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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

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.
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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.

Sep
0

EuroBasket: Lithuania beat Italy 81-77 in a classic

Lithuania and Italy served up the quarter final we had been waiting for in EuroBasket 2013. A battle down to the wire where Lithuania finally pulled through to book a date with Croatia.

Finally a game worth killing for. The quarter finals were lacking something up until this point. We needed joie de mort. Where the end of a team’s quest for the title actually caused us to feel it inside. That is what Italy, unwillingly no doubt, delivered on Thursday. The underdogs were dominated on the boards, as any observer no doubt expected, but Marco Belinelli and Alessandro Gentile wouldn’t let that stop them. For all his issues winning rebounds, Gentile delivered offensively with 15 points in the losing effort. Belinelli, ever the stoic operator, was a one man army for the Italians. His haul of 22 points and 2 steals dared the Lithuanians to match him.

In Mantas Kalneitis he had a worthy adversary. It’s easy for Lithuanians to say none of their guards are Saras but for once Kalneitis forced the doubters to be silent. He led the team with 17 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists. In Ljubjana he stood on the floor and demanded respect. Renaldas Sebuitis match Kalneitis in scoring and added 6 rebounds too. This was a team that could match the Italians outside as they sought victory on the interior.

This night however was not one for Jonas Valanciunas. The fearsome big man was quiet all evening, only featuring for 11 minutes, as his team mates carried the load. Trailing 58-57 going into the final frame, Lithuania broke for home with a 15-0 run that would have ended the battle of a lesser foe.

Credit therefore to Italy who battled gamely to the death. One would expect no less from Gigi Datome but to see those around him fight hard was inspiring. Reeling in Lithuania was always going to be unlikely after that run but there was no quarter given by the Italians down the stretch. The preceding quarter finals had been about progression. This game was one of survival.

Italy’s mettle was not enough to take the day but proved their character. They now enter the classification round where they take on Ukraine to lock up a place in the FIBA World Cup next year. Lithuania’s 2014 qualification is assured with this victory. That won’t be on their minds tonight. This is an evening for resting and refocusing. The greater challenge awaits on Friday. Croatia and a place in the final of EuroBasket 2013.

Sep
0

Preview: EuroBasket Quarter Finals – Croatia vs Ukraine and Lithuania vs Italy

Three more teams will book their place in the 2014 FIBA World Cup on Thursday as the quarter finals of EuroBasket 2013 conclude. Here’s are take and picks on both games as well as the classification game between Slovenia and Serbia where the winner books a ticket to Spain. 

Croatia lost their first game in Slovenia and then rattled off seven straight wins to secure a favourable draw in the last eight. The Croats have power inside and will look to dominate on the glass, where they have averaged 43.1 rebounds per game. After beating Ukraine home and away in the qualification round last year, it’s hardly a surprise to see Croatia as favourites for this game. This is a team however which is almost addicted to making life difficult irrespective of the opponent. Only one of Croatia’s run of victories came in a manner that could remotely be described as comfortable. Every other game was a battle often of the Croats own doing. This will give hope to Ukraine which will rely heavily on three-point shooting to keep the game competitive and make the favourites nervous. Mike Fratello’s team lives and dies by how Pooh Jeter plays. What Croatia do to shut down the world’s biggest fan of borscht could prove decisive. The bookies have Croatia down as -8 favourites. That looks about right to me. Croatia to advance.

The second quarter final today sees Italy take on Lithuania. Raptors Republic is calling this tournament JonasBasket and while there’s an element of insular thinking there, for one evening they may have a point. Lithuania can bang hard with anybody and Jonas Valanciunas will have an important role to play in this game. Italy’s struggles inside hurt them in the second stage and they will need Alessandro Gentile to match his big display against Spain for this game to be competitive. There’s certainly talent on the Italian roster, with Marco Belinelli and Gigi Datome both impressing at this tournament. What the duo needs most is help. I expect a heavy emphasis on defence from Lithuania early to try and frustrate Italy before the favourites look to punch a big hole on the scoreboard in the second quarter. Lithuania are favoured by 5.5 points and again this looks about right. Power inside will make the difference. Lithuania to win.

