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Feb
1

The history of the FIBA World Cup in 4 minutes

With Spain hosting the FIBA World Cup this year, the governing body has put together a video capturing every championship in just 4 minutes. Enjoy

Feb
4

Enough with the arbitrary rankings argument

Yesterday we found out that Finland would be playing in the 2014 World Cup of Basketball. Some people were upset because of Angry Birds but plenty thought Finland’s FIBA ranking meant they were undeserving. Emmet Ryan has a problem with these arguments, especially the latter.

We’ve got a pretty intelligent readership. You guys understand concepts like ELO rankings, used for chess, and how they are based on pretty heavy amounts of data. International basketball doesn’t use an ELO system and even if they did, they wouldn’t have the data to back it up. In simple terms, there really aren’t a lot of games played internationally. We live in a what have you done for me lately world not by choice but by necessity. The rankings don’t recognise said need. These rankings place China, losing quarter finalists in AsiaBasket, at 12th in the world. Turkey who, since finishing second at the 2010 World Cup (which they hosted) are 7th despite being utter turkeys in international play in the years since. Great Britain, a team for whom this writer has a heavy bias in their favour, sit 22nd by virtue of automatically qualifying for the 2012 Olympics having never got past the first stage of EuroBasket.

Yet yesterday we saw some good basketball writers lean on Finland’s ranking of 39th in the world as a reason to leave them out, ignoring their superior performances to Turkey in the last two EuroBaskets. Now don’t get me wrong, having a wild card system is a joke in and of itself but we’ll get to that in a second. If you exclude the Finns, you simply have to drop Turkey because they have been objectively worse for the last three years.

Were merit the deciding factor, I’d have sent Italy and Canada to Spain but even there we need to apply a giant caveat. The selections of those two teams is based only on what they did in 2013 on the court. Were there no wild cards, the complexion of the qualifying system would have unquestionably be different. Italy and Canada delivered their performances in full knowledge of the off-court route of qualification.

Now about that off-court route. Let’s assume nobody here likes the idea of basically buying your way into a world championship. Ideally we don’t see that option. That however was the situation and it immediately weighted the playing field on off-court criteria in favour of certain nations. TV rights and audiences make larger nations more appealing to FIBA. What the Finns did was no different in terms of its objective and basketball value to Greece, Turkey, Russia, or anyone else. The only difference was they hustled hard and found a way to make up for their deficiencies in conventional resources. If they couldn’t deliver TV, they could deliver something. The Angry Birds are that something. You may find it a novelty but as the most popular mobile download in the world. it’s a big place to put some ads.

The rankings suck, off-court factors mattering suck, Finland sure as hell don’t suck. They play fun ball and they made what should have been a dull wild card process interesting. Good for the Susijengi.

We’ll have an interview with one of Finland’s bid team up next week, I have to hold it for a piece I’m working on for my day job.

Feb
7

Brazil, Finland, Greece, and Turkey get FIBA World Cup wild cards

Trust FIBA to announce it early. The four wild cards for the 2014 FIBA World Cup of Basketball are in and three European teams have booked their tickets to Spain.

The wild cards are in and we came oh so close with our picks. The 11th hour surprise was China withdrawing from the application process which suddenly made three European wild cards a legitimate possibility. This morning FIBA confirmed what had been suspected overnight. Here are your four wild cards:

Brazil – Pretty much the biggest lock from the outset, although we had China on the same level, and the Olympic hosts have their ticket to the dance in Spain.

Finland – As, fearlessly, predicted by BiE the Wolf Pack are in thanks to a MASSIVE assist from Rovio. The Angry Birds developers offered FIBA a mountain of free advertising space if they accepted the Finns. Throw in 40,000 Finns living in Spain and this offer went from no-hope to in the bag.

Greece – We had them on the outside looking in despite what was reported as a particularly strong bid. The withdrawal of China took a lot of pressure off their battle and now Spanoulis is going to Spain.

Turkey – We’ve had Turkey in from day one, on the grounds of a strong bid and the sheer amount of sponsorship money Turkish companies put into basketball. The runners-up in the last championships will get to play in Spain.

Do you agree with FIBA’s wild card picks? Tell us what you think in the comments.

Jan
1

Fearless FIBA World Cup Wildcard predictions

Tomorrow is the day we find out who the four wild card participants will be in the 2014 FIBA World Cup. BiE’s editor, Emmet Ryan, makes his call on who he thinks will get the tickets to Spain.

