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.
• Note on tonight’s Lithuania-Spain game: Coach Kestutis Kemzura confirmed after last night’s practice that center Marijonas Petravicius is a scratch for the remainder of the tournament due to some sort of lung ailment (!) – good thing the hosts have about 87 big men on the roster already.
• Who are the early winners due to the format of this tournament? Team Macedonia and BiE fave Bo McCalebb, of course.
After the first five games, the top three finishers in each of the four groups will advance to the semifinal round. These 12 sides will carry their win-loss records with them, but only those games against advancing teams count. Thanks to a pair of wins over Croatia and Greece – really the only two serious upsets recorded thus far – FYR Macedonia is in the bizarre position of potentially going 2-3 in pool play, but moving into “Group F” with a 2-0 record should Croatia and Greece (currently both 2-1) also move forward.
BiE would also like to extend a “thank you” to Bo and the boys for some partial redemption: After confidently prognosticating a whiffer in that “No shocking upsets will happen in the first round,” this writer’s Fearless Prediction™ that FYR Macedonia would advance suddenly looks prescient.
• Speaking of prescience, please allow to BiE to tootle his own horn a bit further: Tony Parker is proved to be, as supposed on these pages, the most important player in this tournament. All the Spur is doing in EuroBasket is leading the competition in points (28.0), two-pointers (8.0), and overall field goals made (9.7). And his third-best marks in assists (7.0), free-throw attempts (8.3) and free-throws made (7.0) show the complete game Parker brings to Les Bleus. He’s already notched two games of 30-plus points and was really the only consistent player on both ends of the floor in Friday’s match against Team Germany.
As Parker goes, so goes France (though Joakim Noah’s 7.7 rebounds per totally helps, too). And right now, La Republique looks to be going far.
• While the Montenegro-FYR Macedonia game on day one went into overtime, for BiE’s money, tops in this tourney thus far was Friday night’s Turkey-Lithuania battle. Much of that can be ascribed to the insane eardrum-shattering atmosphere putting Turkey into the pressure-cooker in Panevezys, of course, as can be witnessed directly below (in addition to several good looks at the revelatorily lovely ladies of Lithuania).
The game highlights demonstrate the scintillating contrast of styles between the two sides nicely.
Below is a look at the post-game revelry. Yes, BiE can assure you that it’s been like this every night in Panevezys. After the opener against Great Britain, this observer had flashbacks to Vancouver during the 1994 Stanley Cup. Quick! Here’s an SAT analogy-formatted one question quiz!
Lithuania : basketball ::
(a) Canada : hockey
(b) Brazil : soccer
(c) New Zealand : rugby
(d) Baron Davis : dessert
• Those following the play-by-play or merely checking out the game capsule from Serbia’s 89-80 victory over Israel on Friday may be wondering how in the name of Naismith the unheralded underdogs managed to take a lead into the fourth quarter against a top EuroBasket team – trust me, BiE couldn’t figure things out from the scoring updates provided the media here.
But take a closer look at the boxscore. Until the fourth quarter, coach Dusan Ivkovic allowed none of his players other than Euroleague stud point guard Milos Teodosic more than 16 minutes of court time. Once the big boys – Teodosic, Marko Keselj, Kosta Perovic, Dusko Savanovic and Nenad Krstic – came back to the playground for the fourth, Serbia pulled away with a 15-point difference in the final 10 minutes.
On the Continent, Coach Dusko is known as one of the top five or six strategists in European basketball and his rotations in this game are a perfect example of why. Realizing that even a loss would most likely be irrelevant, assuming that Israel wouldn’t advance into Group E (and they won’t now for sure, mathematically eliminated with this L), Ivkovic simply rested his key players while allowing the Markovices and Rasices a chance to find their game. The no. 1 reason Serbia will go far in EuroBasket 2011: Smarts.
• Just for fun, check out the NBA roster you could build from the prospective Group E: Omer Asik, Nicolas Batum, Boris Diaw, Chris Kaman, Joakim Noah, Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, Kevin Seraphin, Darius Songaila and Hedo Turkoglu, plus recent draft picks/prospective future stars Enes Kanter, Jonas Valanciunas and Tibor Pleiss. Should Italy get past Germany in Group B, Nowitzki and Kaman could be subbed out for Andrea Bargnani, Marco Belinelli, and Danilo Gallinari. Not too shabby, and what’s even more badass is that the powerful Team Serbia has exactly zero NBAers on their current roster with Nenad Krstic playing for CSKA Moscow in 2011-12.