“Sometimes when you win, you really lose. And sometimes when you lose, you really win. And sometimes when you win or lose, you actually tie and sometimes when you tie, you actually win or lose. Winning or losing is all one organic globule, from which one extracts what one needs.” – Gloria Clemente, White Men Can’t Jump
Congratulations go out from BallinEurope to Teams USA, Turkey and Lithuania for getting tickets punched into the knockout tournament as VIP no. 1 seeds. And while the Argentina-Serbia battle tonight to determine how Group A shakes out should be a dandy, the one to watch – particularly if you’re a FIBA official or conspiracy theorist – will be Russia vs. Greece.
In what is definitely a case of “he who wins shall lose,” the no. 2 seed in Group C will face what appears to be the most difficult path to the championship game in the bracket. Assuming Team Spain handles winless Canada, the winner of tonight’s Russia-Greece contest would first draw Espana as no. 3 seed in Group D in the “eight finals,” followed by (Team USA) the winner of USA vs. Angola/Australia.
The loser of Russia-Greece would get a bracket that includes an opening game against France followed by the winner of Argentina vs. Brazil/Croatia – while hardly an easy road, which do you think David Blatt and Jonas Kazlauskas would prefer?
In fact, this bit of the bracket might prove particularly enticing for Russia, who would kill to see a Croatian win over Brazil tonight followed by the Brazilian upset of Team Argentina: Russia is maybe the only team in this tournament that can match up big men with talented Brazil.
So does either side want to win this game?
BiE recently commented on an incident of about a year ago that echoes the current situation, namely Nando De Colo’s last-second shot to defeat Team Greece in Eurobasket 2009 and give Les Blues the top seed in their group … only to face good ol’ Spain (who started the tournament slowly, natch) in the knockout stage. Final result: Pau Gasol and the boys absolutely torched La France, 86-66, and steamrolled their way through the tournament’s remainder to bag the title.
You can bet that both sides will be well aware of the implications of victory tonight, but BiE doesn’t see how Kazlauskas could stack the deck against himself, unless through the highly suspicious method of keeping quality players off the court for long stretches (à la France, which sat Tony Parker throughout the fourth quarter in that fateful Eurobasket game). Last night’s 97-60 destruction of Cote d’Ivoire would seem to indicate that full-strength Greece is now in “No More Mr. Nice Guy Mode” with bad boys Antonis Fotsis and Sofoklis Schortsanitis back.
On the other hand, Fotsis has not been himself in the two games since returning. In just 45 minutes of action in the two games combined, Fotsis has managed to get his defensive rebounds (four in each game) but offensively is depending on timid jumpshots to the tune of 2-of-6 shooting in both games. Would anyone be surprised if Fotsis gets limited minutes no matter the score?
BiE’s thinking three things: 1) Greece has nothing to fear in the bracket, as surely Kazlauskas believes he has a roster than can handle the pre-tournament alpha dogs; 2) Greece gets off to an early lead on the way to a win; and 3) Russia sits starters as soon as it’s evident the game is out of reach.
Commented FIBA Europe writer Jeff Taylor upon giving De Colo the nod for “Best shot” of the Eurobasket 2009 tournament in his roundup column: “Had France lost that game, they would have avoided Spain in the quarterfinals, and they knew it. But they won anyway. The day a player intentionally tries to lose a game to get a better opponent in the quarterfinals is the day I stop watching basketball.”
That’s a sentiment many of us can agree with – and let’s just hope that Taylor’s theoretical player isn’t hiding on either the Greek or Russian benches tonight.
Other official BallinEurope Fearless Predictions™ for tonight’s games? Sure!
Puerto Rico vs. Cote d’Ivoire – Puerto Rico wins for the pyrrhic victory, i.e. the right to face red-hot Lithuania in the tournament.
Spain vs. Canada – They doesn’t even have to win to advance, but something tells BiE that Team Spain gets this win. Interestingly, a New Zealand win and a Spanish loss would pit the Spaniards against either Turkey or Greece *in the first round*. Whoa.
Angola vs. Australia – Demond Greene aside, Germany came into this tournament with little experience and that greenness showed last night against Angola. Angola won’t receive that benefit against the Boomers; Australia wins. Oh, by the way, loser gets Team USA.
USA vs. Tunisia – The C-deem Team, anyone? Aside from USA winning the game, here’s another Fearless Prediction™: Stephen Curry, Tyson Chandler, Kevin “Summer Of” Love and former University of New Mexico Lobo Danny Granger will each get more minutes than Kevin Durant … at least in the second half.
Lebanon vs. Lithuania – Nothing can stop Lithuania right now, certainly not Lebanon playing for pride. That buzzing sound you hear over the Western Hemisphere? That’s the Green-and-Golds bearing down on Argentina in the semi-finals…
Argentina vs. Serbia – With all the shock and awe America’s exciting play is creating, plus the, well, shock caused by Spain’s limp performances late, Argentina has quietly emerged under the radar as one of the top teams in the tournament. BiE suspects their brainy form of basketball will sneak Argentina past Serbia tonight, too.
Slovenia vs. Iran – Slovenia.
Turkey vs. China – They want to wow the fans some more. Turkey.
New Zealand vs. France – In this tournament, New Zealand is living and dying by the jumpshot; France is meanwhile averaging 70 points a game in the tourney, “good” for 19th best after the 55-point debacle last night. Since Les Bleus are locked into the no. 2 spot of Group D while New Zealand could theoretically jump up a spot in the pool to avoid meeting the Group C no. 1 (not to mention potentially drawing regional foes Australia), it’s tempting to go with the upset here.
However, BiE believes coach Vincent Collet, who’d been enjoying an excellent tournament until the disheartening Lithuania match, will use the opportunity to tighten up the French game going into the tournament. France wins in a squeaker.
Jordan vs. Germany – No, BiE’ll go for the upset here and say the Jordan that played Argentina hard shows up again to defeat the bamboozled Germans.
Brazil vs. Croatia – In the late slot is this marquee matchup and talk about your contrast of styles, eh? Interior vs. exterior, halfcourt vs. full court, size vs. hustle … should be a good ‘un. Brazil again played valiantly against a top team last night, nearly coming back all the way from an early 16-point deficit to upend Slovenia; their control of the fourth quarter with Anderson Varejao (finally) on the floor may show that the Team Brazil we expected in July has finally arrived.
Croatia’s patchwork squad also took Slovenia to the wire in game three, but in opposite fashion, instead enjoying 55% overall shooting and a whopping 50% beyond the arc. All other statistics being nearly equal, the Croatians’ deficit of six rebounds cost them the game: When Bostan Nachbar and Miha Zupan both bagged defensive rebounds off Croatian bricks in the paint inside of 40 seconds, Team Slovenia’s height had sealed the deal. BiE’s going to say Brazil wins because they win the battle of bigs.