Whoa, nice start to Eurobasket 2009, eh? In one game, the complexion of the tournament has changed delightfully; in general, the gap from best-to-worst suddenly appears to be tiny. A nice pair of upsets and the general pluckiness of the underdogs – with the notable exception of FYR Macedonia, who was unfortunately hopelessly outclassed by Greece –showed that every one of these teams came to play. Could the jockspeak cliché of “any team is capable of winning this thing” actually be meaningful here?
Of course, the headlines were grabbed by the two big upsets. After a summer of mostly lackluster play, Turkey displayed a complete game against Lithuania, which may have been slightly overrated in some quarters; Hedo Turkoglu naturally led the charge, but Team Turkey managed to outshoot the cold Lithuanians from three-point land, drew more fouls, outrebounded Linas Kleiza’s ballyhooed squad, and managed to build on a tenuous fourth-quarter lead. Put Lithuania alongside FYR Macedonia as teams in desperate need of a hurried regroup.
Spain, on the other hand, just needs to group. As postulated by a certain European basketball-centric website, star-studded Espana has yet to gel and apparently that drubbing in the Lithuanian friendly was no fluke. Anyone remember all those criticisms formerly levied against Team USA, i.e. stuff like, “They’re a group of superstars, not a *team*”? Ricky, Gasols, meet Allen Iverson, Vince Carter, etc. etc.
It’s too bad consolation points can’t be awarded to that bunch of teams who exceeded expectations. New-look Germany looked good, even holding a lead against Team France going into halftime, Latvia managed to stay with the smothering Russians in a game harder fought than the score might indicate, and Israel put in a tremendous scoring effort against Croatia. And if Great Britain was as helpless and hopeless as expected against Slovenia, well, at least they outscored Spain.
Oh, as for as Greece’s destruction of FYR Macedonia, let’s just say that Ball in Europe won’t be misunderestimating these guys again in this tournament.
Quote of the night: Team Russia coach David Blatt channeled his Vulcan wisdom to declare that, “The power of many is a lot more than the strength of a few. And I think we showed the power of many today.”
Tonight’s matchups, together with BallinEurope fearless predictions, are as follows.
Israel v. FYR Macedonia. Israel’s ready to play – is FYR Macedonia? An entire nation may be having nightmares about Lior Eliyahu tonight. BiE fearless prediction: Israel wins handily, and Eliyahu contributes a big double-double.
Germany v. Russia. Wow, Germany has a team and this matchup has instantly become a lot more interesting-appearing than it was on Monday. Can the no-name jumpshooters hit from three points just a bit more accurately to confound the amazing Russian defense and pull off the upset? I say “ja.” BiE fearless prediction: Germany wins in a squeaker.
Slovenia v. Serbia. Slovenia looked decent enough last night, but Serbia ain’t no Great Britain. BiE fearless prediction: Serbia in a walk.
Lithuania v. Poland. Home team opponents or no, Lithuania simply has too much talent not to redeem themselves tonight after last night’s fourth-quarter fold. BiE fearless prediction: Lithuania by double figures.
Greece v. Croatia. Certain to be the game of the night. Team Croatia is on a heckuva run lately and last night showed some scariness. Their balanced attack saw four players going for 13 or more points, while Zoran Planinic added nine and Mario Kasun put in eight to go with seven rebounds each; additionally, Croatia shot a fantastic 8-of-16 from beyond the arc while dominating off the offensive glass. On the other hand, Greece is Greece, and these dudes are clearly taking no prisoners in this one. Nevertheless, i ain’t getting off the checkerboard horse; BiE fearless prediction: Croatia in OT.
Latvia v. France. Sure, sure, France will find ways to keep Latvia in this game and Andris Biedrins may be able to exploit La Republique’s frontcourt a lot better than he did Russia’s, but Tony Parker alone has too many weapons for the opposition. BiE fearless prediction: It’s France, but closer than you think.
Spain v. Great Britain. Team Spain should be using this opportunity as a warmup game for the upcoming Eurobasket 2009 tournament – you know, like the Lithuania friendly might have been. BiE fearless prediction: Spain wins, mostly by default, but Great Britain will take a lead in the second quarter to utterly madden Spanish fans.
Bulgaria v. Turkey. Suddenly, the Turks are a force again and the Turkoglu PR machine is getting cranked up (Hey, i watched the broadcast from Turkey last night: Wall-to-wall advertising for Hedo and b-ball) for a game Turkey should win easily, but instead might require last-minute heroics from The Man. BiE fearless prediction: Turkey by one.