From the folks at FIBA comes a dispatch on the guy who may already be Lithuania’s most popular player in North America, Jonas Valanciunas. Valanciunas arrived in Toronto this week as he begins preparations for the 2012-13 NBA season…
And here’s a second question: Shall composition of the requiem for Lietuva’s 2012 Olympic bid begin now? Sadly, it doesn’t look good for our heroes with Team USA on the slate tomorrow and a first-round date with presumably Spain or (BiE’s pick) Russia in the knockout stage – and this in the 20th anniversary year of the country’s greatest-ever Olympic performance.
But first things first. Jonas Valančiūnas. Let’s just get right to the stat lines.
BallinEurope’s Lithuanian agent Skyped BiE today with two words on his mind: “Lithuania’s doom.”
“Today?” BiE countered.
“No, it already happened two days ago,” said Y. and he was off with a prescient, simple formula for success after the 23-point blowout at the hands of Argentina.
Right, so BallinEurope has already publicly logged Official Fearless Predictions™ for the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament knockout stage in bracket format. Europe’s four representatives – group winners all – take on some decent African and North American competition, but nevertheless the bookies like an all-Europe final four in Venezuela.
Indeed, there’s a high probability that none of these favorites will be eliminated today. In Groups B and D produced a fair number of underdog victories in round-robin play: Venezuela over Nigeria, Nigeria over Lithuania, New Zealand over Angola, and (BiE maintains) Angola over FYR Macedonia. In contrast, the quite-predictable 2008 version of this tourney included zero upsets in round-robin play and really only one that might be called at least moderately surprise: Puerto Rico over Slovenia.
So which European teams should be worried about the upset today/tonight (tomorrow morning CET)? From least to most? BiE would say the list looks like this…
In the leadup to the 2011-12 Eurocup Final Four tournament beginning on Saturday, Eurosport Turkey basketball commentator Uygar Karaca contributes a series of previews on the remaining quartet entitled “Four Teams, Four Stories” to BallinEurope.
Today, the final chapter of the series is devoted to BC Khimki Moscow region. With VTB United League and Russia Cup titles already in the club’s recent history, will they finally break through with a pan-European championship? Karaca seems to think so…
BC Khimki Moscow region is a relatively young club on the international basketball scene. However, they improved themselves quite rapidly: Coming from the same line of teams such as Avtador, Ural Great, UNICS and Lokomotiv Rostov which presented themselves as alternative powerhouses to CSKA Moscow, Khimki managed to earn a Russian Cup in 2008 and the VTB United League title in 2011. The missing trophy from the shelf is a pan-European prize. The team came close in 2006 against Joventut and in 2009 against Rytas with losses in the Eurocup finals both years. The hosts hope to be third-time lucky on their home court.
After a bit of a free day (not 100%, though, BiE can assure you) for BallinEurope, we get back in the game – so to speak – with a few notes, links and of course YouTubes for your perusal before FIBA EuroBasket games tip off today.
• BiE’s games of the day? Today, Spain-Lithuania; tomorrow, Serbia-France. All four squads are undefeated through three and only Lithuania has truly been tested in any game thus far (BiE’ll discuss Serbia’s illusorily close win over Israel below). Beyond this fact, these games are also key to the next round and ultimately to the final elimination bracket round.
In the top-heavy groupings for EuroBasket 2011, the three survivors of Groups A and B will meet for five games in reformed Groups E and F. This half-dozen appears to be set as comprised of Lithuania, Spain and Turkey from Group A, and France, Serbia and Germany from Group B. Plus, both of these matchups will be repeated in Group E games, thereby utterly determining the final bracket.
It’s a question for the ages and one that BallinEurope has wondered about in contemplation for years. Last night’s post-game press conference following the Lithuania-Poland EuroBasket match saw an answer delivered, summing things up rather succinctly and satisfyingly.
With Team Lithuania head coach Kestutis Kemzura and BiE fave Martynas “Air” Pocius before the assembled media, a journalist on his first stay in this hoops-mad land went for the deep query: “Why is this country so passionate about basketball?”
BallinEurope can hardly believe that the final four round of the 2010 FIBA World Championship is here … this fascinating and fun tournament wraps up this weekend, and BiE is happy to see The Continent well-represented and definitely well self-acquitted.
Without further ado, here are twelve bits ‘n’ bites to enjoy going into the Lithuania-USA and Turkey-Serbia games tonight from across world media.
• Nenad Krstic, who correctly prognosticated that “We will make Team Spain congratulate us,” won’t hedge his bets in this game but does promise that Team Serbia will be ready and will play their game.
Whither Spain? In yet another example of “that’s why they play ‘em on paper,” the mighty Spaniards went down thanks to a French attack led by Nicolas Batum (14 points on 4-of-9 shooting, two rebounds, two blocks and one awesome jam), Andrew Albicy (!) and Mickael Gelabale (!!!) and brutal fourth-quarter shooting “highlighted” by three separate FG droughts, 4-of-10 shooting on free throws, Sergio Llull serving up shots for the blocking, and Rudy Fernandez getting himself T’ed right out of the game.
All right, now everything about the 2010 FIBA World Championship is coming into focus!
For example, now we know how good the relatively unknown Lithuanian squad will be – because they beat Slovenia after having to come back and go overtime against the Czech Republic. Um, and Argentina showed they’re awesome by … blowing a 20-point lead at half on their home court. Uh, well, one thing we can all agree on, at least: Team France is damn near sunk before this thing starts after another litany of no-shows.
These ratings are sure to be shaken up after many of these teams will be participating in tournament play or one-off exhibition games against fellow Worlds competitors this weekend. Up until Saturday night, however, BallinEurope sees the power flowing in the following 16 directions…