EuroBasket QF Preview: Croatia vs Ukraine; Lithuania vs Italy

With the first of today’s quarter-final ties looming here at Eurobasket, TalkBasket’s John Hobbs looks at tomorrow’s match-ups.

Croatia vs Ukraine

Perhaps one of the more unexpected ties in the quarter-finals, but no doubt the most interesting. The media inside the Stozice have already sealed Ukraine’s fate. But Mike Fratello’s side should not be counted out. They didn’t get here by mistake.

The Croatians are the quarter-final dark horses but go into their encounter with the Ukraine confident that they can go all the way.

“It’s important to think about ourselves,” Croatia’s Damir Markota said.

“As long as everyone is ready, everyone is recovered and we play with same energy like we have in this tournament so far we can think about ourselves and no one else.”

Indeed Croatia have quietly gone about their business. They have beaten bitter rivals Slovenia in the Slovenes own backyard and shown their durability by beating Greece in double overtime, eliminating the Greeks in the process. They will be ready.

“Ukraine is a great side,” Croatian forward Dario Saric said. “We will be ready for what they have to offer.”

Like the Macedonians two years ago, Ukraine have no doubt been the story of Eurobasket 2013.

They deserve this too.  Legendary ex-NBA coach Mike Fratello along with coaching staff have transformed this nation from the one that went out at the groups stages and now they prepare for the last eight of Eurobasket – one win from an unexpected spot at the World Cup next year. A great position ahead of Ukraine hosting Eurobasket in 2015.

“We didn’t expect that we would go so far,” Sergii Gladyr said. “We go out every night and we play as hard as we can. I think it’s happened because we’re young, we’re ambitious, the old guys aren’t here, we had a lot of experience with them but now we have to take the games without that experience but with good players.”

What has this done to Ukrainian basketball though?

Gladyr said: “It means a lot for Ukrainian basketball because it’s first time so far we are in the second round to the quarter-finals but we don’t have to stop. We have to show that we can be hard and that we can be a good team.”

Verdict: Ukraine will make this tougher for Croatia then most people expect, if Eugene “Pooh” Jeter plays well, the team plays well. It’s important that Bogdanovic has a solid game and that the Croatian big men stay out of foul trouble. This, for me is the most interesting tie out of the fourand anything can happen. So I’m pushing the bar high and saying that Ukraine will edge it. It will be close though.

Lithuania vs Italy

It is certainly great to see Italy back in the thick of things at Eurobasket. Danilo Gallinari and Andrea Bargnani are missing due to injury but they are here and they face a strong Lithuania side that believe that they have their best ever shot of a spot in the final.

Lithuanian fans were licking their lips at a rematch against FYR of Macedonia in the group stages. And they got their revenge by beating them.

Lithuania have been the team of the second round so far. Three games, three wins. Yes they finished below Serbia, but they have stepped up when they have needed to and find themselves in a position to right the wrongs of their home tournament, two years ago.

“We’re taking it one game at a time,” says Jonas Valanciunas. Who has been averaging over 7 points and a team-high 6 rebounds a game.

“We are aware that we are entering the knockout rounds, but we will take it one game at a time. We’ve been here before, so we know what to expect.”

Until they arrived in Ljubljana, Italy had been the team of Eurobasket. A perfect 5-0 when they left Koper, Italy’s rebirth from a couple of years of poor showing seemed to be over.

Defeats to Slovenia and Croatia seemed to knock their confidence a little, but their final day win against Spain showed that Italy can go the distance against the best in Europe.

They have one of the better known players competing at Eurobasket in Marco Bellinelli, but Luigi Datome, playing in his first Eurobasket has been undoubtedly one of the players of the tournament so far.

The Detroit Pistons’ forward has averaged 14 points a contest and has been a key component in Italy’s progress.

Verdict: Lithuania have been playing with confidence in the second round. They’ve won all three games and everyone has contributed by spreading the floor, sharing the basketball, shooting with confidence and playing smart, tough and patient defence. Italy have seemingly been worn out in this second round. The overtime win over Spain was a great boost, headed into the quarter-finals, but they looked fatigued – the mood in the media mixed zone told that story as well. On the basis of things, Lithuania will take this.