The elite eight of basketball have been decided as the quarter finals of the 2023 FIBA World Cup get under way. The action starts with with Lithuania vs Serbia.
Who: Lithuania (5-0) vs Serbia (4-1)
Where: Mall of Asia Arena, Manila
When: 5 September at 16.45 Manila time/10.45 Belgrade/9.45 London/6.45 New York
How they got here
Lithuania have gone 5-0 to date. They opened with wins over Egypt and Mexico. This was followed by wins over Montenegro and Greece. Then came the big one, a huge upset win over the USA.
Serbia reached its 4-1 record through a perfect group stage. Svetislav Pesic’s team beat Puerto Rico, South Sudan, and China. It then lost to Italy before recording a dominant win over Dominican Republic top qualify.
In the front court it’s fundamentally about Jonas Valanciunas vs Nikola Militunov. The latter has a big challenge on his hands as Valanciunas has been in imperious form. The back court however favours Serbia. Stefan Jovic and Bogdan Bogdanovic will provide a big test. Rokas Jokubaitis will be the man Lithuania leans on to be its creator in chief.
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Need to know
Despite the long history of basketball in both nations, they haven’t played each other competitively since 2015. On that occasion, Lithuania came out on top 67-64 in the EuroBasket 2015 semi-final. That qualified Lithuania for the Olympics in 2016 as well. There are Olympic implications here as the top 2 European teams in this tournament qualify for Paris 2024.
Serbia also has an impressive run in recent international tournaments if you ignore one opponent. Italy is the only team to beat Serbia in each of the last three competitions it played. Unfortunately this meant Serbia missed the Olympics in Tokyo, went out in the last 16 of EuroBasket last year, and needed that win on Sunday to stay in this tournament.
What the bookies think
Normally I’d include the point spread here. There is no point because it is so close. Lithuania are 10/11 favourites but Serbia are priced at 19/20. The sportsbooks have no idea who is going to win this game.
What we think
This is the game of the round for a reason. I expect an absolute battle between both sides. The question will be who wilts late. Oddly, had Serbia avoided the slip-up against Italy I’d be more worried for them. This is a team that thrives under pressure. That said, there will be a lot of expectation from their fans back home.
Lithuania will have plenty of expectation too. They come into this game having beaten the USA. The white whale of basketball has been slain. That said, there tends to be an understanding amongst LTU basketball people that trap games are always waiting. This Lithuania team is smart and won’t overlook a strong Serbia. In short, I think we are in for a chess match or, maybe, a chess-boxing match.
I won’t be shocked if this one goes to overtime. Either way, regulation or overtime, I’m picking Serbia.