The last 16 of EuroBasket 2022 is here and Sunday sees Finland hoping to ride the wave of Markkamania to victory over Croatia
All games from now on are at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin, Germany
14.45 CEST, 13.45 BST, 08.45 EST, 05.45 PST
How they got here
Finland (3-2) suffered a defeat that looked to hurt their seeding hopes to Israel on the opening day but wins over Poland, Czech Republic, and Netherlands meant they got the 2 seed despite also losing to Serbia.
Croatia (3-2) took a slightly odder approach, more on that in a bit, as they lost to Greece, beat Great Britain and Estonia, lost to Italy, but then beat Ukraine to lock up the 3 seed when it appeared they didn’t want to the 2 seed.
Need to know
Right, Croatia needs to be addressed here. They’ve not put together a full 40 minutes of consistently good basketball yet and were awfully lucky to survive Estonia. Their decision to deliberately miss a free throw at the end of the win over Ukraine, which would have given them the 2 seed, may well anger the basketball gods. The rationale is this route avoids Slovenia and, instead, gets them the winner of Spain or Lithuania should they prevail.
It’s all very rational but, in 2014, Australia did something similar. The Boomers didn’t exactly go all out to beat Angola and that just happened to result in them knowing they’d avoid the USA until the semi-finals. Instead their path would go through Turkey and, potentially, Lithuania. Turkey didn’t read the script and this happened.
As for Finland, I mean Lauri Markkanen is averaging 24.8 points per game while Sasu Salin is the only player on the roster who is averaging in double digits. This is a ride or die team if ever there was one. Their basic plan is for Markkamania to run wild and hope everything else sorts itself out. There are far worse plans.
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This being a weekend game makes things awfully interesting and Finland’s fans know how to travel and make a weekend out of matters. Don’t be surprised if the Susijengi bring a serious presence to the Mercedes-Benz Arena for this one.
Croatia are aiming to make it to the quarter finals for the first time since 2013. It’s mad to even think that it has been that long since Croatia flirted with the medal rounds but they’ve been awfully inconsistent at major tournaments over the past decade, with their 5th place finish in the Olympics last year the only true bright spot since that run to the semi finals in Slovenia.
What do the bookies say?
It’s reasonably tight with Croatia favoured at 9/20 while Finland are 48/25. The point spread favours Croatia by -6.5.
What do we say?
Were it just the basketball gods, I’d probably let my superstitions be set aside but I was in Istanbul in 2017. I saw Lauri Markkanen get bullied by Nik Melli in the last 16 and that’s put a chip on his shoulder that Finland’s greatest baller has carried for five long years. He’s been waiting to get to this stage again to make someone pay and Croatia ended up in this spot in the way most likely to rouse him.
On Friday morning I told HoopsHype that I was picking Croatia. Two coffees later and I’ve gone completely the other way. Finland to win straight up.