The BBL experience – Rowdy in Frankfurt +++ Fearless predictions: Euroleague playoffs +++ A Dario triple-double? Now that’s good timing +++ Swee’ Pea needs your help +++ Final Four: What the bookies say when the bookies talk +++ The greatest Eurodance tribute to Goran Dragic ever +++ Swaggy P’s tribute to Os moving back to the USA +++ Help Swee’ Pea make the big screen +++ The Dish: Can I play with Madness? +++ Just point out the bounce +++

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.


The Dish: No wild cards here

Fenerbahce are in free fall while the Greens and the Blaugrana served up another gem. Take your mind off the FIBA World Cup for a minute and take in this week’s edition of The Dish.

The top two in Group E squared off in the OAKA and at half-time it looked like the Blaugrana would stroll out with an easy W. Fortunately, the fixture Panathinaikos vs Barcelona rarely serves up such straightforward fare. Dimitris Diamantidis nailed a huge three at the end of the third and we were all set for a grandstand fourth quarter. And then…nothing. In a frame low on offence, Barcelona did enough to get over the line with reasonable comfort, the Greens go down 56-63 at home.

Had this group started out differently, we’d be talking about that result as a game the Greens could really have done with winning. Instead the team in crisis is coached by the man who brought four Euroleague titles to the Athens club. Fenerbahce were first hand witnesses to EA7 Milano establishing their playoff credentials. Linas Kleiza dropped 26 for Fener but they got nothing from the bench and that lack of support cost them on the road. Fenerbahce are now bottom of Group E, two games back in the playoff race after just five games.
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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.


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.


Colbert stands tall on Irish Cup Finals night

UCC Demons Irish Cup champions 2014 Friday night was the highlight of the Irish Basketball calendar as both Cup titles went south to Cork. BiE’s Emmet Ryan was at the National Basketball Arena in Tallaght to take in the action. Health and safety is a strange beast for sports organisations. The Arena is barely 25 years old yet its capacity has been more than halved over the years. Built as a gym to seat 3,000, the venue has come down to just 1,400 seats in the modern era. The din isn’t the same when its full as in the old days but it still gets loud when something special goes down. That’s what we got in the women’s Cup Final. The inelegantly named Team Montenotte Hotel Glanmire (TMH) were looking to avenge their loss to the UL Huskies in last year’s decider. The Limerick team has dominated the Irish game in recent years, taking every title on offer the past two seasons. This year however the league has turned into a real dogfight with most teams having both a US import and a Bosman. TMH’s import, Emilee Harmon, is a former Ohio State Buckeye but she was flat-out owned by UL’s Sligo born centre Aoife McDermott in the early going. The low-post was the only place the Huskies were in control early as TMH set a ludicrous pace from the off. Nailing 6 of 9 from beyond the arc in the first half certainly helped but far more important was the Glanmire side’s 10 seconds or less approach to offence. This pace did not suit the Huskies in the slightest and they were brutalised in transition in the first half. Save for McDermott’s one-woman show, the reigning champs would have been in a much bigger hole than the 52-40 deficit they faced at the break. Continue Reading…


The Dish: If it bleeds we can kill it

You’d be forgiven for thinking this week’s Euroleague slated consisted of one game and one shot, we begin with the latter.

Efes? Really Efes did this? And Planinic? Wow, it’s like all the mockery of the club and Zoran (there was plenty on Twitter through the evening) was channeled into one wild moment of positive energy. Well, that’s the most sense I can make of it. There are buzzer beaters and there are you are taking the proverbial beaters. This was somewhere north of the latter. The score obviously meant a lot to the Istanbul club but it had wide ranging implications across Group E. Let’s start with EA7 Milan, that one moment of misfortune dropped them to 2-2. That keeps them locked with Unicaja Malaga and Olympiacos and only a game clear of Efes, Fenerbahce, and Baskonia. It is, of course, a tad on the early side to start talking permutations but none of those bottom three teams needed to lose extra ground to Milan. Planinic made sure they didn’t. Now on to the title of this week’s column.
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EURO-NBA: Where Luol Deng definitely won the trade

Luol Deng is no longer a Bull but he wasn’t going to be at the end of the season anyway. The move to Cleveland gives the Great Britain international more control over his future.
Two words. Two words give Luol Deng reason to be happy with his situation: Kyrie Irving. Deng has gone from being a player who would get dumped by Chicago in the summer to one with far more influence come the end of the season.

The Cavaliers know they made a meal and then some of their efforts to keep LeBron James happy but they never gave him a bona fide second option to work with. In acquiring Deng, effectively on a rental, and cashing in some picks in the process they are sending a message to Irving that they won’t err the same way with the point guard. This isn’t exactly putting Pippen with Jordan but it serves a role almost as vital, in spite if the talent disparity. The Cavs took a punt on Andrew Bynum, it didn’t work, so they moved fast to ensure their star didn’t get needy.