First off, I hate the wild card system. Merit should win out but the system is what it is. With that in mind I’m making these picks based on who I think WILL get in not who SHOULD get in. Without further ado, your four FIBA World Cup wild cards will be…

China – FIBA would love to give them a bloody nose but they can’t. They just can’t. They aren’t strong, they could well be the worst team in Spain, yet there is no doubt they get the ticket.

Brazil – They did an awful job at the Tournament of the Americas but the weakness of their roster in Venezuela strongly implied they knew they’d be in Spain either way due to their hosting the next Olympics and being a big market. They’re in.

Turkey – At no point have I flip-flopped on Turkey but to me this is a straight up fight of financial might between Turkey and Greece for the third slot. The Greeks have narrowed it, for most of the time I had Turkey well in front, but I think Turkey gets the ticket.

Finland – Yes, Finland. Their population is similar to Ireland’s, their performance at EuroBasket was good but not ‘there’s no way you can deny them a wild card’ good, and they don’t have the straight up cash money of Greece or Turkey. What they have is 40,000 Finns living in Spain and, far more importantly, the sheer muscle of Rovio. The Angry Birds game developers have promised FIBA a whole lot of mobile advertising space for a tournament that could do with every ounce of advertising exposure it can get. The Angry Birds are the game-changer here. Prior to this week, I didn’t give Finland a prayer. Now I say they take the flight.

Who do you think gets a wild card? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Sep
1

EuroBasket: Early run drives Serbia to 2014 FIBA World Cup

A stunning start for Serbia proved decisive as Dusan Ivkovic’s charges won the win or stay home World Cup decider with Italy 76-64.

It took Italy a full quarter to realise the importance of this game and they were left with too deep a hole to get out of. Serbia, who suffered horrible starts in their previous two games, came out hot. Leading by 13 with possession at the end of the first, Bogdan Bogdanovic hit a three at the buzzer to give Serbia a 27-11 lead. It was Serbia’s inside play that pushed them ahead. The Serbs utterly dominated on the boards, with Nemanja Bjelica grabbing 10 rebounds and Bogdanovic 9. With the loser joining the long, looooooong, queue for wild cards at next year’s FIBA World Cup, Serbia had struck a vital blow early.

Italy tried to counter but Marco Belinelli was still suffering from the horrid shooting stretch that plagued him against Ukraine. With Belinelli’s offensive impact limited, Gigi Datome and Alessandro Gentile carried the load as Italy tried to chip away at the deficit. By half-time the gap was down but by just 2 points to 41-27. The Italians were getting the better of Serbia but they weren’t able to put together an extended streak to pressure their less experienced adversaries.

Serbia, who had been shellacked in their last two games, were given the hairdryer treatment by Ivkovic throughout. Duda had to be gentle as his side struggled against Spain and Slovenia but now it was time to get his men hot. The third quarter saw the lead cut down again but once more Italy couldn’t make a significant dent. At 55-44, Serbia could manage the clock and play smart ball. Italy needed to take risks but the options simply weren’t there.

With his side holding a 64-54 lead and just over 3 minutes remaining, Nikola Kalinic landed a three. Stefan Markovic added another to push the lead to 16 points. The game was won and Serbia could look forward to Spain next year. Considering the way in which the previous two games had gone for the young Serbs, with 9 players making their first appearance at a major tournament, the character they showed on Saturday bodes well for the future. Whoever leads this side to Spain will have a battle-hardened and talented outfit at his disposal. Ivkovic isn’t confirmed for the trip but it’s hard to think of a more suitable man for the job.

In addition to missing out on next year’s World Cup, this defeat means Italy must now qualify for EuroBasket 2015.

Sep
0

EuroBasket: Parker, France, finally get the best of Spain

It took overtime, it took Tony time, but France finally got the best of Spain. Now they move on to the final of EuroBasket 2013.

Drama does not mean quality. There were extended periods of fantastic basketball when France played Spain on Friday night. There were equally lengthy spell where the play was horrid. Overtime certainly fit the latter but it followed a fourth quarter of breathtaking ball. After quietly riding to the top of the scoring charts in this tournament, Tony Parker finally made his presence felt when his country needed it most.

In 37 minutes of play Parker exorcised the demons that plagued French basketball, due largely to the Spanish golden generation. Most of them were there and delivering. Marc Gasol had 19 points and 9 boards but he also gave the ball up 6 times. Rudy Fernandez landed alley-oops at the business end of the game, en route to 17 points. Jose Calderon was there in body but he left his shot in the locker room.