Before today’s quarter finals take place, the first of the classification games will see Slovenia take on Serbia. The home side lost to France in a contest that took a while to get going last night while the Serbs were swept aside by Spain. The emotional energy spent by Slovenia is a big concern going into this game. While Serbia will have been shocked by the way they were manhandled by Spain, it’s easier to get back mentally after a laugher than the type of draining game Slovenia played. I’m going for the slight upset here and picking Serbia.

Sep
5

EuroBasket Power Rankings: And then there were eight

Where once there was 12 now stand 8. The quarter finals are set so it’s time to update our Power Rankings.

There are some radical changes but I still expect plenty of you will be upset. Take aim in the comments.

1. Croatia (4-1). It was really tough to decide between first and second here. Three straight wins in the second round, including that unreal 2OT win over Greece on Monday, were just enough for them to get top slot. 

2. Serbia (4-1). So that ranking of 9 was harsh. Serbia still clearly have a lot of work to do but their win over France was particularly impressive.

3. Slovenia (3-2). The home team is really getting the crowd involved in their games. Their win over Italy exposed some of the latter’s failings. Following that up with a heart-stopper over Greece was enough to take third here. We’re not counting what was clearly a nothing game against Finland against them.
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Sep
3

EuroBasket 2013 Quarter Final pairings set

The last game in stage two has yet to start but the four quarter final pairings for EuroBasket 2013 are set. Here’ are the pairings.

Serbia vs Spain

Lithuania vs Italy

Croatia vs Ukraine

Slovenia vs France

The first two games on Monday set the slate in stone. Greece lost any hope at making the quarter finals with their double overtime 92-88 loss to Croatia. Italy and Spain were left to decide the order of the top two quarter finals, with the loser getting Group E winner Serbia. Marc Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies led the game in stats with 32 points and 10 rebounds but Alessandro Gentile made up for his lacklustre display against Croatia with 25 points and 7 boards. New San Antonio Spur Marco Belinelli had another good outing for Italy, with 16 points and 8 rebounds before fouling out while Marco Cusin, who also fouled out, put up 4 points and 11 boards. It took overtime to decide it but Italy took the win 86-81. Now all they have to do is repeat that success on the inside to lock up a place in the FIBA World Cup next year. Against a Lithuanian team that can bang hard, that’s no easy ask.

We’ll have previews up for the quarter finals later this week but bear in mind that the placement games in this tournament also matter. With Spain already having their place in the World Cup secure, all but one of the other quarter finalists will be making the trip next year. Tell us who you think misses out in the comments.

Sep
2

Eurobasket: Slovenia and Croatia progress, Spain win

We know half of the teams through from Group F after a wild Saturday. Two Balkan teams locked up their places in the quarter-finals with wins today while Spain cruised to their first win in the second phase.

Damn that crowd makes a difference. Slovenia and Greece delivered one of the ugliest first quarters of offence we’ve seen all tournament but the home team was perfect from the line to move into a 13 point lead after the first frame. That lead grew to 26 points before the inevitable Greek fight-back. Greece knocked 20 off the lead to make it a two possession game inside the final two minutes. Slovenia dug deep yet again, with the Dragic brothers combining for 39 points, 10 boards, and 6 rebounds en route to a 73-65 victory. It was a nervous finish but the win puts the home team top of the group and safely through to the last eight.
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Sep
0

Eurobasket: Lack of inside penetration costs Italy against Croatia

Midway through the second quarter Italy looked on course for an upset of Croatia. Then everything fell apart as Croatia won 76-68.

After their comfortable win over Finland on Wednesday, Croatia looked to have finally hit their stride. Not so fast my friend. For the sixth time in seven games at EuroBasket 2013, the Croats made life hard for themselves. Trailing by 13 at one point against Italy on Saturday, Croatia were the makers of their own misery. They started an ugly 5 of 23 from the field as the Italians took charge with an exceedingly simple offence.

So simple that even Croatia couldn’t find a way to mess this up. Yes, for 15 minute the Croats played ugly basketball but eventually Roko Ukic realised that he needed to take on the load and start creating. Once he did Croatia became far less predictable and quickly gobbled up the deficit. The really staggering part of the game was how slow Italy were to try and counter. Leading by 5 at the half, Simone Piangiani knew his side was going to be under pressure early after the break. The one thing Italy’s offence had lacked in the first half was inside pressure. The shot chart for the third quarter shows just how slow Italy were to try and fix that issue.
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