6 ppg, 8 rpg) has brought his active brand of ball across the Atlantic and has been a factor on the boards. Noah has been terrific guarding the post, helping and guarding pick-n-roll.

After having little impact off the bench in the first six games, combo guard Nando De Colo came out of nowhere to drop 21 points on Turkey, then put up 10 points vs. Spain. De Colo is an erratic shooter, but he can make plays off the dribble (clever passer).

Reserve big Ali Traore will likely see some time subbing for Noah, and Traore can score a bit with either a lefty hook or foul-line jumper.

Who knows what you're going to get from Boris Diaw. When he's tuned in, he offers France its best post option either scoring or passing out.

Not too surprising Greece has been subpar offensively without Spanoulis, Sofo and Dimis Diamantidis. Greece really does not have a go-to guy. Antonis Fotsis (11.5 ppg on 59%) leads Greece in scoring but he's not really a shot-creator. Fotsis is primarily a stretch-4, who Greece will run off screens and spot-up.

Greece has added more off-ball screening to the offense and they have been very successful with their cutting action in the tourney. Besides jumpers, Fotsis has gotten many of his points on cuts.

Greece has gotten solid play from its center tandem of Giannis Bourousis and Kostas Koufos. Greece likes to run some offense though Bourousis in the post. Bourousis (10 ppg, 5.3 rpg) can score with a hook, but he's nothing spectacular down low. Bourousis has passed the ball out of the post well. Would like to see Greece move Bourousis away from the paint more to take advantage of his 20-foot range.

Kostas Koufos has been very productive in 17 minutes/game (9 pts, 4.4 rpg, 1.3 bpg). Koufos has done most of his scoring on cuts to the rim. Koufos will get a few post touches as well, where he's been scoring with a hook. Koufos has been a factor on the boards and on the backline of Greece's defense.

Nick Calathes and Nikos Zisis will share ball-handling duties. Calathes has done a nice job controlling tempo, but he remains a shooting liability.

Zisis is more of a steady, conservative playmaker rather than a dynamic guard. Zisis' normally reliable mid-range jumper has been off so far (35% overall, 30 on 3PA). Like Fotsis, Zisis will be run off screens.

Keys for Greece have to be to keep France out of transition and keep Parker out of the lane. Keep that paint packed, force standstill jumpers. If Greece can stay disciplined defensively and get France clanking jumpers like they did vs. Turkey, they have a great shot at the upset.


At 3:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately greece plays with b team. Absentees are not only the three mentionned, but 9! international class, potentially game winning players. Indeed greek team misses spanoulis, diamantidis, papaloukas, perperoglou, vasilopoulos, mavrokefalidis, tsartsaris, sxortsianitis and papadopoulos. Under such adverse conditions winning the quarter final against the very fine french team looks like mission impossible. Nevertheless, we greek basket affitionados expect our most beloved national team to fight honourably as greeks always did against impossible odds

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