In the process they gave Deng, an All Star a few seasons back, the one thing he really lacked this summer. A home option. The Team GB star was going to be an attractive option in the free agent market but he would be going up against a market loaded with top end talent. Now Deng will enter the summer, irrespective of how Cleveland’s season ends, knowing there’s at least one team in greater need of him than he is of their courtship. The Cavs zre desperate not to make the mistakes they made with LeBron with Irving. They are also desperate not to look desperate.

This is a situation where it behooves the Cavs to make Luol Deng happy quickly because the sooner he gets locked down, the lower the risk of Irving getting angsty. It’s about the long game with Irving. The Cavs don’t want to give him a reason to ever be needy, to ever be demanding. Take care of business, get your house in order, and keep it that way. That is how your maintain control in a front office, by never giving a player reasons to want it. For examples of how to best succeed with this strategy see Spurs, San Antonio.

Everyone’s trying to call which way this trade went. Deng is the only certifiable winner here but long-term, the shuffling of assets may actually benefit both the Cavs and the Bulls. For Britain’s best baller, that’s at most a secondary concern.


Irish select coach Mark Keenan plotting another upset

Sunday sees the best ballers in Ireland head to the UK to try and pull off a big upset over their compatriots in the British Basketball League (BBL) for the second year straight. Emmet Ryan spoke with Mark Keenan, coach of the Irish Men’s Premier Select Team (MPSL), about their quest for glory in Birmingham.

Mark Keenan became a big deal just as Irish basketball entered its dark age, well the first as it was punctuated by a turn of the century revival, as he led an all-conquering St Vincent’s team to national cup and league success in the early 90s. Here was this 5’6″ nobody playing a vital role on the best team in the game as far as Irish viewers were concerned. Since hanging up his kicks, Keenan has enjoyed similar success as a coach. Last season he coached UL Eagles to the league title and a losing appearance in the cup final. Keenan was also the man in charge when an unfancied selection from the Irish league topped a BBL select team just hours before the BBL Cup Final.

Keenan’s back again with a squad containing just four members of that victorious roster. They head to Birmingham this weekend looking to build on a rout of a Welsh selection earlier this season. With no national team to aim for, this is the peak for many Irish players. Rare as the opportunity to play an international, even a quasi one, is the realities of life have somewhat stymied preparations. Of tbe 29 players invited to camp, only 17 could make themselves available for the weekend commitment in Birmingham. With the national cup semi finals on Friday night, many of the amateur outfit couldn’t commit the extra time off work or away from their families. Keenan however is confident in the 12 man roster he has. Now there’s just the small matter of preparing for an opponent of who they know little.

“We had to do some homework. Last we I watched a lot of BBL games on TV, as much as I could. With players I wasn’t familiar with, I bounced them off Colin O’Reilly an Irish player who played in the BBL. I’ve taken a similar approach this year watching them online and Colin’s helped out again with the players I haven’t seen too much of,” Keenan told
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Forget Rodman, what is Craig Hodges doing?

Craig Hodges
Dennis Rodman is doing something stupid. Matt Cooper isn’t being very smart by joining him. The same can be said for most of the party in Pyongyang for a basketball exhibition. Craig Hodges however is a big outlier. How does a man of such strong political will make such an awful choice?

Most of the gang of Dennis Rodman’s buddies playing hoops in Pyongyang read like a list of guys likely to go to Pyongyang with the Worm for a payday. Vin Baker, Kenny Anderson, and Cliff ‘totally open about making a porno with my wife’ Robinson are just the characters you’d expect to get caught in something like this. The game is being covered by Irish journalist Matt Cooper, who presents drivetime current affairs show The Last Word and fronts TV3’s live GAA coverage. Cooper’s involvement has caught some scrutiny in the Irish media today but given that all news is local, the man about whom we should be asking the most questions is subject to the fewest.

Craig Hodges had a pretty good career for a lifelong NBA back-up. He won the All Star 3-point contest three times, a feat matched only by Larry Bird, and was runner-up twice. He won the NBA Championship with the Chicago Bulls in 1991 and 1992. It was that latter win that brought to light something that mattered more than basketball to Hodges. The three-point ace was passionate about the treatment of African Americans. It was an issue he cared deeply for, one he was willing to put his career on the line for. This is a man who backed up his beliefs with actions.

When the Bulls visited the White House after winning the NBA Championship in 1992, Hodges used it as an opportunity for political activism. Wearing a dashiki, he criticized President George HW Bush’s treatment of minorities in America. Hodges never played in the NBA again. Hodges would go on to publicly criticize Michael Jordan for not using his position in the spotlight to do more for African Americans. This was a man who cared about the treatment of others. A man who recognised the influence those in the spotlight could use to cast light and draw attention to those who need it.

So what the hell is Craig Hodges doing in Pyongyang?
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ACB Point Guards – Well this is conventional

This morning everyone’s favourite Euro basketball geek, Simon Jatsch, shared tbis image showing stats on point guard behaviour in Spain’s ACB. Take a look at try to see wbat’s wrong with it…
Click to see the image in full. What the chart lacks, quite simply, is an anomalous performer. The correlations are almost perfect. It’s the lack of something strange that makes this information strange in its own right. Where’s the freak? Sometimes an abundance of the conventional can raise eyebrows.