Croatia’s Dario Saric is good, but so to is France’s Boris Diaw.
That’s the obvious opinion of France coach Vincent Collet as he leads the European champions into their mouth-watering Round of 16 clash with the Croatians tonight in Madrid.
Saric, the 12th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft by Orlando (traded to the Philadelphia 76ers) has certainly impressed in this FIBA World Cup. He is second in scoring behind Bojan Bogdanovic with a solid average of 13.2 points, while shooting an efficient 52 percent from the field.
The 20-year-old might be staying in Europe next season, as he looks to gain more experience by playing for Euroleague side Anadolu Efes, but he will get a taste of playing against an NBA opponent in the shape of NBA champion Boris Diaw.
Even though Saric has been averaging better numbers across the board in the first five games played here in Spain, Diaw’s overall big-game experience will be a test in itself for the NBA beginner.
“Saric is good, but our best player also plays at the ‘4’ position so yes, we will have to defend Saric but they will have to defend Boris [Diaw],” says Collet.
“At the ‘5’ spot for sure [Ante] Tomic and [Luka] Zoric are very good but [Joffrey] Lauvergne is doing well in this competition and [Rudy] Gobert is giving good minutes so they probably have a small advantage but I think it’s difficult to give a favourite team, both teams can win and it depends on who plays the best defence. It is important to focus on the defensive aspect.”
Both teams though have been lackluster so far as they prepare for the second stage. Perhaps, they have had one eye on the Round of 16, knowing that both teams had some of the tournament’s weaker nations involved. France had Iran and as seen; an utterly hopeless Egypt, while Croatia had Senegal and Philippines. For the latter, one of the two sides actually advanced to the next phase [Senegal], while the Philippines wowed audiences with their grit and passion despite missing out. Croatia were actually stunned in a 77-75 loss to the African nation, while Les Bleus struggled to beat Iran 81-76.
History though is no doubt on France’s side. They have won the last five meetings with Croatia in all competitions. Collet though isn’t bothered.
“It might be five times but the last three were friendly games,” Collet said. “So you know, these are only games to prepare and I don’t think we can count those games. The last time we beat them in an official game was in 2009 and few players on either side who played then remain, so this is a totally new game and I think both teams can win it.”