Being a part of France’s group certainly allow several teams hope for a top12 qualification that would be looking out of the picture in any of the other groups. With Israel being slightly better than the rest of the pool, there is one spot up for grabs and Belgium will battle Ukraine, Germany and Great Britain for it, although the latter seems unlikely to even win a game.
With three players in ACB and the rest playing in the decent Belgian Ethias League, the squad is presenting limited talent but always professionalism and thirst to overachieve. Since Tomas Van den Spiegel’s retirement, the known faces are even less, with Axel Hervelle in the paint and Sam Van Rossom leading the backcourt. Van Rossom is a solid yet unspectacular leader and a good shooter. Jonathan Tabu is going to team up with him in the starting five, after a good season with Cantu and his signing with Valencia and, while the backcourt will see many undersized wings, the frontline is including five players measured above the height of 6-9 (2.05). Christophe Beghin and Yannick Driessen are the most common names next to Hervelle here.
Overall, the talent in this squad, which had some good fights in the friendlies but was often collapsing after the first half, is limited, but they are usual overachievers so, no-one can count them out of a potent qualification as a 3rd team of this group. Still Germany is looking as more likely to do so at the end.
Set to impress early in the preparation games, Latvia showed impressive coherence and shooting abilities, which apparently lasted till the end of the exhibitions after they hammered Finland twice. However, the team doesn’t present significant depth or any particular talent that allows them to hope that they will avoid the last spot of their group, or at least that they will battle for the 3rd spot, the one that leads teams to the top12 qualification. In a group of strong teams like Serbia, Lithuania, Macedonia and Montenegro, the sole beatable squad looks to be the Bosnia and Herzegovina side.
The Latvians will be missing both Andris Biedrins and Partizan’s youngster Davis Bertans. Janis Blums, their leader, is an oversized Heiko Schaffartzik, but with an even crazier determination to shooting. He doesn’t do much more than that though. Kristaps Janicenoks has always been very good with the national team in the past and the same deal exists for Dairis Bertans who had a great qualification tournament last summer. The starting PG will be Janis Sterlnieks of Spartak St Petersburg, while role playing wings Armands Skene and Rihards Kuksiks are actually good additins for limited playing time and this can give their perimeter a pretty good depth.
In the paint, Kaspars Berzins is easily the best reliable player and likely the only one, since their absences are vital. Ronalds Freimanis, the 2nd best player of the team is barely good enough to match with the rest of the frontcourts in Group B.
If there was a bet online regarding the top scorer of the competition on a per game basis (and not on points overall), I would advise punters to consider Petteri Koponen as one of the main favorites. The obvious choice as a real go-to player in the team, Koponen has been averaging 20.5ppg in the friendly games, which have seen Finland playing spectacular basketball at times, more enjoyable than several top12 selections play in this preview. Run and gun and shooting happy, the Finns are playing in a group which gives them some realistic hopes for a top12 qualification, but to do so, they certainly need two wins against Russia and Italy.
Their perimeter core is consisting of the usual faces of Koponen, veteran Teemu Ranikko and youth Sasu Salin, with the latter still playing for Union Olimpija. The wings are not presenting many famous names, apart from Shawn Huff, who is a good defense-oriented option at SF and shoots the ball well. Actually, judging from the numbers of the swingmen of the team, they are all pretty much shooting around 40% behind the arc, so it is no surprise that they were taking so many threes in their preparation games.
In the frontcourt, besides admirable Hanno Mottola, who might well be the oldest player of this Eurobasket, we have import Gerald Lee, who has been averaging around 10 points for them in all the previous tournaments as well as the long banger Antti Nikkila. Certainly not a scary core but at least Italy and Russia don’t have any frontcourt either.
20. BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA
Perhaps there isn’t a single team in this tournament that depends more on one player at least in the way that the Bosnians depend on Mirza Teletovic. It might not be only an issue of talent, but the bomber is really feeling so free when playing for his national team, in a way that it becomes almost meaningless to write anything about the rest of the squad. Not that it has helped them much (or at all) in the past tourneys. And it doesn’t seem likely to help them this time either, especially in a tough group where they have to finish top3 in the group of death (Lithuania, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Latvia).
Teletovic is letting his club problems (minimal playing time, frustration, misconception regarding his role on the team) go when with the NT, but the team needs to win and they usually don’t do that, not with the rest of the players they usually have next to their star. Nihad Djedovic is an ok 2nd option from the perimeter and Zach Wright will start at PG for them. They are both good scorers, while Wright is passing the ball well and shoots the three-pointer accurately. Nemanja Gordic was a solid back up PG for Leo Westermann in Partizan and will do the same for Wright in the NT. In the wings, the most common name is Cedevita’s Ante Masic who saw some minutes as a role player in the Euroleague.
In the frontcourt and alongside Mirza, they have their typical bunch, consisting of Edin Bavcic, Nedzad Sinanovic and Elmedin Kikanovic, all veterans with the NT and experienced in previous tournament, who will most likely remain under the shadow of Teletovic and his shooting stroke.
All the previews were written by TalkBasket’s UK based associate Dimitris Ritsonis. You can follow him, as well as send any feedback to him on twitter @wardjdim