BallinEurope took in a couple of Nike International Junior Tournament games today – namely, Crvena Zvezda vs. Anadolu Efes and Lietuvos Rytas vs. FC Barcelona. A few brief impressions gleaned follow.

• Early on, Crvena Zvezda appeared intimidated by Anadolu Efes, a much more physical team than the previous day’s opponent, FC Barcelona – but somehow while the Red Stars mostly shied away from going inside and gave up turnovers by the bundle, big man Marko Tejic somehow amassed three fouls in less than three minutes.

• In the first half, Crvena Zvezda showed their fantastic wiles with tight defensive rotations and traps, though proving susceptible on the baseline; this allowed the larger frontcourt of Efes to score essentially every time a guard managed to find his man there.

• Speaking of those Efes guards, BiE’s eye was caught by the play of Furkan Bayrak and particularly Cedi Osman. Both showed nice game-management skills and in fact the Efes lead began to noticeably crumble when Bayrak and Osman both sat for a spell, allowing Crvena Zvezda to knot things up at 22 in the second quarter.

Time will tell if Bayrak can develop as a player, particularly if the 1.85m (6’0¾”) guard stays at that height: this young Turk’s game shows some soft D in giving his man way too much space outside and was quite vulnerable to the pick-and-roll. But if this country starts producing guards like Osman, the imminent Turkish invasion of the NBA won’t be limited to Enes Kanter and Hedo Turkoglu types.

• Crvena Zvezda’s overwhelming strength: Transition. Fast-breaking whenever possible, nine of the Croatian side’s 13 points in the first quarter resulted from running – against zero for Efes.

Dusan Ristic was again the stud for Crvena Zvezda with a double-double of 17 points and 14 boards; more impressive was his willingness to body up to that large Turkish frontcourt. Are 2012 NIJT MVP honors in his future?

• By game’s end, it wasn’t necessarily shortcomings of Efes that did this team in, but rather perhaps the challenge of the NIJT tournament. In both game one and this one, only eight players went for the Turkish team. Both games saw a first-quarter lead dissolve into blowouts, leaving behind five guys that were shells of themselves by the final buzzer: Efes was outscored 61-33 in the final 30. BiE knows these guys are young, but still…

• As for FC Barcelona, well, can you say “epic collapse”? In the third quarter, the junior Blaugrana side went colder than the Ice Age-era Arctic Circle to manage just four points against some awesome zone defense. The basketball gods alone know what coach Darius Maskoliūnas told his charges at halftime, but the Greens played a brand of basketball in the third quarter well beyond their ages.

• LIetuvos Rytas kept things close in the first half by playing smart and exploiting that deep roster; and again, in that crucial third 10 minutes, raised their level of play admirably. Arguably the stud of this squad, Tautvydas Jodelis, put in 13 points but Augustinas Jankaitis and Denis Krestinin stepped up for 16 points each while Jankaitis tallied 13 hard-fought rebounds.

• Barcelona fans are backing a team led by foreigners. It’s difficult to believe that Kazakhstan’s Alexandr Zhigulin is just 18 – or even human. In this game, he was half-animal, half-coach on the floor (in three quarters) in halfcourt sets.

• Zhigulin finished with 16 points and four boards, but who cares about stats? In tandem with either Nick Spires or Fernando Andrade, Barça has an outstanding twin towers setup … only where were these guys in the third quarter?

• Spires’ countryman Ludde Hakanson was also impressive (in three quarters) with a sweet, high-arcing shot that defies the block. The ultimate irony: Imagine Spires and Hakanson knocking off Ricky Rubio and Serge Ibaka’s Team Spain in, say, Eurobasket 2017…

• Also, FC Barcelona ran surprisingly few pick-and-rolls; don’t they know what club this is?

• Barça sent out a small-ball lineup in the second quarter of Bernat Camarasa and the Moix brothers together with some combination of Spires, Andrade and Adria Cantenys that worked fine – and quickly – enough.

• The most moxie in the game? BiE likes Pauli Naraskevicius, a 1.84m (6’0”) pit bull who pushed and shoved on Spires fearlessly.

• With the Crvena Zvezda victory, the Croatian side is knotted up with Lietuvos Rytas; the game between these two today will determine who advances to the NIJT championship.

• In Group B, however, things are sticky with all teams at 1-1, thanks to Team China’s nice 75-70 upset victory over KK Zagreb. The tiebreaker will reportedly be determined by face-to-face meetings, so the scenarios look something like the following: Žalgiris is in with a win and a Fenerbahçe Ülker loss; Fenerbahçe is in with a win and a Zagreb loss; Zagreb is in with a win and a Team China loss; and Team China is in with a win and a Žalgiris loss.

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