EuroBasket Blog: Early Thoughts (part 2)

In part one, we looked at Groups A and B of this year’s EuroBasket. In this part of my many segments on the big event, we look at Groups C and D.

Group C: Greece, Croatia, Montenegro, FYR of Macedonia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Qualifier 1.

Like Group B, another interesting set for me. I see Greece as favourites to top the group, but after that it’s a real toss-up – because if you take away the qualifying team, for which we won’t know for certain until the Summer. Any of these teams can qualify, they can. Croatia were unlucky to go out so early at the World Championships in Turkey, I feel and were solid in the group stages in Istanbul, Montenegro have been the best overall team in the EuroBasket qualifiers, FYR of Macedonia shocked us all in Poland two years ago and Bosnia and Herzegovina are a team that has a never-say-die attitude and can shoot the ball better than anyone in the tournament. This group sees Greece and Croatia paired up for the second straight EuroBasket. They were both in Group A in Poznan, with Greece picking up a 76-68 victory.

Greece, I feel should get through this group, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some bumps along the way. The four teams so far are no mugs and I am predicting Finland to clinch the first qualifying spot and they can be a tough team to crack as well – so I don’t think they will have it as easy as they might think. The bronze medallists of the last EuroBasket will hope to better their third place podium in Katowice two years ago, but they haven’t got the easiest road to the next round.

Croatia will see this as a chance to improve on their good showings in Poland two years ago and in Turkey last Summer. They have some good scorers on the table, but their main problem is defence in transition and playing teams like Greece and FYR of Macedonia will test them. The quality is there, on both ends of the court, but if they are to advance any further than any of their last FIBA tournaments, they need to smooth out the rough edges of their defence.

It was a good few months work for Montenegro in their qualifying campaign. One of the best records and, along with Great Britain, the first team to qualify for EuroBasket. And they are certainly not coming to Lithuania to make up the numbers, a balanced line-up of good shooters, slashers and defensive- minded players make them tricky opposition – certainly they have a good shot of making a splash in a wide-open group here. Montenegro are capable of beating anyone on any given game-day – so underestimate these newbies at your peril.

It is unknown whether Bo McCalebb will be in the Macedonian line-up come August 31st – but if so, then the Macedonians will boast one of Europe’s best players, and I include NBA talent on this one. The duel between him and Great Britain and Chicago Bull, Luol Deng back in August when the Brits defeated Macedonia in Newcastle was simply breathtaking and amongst the leading scorers in EuroBasket qualifying make McCallebb and FYR of Macedonia a tough team to break down. It remains to be seen how they will cope without him, but a surprise second-round outing in Poland, two years ago made all of Europe stand-up and take note. Why not Lithuania?

Bosnia and Herzegovina are a squad that will pressure you and hassle you for the full forty minutes; add to that, they have a good array of shooters, and when on form, they can cause any team problems. One of the FIBA-helped nations here at EuroBasket, but don’t be fooled – they can upset the balance of power. They nearly ruined Great Britain’s passage here in Liverpool last Summer.

Group D: Slovenia, Russia, Belgium, Georgia, Bulgaria, Ukraine.

Awarded EuroBasket 2013, Union Olimpija going well in the Euroleague, and now having the honour of the easiest group out of all the top seeds. Slovenian basketball right now is on cloud nine – can it get any rosier for them, right now? 

As this is my blog, I’ll simply say that if Slovenia doesn’t qualify from Group D in pole position – they are not performing. I mean Russia will give them a game, but, other than that, expect 15-20-point victories for Slovenia in Group D. 

I think I have predicted Slovenia’s fate in this group. But, my question is what next for them? A fourth placed finish in Poland two years back was, for them, one of their best finishes, and things were looking good at the Worlds until they ran-in to an in-form Turkey side. Classed as the ‘nearly men’ of European basketball, for me this is their best year for a medal at a major event. If they don’t get that, then this would be counted as a major disappointment.

Russia haven’t really built on their 2007 success, but that doesn’t mean they should be ruled out. Along with Slovenia, they should comfortably progress to the next phase, butt like Slovenia, it’s a case of where do they go from there?

Belgium missed out by one game for EuroBasket 2009, when they were soundly beaten by France, but made up for it now by finishing top of qualifying Group C, beating Poland to top spot. They will also fancy their chances of advancing to the next phase. I don’t see Belgium beating Slovenia or Russia, but the remaining three nations are beatable. Could be an interesting race to third position in Group D.

For Georgia, they have the true honour of becoming the first sports side in the country to be competing in a major sporting event, ever. Georgia will certainly be glued to their TV screens and cheering on their heroes, as they experience EuroBasket in all it’s glory. The players were all informed of their FIBA-assisted qualification whilst attending Georgian centre, Zaza Pachulia’s wedding – and to show how proud this moment was for not just the players, but the people of Georgia, Pachulia and his new bride personally flew to Istanbul to thank FIBA secretary general, Nar Zanolin, before going off on their honeymoon. Even if they don’t reach the second phase, the Georgians are just happy to be here and will look to enjoy every minute of Lithuania.

Bulgaria didn’t have the greatest of successes in Poland two years ago. Losing all three group games and only qualifying thanks to FIBA, the Bulgarians will look to prove their worth with a better outing in Lithuania. Unfortunately, I don’t see it happening – but, we’ll see, I guess.

Ukraine impressed me in qualifying. All they need is some energy and depth on the bench, but out of all the teams I saw last Summer, Ukraine’s game was well-drilled and their three-point touch was smooth too. They might cause an upset or two, but this group for me has first and second settled, it’s upto Ukraine, how bad they want third spot?

John Hobbs for TalkBasket.net

Follow John on Twitter @johnswisshobbs