One month to go until Eurobasket, and I, for one am looking forward to the three-week experience.
I know it’ll be for real when I stroll into my local coin shop and exchange the good old English Pounds to the mysterious Lithuanian Litas. The time will fly-by once the money is in my hands.
The build-up to European basketball’s greatest show has been interesting to say the least. With the NBA lockout taking effect, it has had FIBA worried, and several nations concerned as well. As they would have to insure their NBA nationals themselves.
The majority of the countries involved though have now insured their players, including Spain, France and Russia. Though a few nations have not officially announced they have yet. Still, you can expect more NBA-based players to play in Lithuania this summer than in Poland for Eurobasket 2009.
With the teams virtually finalised though, here is my predictions heading to the tournament.
Who will fill the final two spots?
With 30 days until Eurobasket, we’ve overlooked the fact that there are two qualifying spots still to play for. These will filled by either Hungary, Finland or Portugal. We’ll find out who occupies the remaining places in the next two weeks.
Finland, for me are the favourites to top the qualifying table, having recently won the Nordic Championship. If they top the pile that would them put them in Group C with Greece, Croatia, Montenegro, F.Y.R of Macedonia and Bosnia & Herzegovina. Which is a very tricky group to qualify from. But that’s nothing compared to the team that will finish second.
The second-placed team will travel to Panevezys, which plays host to Group A, already tagged the ‘group of death’ where the runner-up from these Additional Qualifiers will face Spain, Turkey, Lithuania, Great Britain and Poland.
Having watched Portugal in the qualifying round originally, they lacked determination and consistency on the court. Hungary seemed to rely heavily on star player Adam Hanga, who was recently drafted to the NBA by the San Antonio Spurs with the 59th pick.
The difference between Hungary and Portugal is work rate, which Hungary possesses, and I think that will be a factor in their advancement to the finals in Lithuania, just. Don’t quote me on these though. Remember, this is just a blog.
Its win or failure for Spain really, isn’t it? Coach Sergio Scariolo has assembled a super squad mainly made up of NBA players and ex-NBA players, as they look to retain their Eurobasket crown.
Ricky Rubio, Jose Calderon, Rudy Fernandez, Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and naturalised Congolese forward Serge Ibaka are the NBA players that will don the Spanish vests in Lithuania. Spain will be captained by former Memphis Grizzlies shooter, Juan Carlos Navarro.
I haven’t even named the other eight players that Scarolo has picked in the preliminary 15-man squad. But, as you’ve guessed it, Spain are the favourites to win gold again.
But don’t count out…
The hosts Lithuania are on home turf, so you can’t forget about them. No doubt the squad has been given a new lease of life thanks to the return legendary Sarunas Jasikevicius.
The 35-year-old will play for the national side for the first time since the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and despite not being in the same shape that he was back in 2008, he still brings an experienced voice to the team, especially due to the absences of Ramunas Siskauskas, Jonas Maciulis and the star of the World Championships for Lithuania last year Linas Kleiza.
Another team not to dismiss this summer will be Germany. Given that Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki (fresh off his NBA Finals MVP success) and fellow NBA colleague and Los Angeles Clippers big man Chris Kaman will be in the team, you can bet that the Germans have increased confidence going into Eurobasket now.
Montenegro, anyone? Seriously, I think Montenegro has a shot at going far in this tournament.
A Nikola Pekovic-led side though will face their toughest test since independence. This will be their first major tournament since splitting from Serbia.
Such a confident and well-drilled side, plus they play and look-out for each other. Montenegro had a stunning qualifying campaign which saw them advance with ease, and will look forward to competing in Lithuania this summer. They won’t be afraid of anyone, and will play hard for their country.
Now I’m off to see what Lithuanian cash looks like…
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