Parker however would have to carry most of the load on his own. Nicolas Batum was awful. Alexis Ajinca made some bonehead plays. Boris Diaw and Florent Pietrus gave support inside but for France to win, and avenge 2011 and 2012, it would take something memorable from Parker. In the fourth quarter, it was Tony time. The San Antonio Spur brought France level and then in front. It wasn’t just a momentary spark. The most gifted French baller who ever lived scored 32 and collected 6 rebounds. Like Gasol he had turnover problems but not enough to take him off the floor.

Then came OT. An utter mess of poor offence. Spain struck first, France moved ahead, and then the errors came. It looked like we’d have Sergio Rodriguez and Parker squaring off for five minutes of drama but hero-ball is badly over-rated. The victory would come down to who made the fewest mistakes. Victor Claver’s air ball was one too many for Spain.

So for the third time in their history, France advance to the final of EuroBasket. In 1949 they lost to Egypt in Cairo. Two years ago it was Spain. This time around they face Lithuania. Third time lucky won’t be easy. On paper this isn’t a contest but Lithuania’s depth and organisation means they a far from a straight forward opponent. On the inside they can hurt France. From the outside they have a bunch of options with chips on their shoulders. Parker will be ready. He needs his team mates to be too.

Sep
0

EuroBasket: Huge Q3 lifts Lithuania past Croatia 77-62

It was a battle from the start but only one team could make Sunday’s final. A third quarter burst move Lithuania past Croatia and into the gold medal game of EuroBasket 2013.

Where did that come from? Linas Kleiza had 17 points and 7 boards in just the first half. The former Toronto Raptor delivered his best half of basketball in recent memory as Lithuania took the early advantage. The edge was slight however. Much of the first half was tit for tat. Lithuania pushed to a 9 point lead briefly but Croatia kept drawing them in. Lithuania had a 24-19 lead at the end of the first quarter, it was 40-37 at the half. This game had offence but neither side could pull away. For Croatia is was Bojan Bogdanovic, a man highlighted as a major threat before this game, who kept them competitive on the scoreboard.

For Jonas Maciulis the job was meant to be one of containment, limiting what Bogdanovic did at the other end but the guard didn’t read the script. Going hard from deep, Maciulis start 4 of 5 from three-point range. The fourth three put Lithuania 48-39 up with 7.01 left in the third. Time-out Croatia at a crucial point in the game. Maciulis was having none of it. In the lane, backs up, bucket and the foul. He made the and-one to push Lithuania into a 12 point lead. Draper missed a three on the next play, Maciulis recovered and Mantas Kalneitis delivered a lay-up at the other end. Croatia tried the press. Alley-oop to Robertas Javtokas. Luka Zoric missed a pair of free throws and Kalneitis nailed another from deep. In three minutes Lithuania had broken the game open to lead 58-40. Timeout Croatia with the gap having doubled in the interim.

And what of Jonas Valanciunas? If it’s possible to be quiet when you have 4 blocks in the first three quarters, the Raptors big man certainly was that. Fouls hindered him but Valanciunas was wise to defer on offensive to those around him. He added one more block in the final frame.

With seconds remaining the camera panned to Aryvdas Sabonis. The icon standing proud and tall, always very tall. After a 10 year absence Lithuania had returned to the final of EuroBasket. Kleiza finished with 22 points and 11 boards, Maciulis had 23 and 6, Kalneitis 18 and 4 assists. They get a day off now to recover for the gold medal game. No matter who they play on Sunday, Lithuania will be underdogs and they’ll be fine with that. No team is more than the sum of its parts than Lithuania. Spain and France have their stars. Lithuania will be happy with their multitude of options.

Sep
0

Pooh Jeter, Ukrainian hero

Ukraine’s hopes in EuroBasket 2013 hung on how Pooh Jeter played. When it mattered most, the borsht lover delivered.

Let’s compare two players at EuroBasket 2013.

Player A: 7.25 PPG, 2.75 APG, 2.25 RPG

Player B: 18 PPG, 5 APG, 4.2 RPG.

Unless you didn’t read the title of this column you’ll have guessed that both players are Eugene ‘Pooh’ Jeter. Player A is Jeter’s worst four games in the tournament. Player B is his best six. Both samples are tiny but within them lies the story.

Just like Bo McCalebb’s amazing run with Macedonia in 2011, a nation’s hopes and dreams rested on the shoulders of an import guard. Like McCalebb, Jeter sees Ukraine as more than just a route to a European passport. He has embraced the national team and played his heart out for his adopted home. It’s quite an evolution for the former Portland Pilot.

