We are one sleep away from a five year wait ending. EuroBasket 2022 is here, it’s time to make the deep dive
Don’t you just love the sheer unfair madness of it all? A bunch of round-robin games followed by four knockout rounds to decide who is the best of Europe for the whole of the next four years. Look at any national league or continental club competition, the idea of a champion for a single year being decided on such a small sample size would be met with horror. That’s a cup competition at best, a lovely trinket, but to decide bragging rights for so long? My, that’s gloriously unhinged.
EuroBasket used to be like a midterm election. Every two years the pulse of the continent was taken for an immediate decision on the champion in a fleeting moment. It is only in the years since 2017, when Slovenia’s ability to claim the moniker of Kings of Europe for so long that the true value of this 18 day sprint was appreciated.
Now, 24 teams enter, over two thirds of them survive to the second week, and single elimination breeds arguments from the Baltics to the Balearics and beyond. Oh it’s good to have it back.
The dominant narrative
You’re going to hear a lot about Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic over the next couple of weeks and rightly so. Both of them are absolute megastars and if either’s nation wins it all, there’s zero doubt the tournament MVP will be whichever of them smiles last. That is not to diminish their teammates in the slightest but some things are locks and if you’ve got a generational talent with worldwide name recognition on your team and they do well, it’s nigh impossible for any of their colleagues to outshine them in the eyes of those that make the final decision.
The Joker and the Freak are more than just holders of the last four NBA MVP awards. They represent the hope of basketball mad nations that are impatiently waiting for titles. Greece’s last win, in 2005, really doesn’t feel that long ago but it’s long enough for the hunger. Serbia’s wait is made maddening by all of its close calls in major tournaments in recent times. Silver in EuroBasket 2017, silver at the 2016 Olympics, silver at the 2013 World Cup, the taste of silver sickens Serbian stomachs to the point that gold is the only answer now.
An underrated tale
We cannot speak of men who lead the dreams of their nation without looking at Svi Mykhailiuk. The Ukrainian comes into this tournament without a NBA team, having been waived by the Raptors, but with some rotten form in the recent World Cup qualifying window having performed in ghastly fashion against Italy and not having quite enough against Iceland despite improved stats.
His team is playing with a kind of hope and pressure that I can’t comprehend or truly describe despite my 20 plus years getting paid to write. Every national team plays for its nation’s people on paper but it rarely feels as real as with this Ukraine side. Svi has a story to write in Milan and, hopefully, Berlin.
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What of the old guard?
Spain and France won the four tournaments that preceded Slovenia’s breakthrough yet they are not the sides being talked up going into the event. Spain appear at a generational changing point while France haven’t been quite what they could be in the games leading up to this event.
Personally, I think that makes both of them awfully dangerous. A big nation in sport that’s unfancied to win it all in any code or tournament tends to go one of two ways. It either falls on its face early or it proves that you really ought to never, ever, count it out.
The usual suspects are atop all of the bookmakers odds-lists, so long as we assume Slovenia is a usual suspect given its current regnal status. Serbia, at 4/1, are favourites, followed by Greece, Slovenia, France, Lithuania, and Spain. That Spain, winners of three of the last five editions, are merely sixth favourites at 20/1 tells us of the questions facing this emerging generations.
The dark horses
It says a great deal about the run-up to this competition that Lithuania has resumed its normal position as an expected contender having looked like it was on a transitional arc to dark horse status. It’s a top table team historically, no question, but its rise to form of late has ensured there was no drop.
That leaves Italy, Croatia, a resurgent looking Turkey, and Germany as the nearest thing to true dark horses. All offer intrigue, Turkey certainly looks capable of improving on its last few displays in EuroBasket, but one of them is almost a cert to underperform. I just don’t know which. Yet nobody’s really talking about Israel. Probably makes them the most dangerous they have legitimately been in a long time.
The fun ones
These are teams I expect to really enjoy watching irrespective of how long they last. Belgium just always guarantee a few proper slugfests and they look primed to do so again here. Bosnia are the team I most regret not putting in the last 16 in my group predictions so that’s them right in the mix here to prove I’m a fool. From the challengers I’m throwing in Serbia because they will be a riot even in blowouts and Turkey and Israel come from the dark horse pile.
The fearless predictions
We’ve already made our group by group picks for the first round, you can find them at the links below.
Now onto the big calls. Only three teams get medals and only one MVP is named. It’s time to do the dumb thing and, like 2013 (France won, I picked Spain), 2015 (Spain won, I picked France), and 2017 (Slovenia won, I picked Spain), most likely inadvertently curse whoever I select to win it all.
MVP: Nikola Jokic, Serbia
My picks have been made based on the group by group predictions up to now, which means a Slovenia vs Greece quarter final. I’m going to either look like a fool or a genius but that would be a tussle to rival the Slovenia vs Latvia battle from last time. Also, yeah, I really miss that Latvia won’t be along. They’d have been fun to have here. Ah well, I’ll forget about it shortly. It’s going to be a wild 18 days.