With all due respect to Turkey and Slovenia, two teams which have often gotten the short of the stick in the BiE fearless prediction series in Eurobasket 2009, what fun is making picks if you don’t mix in some upsets? And taking France to win the tournament right now is quite the stretch, for two reasons: 1) the sportsbook has Les Bleus as 2/1 underdogs in this game, and 2) for France to win Eurobasket gold, they’ll have to have run the table.
But let’s take these games one at a time, as the jockspeak cliché goes. The BiE fearless prediction has France over Spain, for the following reasons:
• Team Spain may have looked good – really good – last night in beating Poland, 90-68, but, um, gee, it’s Poland. And by mercilessly pouring it on in the late-third and fourth quarters against the overmatched Poles, the once-again swaggeringly cocky Spain will surely invoke the wrath of the basketball gods for unsportsmanlike play.
• While Spain has spent the entire tournament trying to gel as a team, France has become a solid unit that is squeezing every ounce of basketball skill they can from these guys. Just look at the synergy between Rony Turiaf and Boris Diaw. And check out how the multi-faceted attack has been benefited…
• Nicolas Batum, in another case of burgeoning superstar blossoming on an international stage. Batum has totaled a nice line of 9.7 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game while shooting a nice 60% from the floor and 35.7% from three-point land. Call Nicholas the X Factor in the game tonight. Here’s to thinking this stud – for which Spain will have no answer – makes the difference. (And boy, are Portland Trail Blazers fans happy.)
• Tony Parker won’t let France lose. Think Ricky Rubio and Juan Carlos Navarro will be pulling that fancy-schmancy extra (unnecessary) pass stuff against Parker? Ha! The dude hasn’t run up 14 steals in this tournament for no reason. And Parker’s getting it done all over the floor, too, with 18 ppg, 4.3 rpg and 3.7 apg. Once a team that stood around to let Parker create has become a team on which Parker makes everyone better – maybe even better than their Spanish counterparts when given a chance to set the half-court offense.
• The turnover edge is all France’s. Spain is allowing 14.5 turnovers per game, highest among the remaining eight teams and fully one more per game than second-worst Russia and two more than France. Take out last night’s game, in which Team Spain gave the ball up to Poland 11 times, and that average goes up to 15 per. Now, if you were a France backer and were told you’d probably get a plus-three turnover differential in your favor in a close game, would that buoy your confidence a bit?
Right. So let’s go further and even give you a score on this one: France 70, Spain 65. Hey, they aren’t called “fearless” predictions for nothing.
Oh yeah, and there’s that other game as well: Russia vs. Serbia. The first question here is, “Whoa, who woke up Team Russia and reminded ‘em they’re the defending Eurobasket champs?” Question no. 2: Kelly McCarty (14.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.7 spg) – who knew? The Russians enter this game on a three-game winning streak and with continued admirable shutdown defense; Russia has held five of six opponents under 70 and for a team living and dying by sharpshooting like Serbia, this spells T-R-O-U-B-L-E.
BiE fearless prediction: Russia advances over a frustrated Serbia as Coach David Blatt conducts another smart win, Timofey Mozgov starts getting mention in All-Eurobasket team talks, and, 11 years after his NBA debut with the Denver Nuggets, Kelly McCarty is discovered in America.