Jeter never tasted success in NCAA ball. No trips to the big dance or even the NIT. He’s bounced around Europe and China, finding work. Sometimes with big teams, sometimes not so much. It’s the connection he made with BC Kyiv during his career that has brought him to this new height. As Flinder Boyd said in his great column on McCalebb, it’s easy for an American to just take the passport and phone it in with his new national team. It’s entirely on the player if they decide to do something with it.

That’s what we saw from Jeter in EuroBasket 2013. He’s far from the perfect guard but when he is on, Pooh has the ability to dominate. After a quiet start to the tournament he exploded against Germany and France. In stage two it was Jeter who came up big again with 20 points in an upset of Serbia. It was that result that, eventually, put Ukraine into the quarter finals.

Jeter’s off days have made his big outing all the more extraordinary. Latvia shut him down, Great Britain’s rag-tag line-up limited him. When Jeter’s game was off, Ukraine were lost. Jeter didn’t have good days and bad days. He had everything and nothing days. On Friday Jeter didn’t just bring the solo show, he brought the best out of those around him.

Facing Italy for a place in the 2014 FIBA World Cup, Jeter nailed 20 points on 7 of 16 shooting. The guard grabbed 4 boards, all on the defensive end, as Ukraine restricted their more noteworthy opponents to just 24 points in the second half. Around Jeter there were Ukrainian men standing up and believing. Sergii Gladyr, Maxim Korniyenko, and Viacheslav Kravtsov grabbed 6 rebounds each. Ihor Zaytsev added 5 more. Individually no Ukrainian could deliver on Jeter’s level, collectively they refused to lose. Having never made it passed the first stage of EuroBasket before, Ukraine will finish at worst sixth this year. Pooh Jeter will finally go to the big dance only it won’t be in March. Next autumn in Spain, he’s going to carry his new home’s hopes once again.

Sep
1

EuroBasket Power Rankings: Spain rise to the top

Just in time for today’s semi finals to prove us completely wrong, here’s our updated Power Rankings for EuroBasket 2013 after the quarter final round.

1. Spain. It’s a what have you done for me lately business and nobody has done more than Spain. They leap Croatia on the back of an utter rout of Serbia.

2. Croatia. A second quarter spurt against Ukraine gave the Croats a decisive lead that they never gave up. This team has now won 8 straight.

3. Lithuania. Total coin toss between Lithuania and France following the quarter finals, the Lithuanians greater consistency in round two means they stay ahead for now.
Continue Reading…

Sep
0

Preview: Clash of the stars as Spain play France in semi final

It’s a rivalry that’s been bubbling for years. Tony Parker, Nicolas Batum, and Boris Diaw lead France against Spain’s Marc Gasol, Jose Calderon, and the bearded might of Sergio Rodriguez. Only one will advance to the final of EuroBasket 2013.

Whatever we thought of Spain before the quarter finals was quickly swept aside on Wednesday. They didn’t beat Serbia; they ignored their very presence on the court. Spain played like their roster looked on paper. Deep in the back court, weapons everywhere, and with one of the most imposing presences in the world at center. The Serbs were sent packing in an utterly humiliating 90-60 defeat. France for their part stayed largely to type in the quarter final. The talent was there to see, they picked up the win, but they left the court with questions still abounding. One stood out above all others. Why do they look so beatable?

The stats certainly don’t paint the French as an easy side to conquer. They lead the tournament offensively and have a variety of options, with Parker, Batman, and Alexis Ajinca all proving tough match-ups. Parker leads EuroBasket in scoring but can disappear for minutes at a time. This is unlikely to be an issue today, not against a team France has lost twice to in major tournaments over the past two years. Normally I shun the eyeball test but it’s near impossible to ignore when France play. For all the things they do right, they always look like they need to find another gear.

The most consistent element of this match-up promises to be decisive. Even when their scoring has been off, Spain have been consistent on defence. If any team can corral France, it’s the Spaniards. Scoring will be high but Spain have enough to take the win. Spain to advance.

World Cup spot

Italy and Ukraine clash in Friday’s first game with a place in the 2014 FIBA World Cup at stake. This is a huge game for both sides as neither will want to see Serbia in the match-up for the final spot. Win today and you are on the plane to Spain. Ukraine fought gamely against Croatia and won’t suffer much inside against the Italians. The options for Italy on offence look to be key here. Gigi Datome and Marco Belinelli have been the engines for Italy throughout this tournament and the duo should have enough to pull through. Italy to win.