TrueHoop: Anton Ponkrashov

Eurobasket '09 Update

September, 16, 2009

France has run the table in the qualifying round. The Painted Area has been following all the action and has this report on Group E:

France 71, Greece 69

Tony Parker
Tony Parker and France nab the No. 1 seed in the knockout stage.
(Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)
In game that would determine the winner of Group E, France prevailed over the Greeks thanks to a last second jumper by recent Spurs draftee Nando De Colo.

De Colo only scored six points in the game but they all came at key spots in the last 2:00. His game winner came off of an isolation on the left wing where he spun into a contested 15-footer. De Colo also added a driving lay-in and two free throws with 20 seconds left.

Though maybe the most memorable thing about this game was the peculiar decision of France's Coach Vincent Collet to leave Tony Parker on the bench for the entire 4th quarter in a tight game. Did Collet want to give his young reserve guards a taste of a pressurized situation? Or was it that he wouldn't have minded if the French finished in second place in Group E to possibly avoid Spain. Spain is likely the No. 4 seed out of Group F, so winning Group E does have its disadvantages.

You started to wonder even more after the final buzzer when De Colo had a "Should I've not done that?" sheepish look on his face after his shot. Also odd that De Colo and the Frenchies didn't seem all that excited about their last second victory. I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but there was some curious things happenings.

With Ronny Turiaf in foul trouble, France got a big lift from the reserve bigs Alain Koffi and Ali Traore. Koffi and Traore were factors on offense hitting some short jumpers and scoring around the rim. Koffi also scored some of his 14 points on putbacks off of his three offensive rebounds (six total rebounds). Traore put up an efficient 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting. Both were great assets on the defensive end using their length and athleticism.

The French defense was stellar once again and turned the screws on one of the better offenses in the tourney. The guards moved their feet well to stay in front of their man. Help & recovery was excellent especially from the bigs. The bigs (particularly Traore and Koffi) did a terrific job showing or switching, and their great athleticism lets them move their feet against smaller guards. Shut off Vasileios Spanoulis from penetrating the lane, which is huge vs. Greece. Spanoulis rarely if ever got to the rim, only remember one to two lay-in attempts, and only got to the line four times.

Tony Parker only played 21 minutes but still managed to 12 points. Portland's Nic Batum helped with eight points mostly coming on baseline drives. Boris Diaw did his usual disappearing act after having a good game prior -- zero points & five turnovers for Diaw. Diaw seemed to be floating around in his own little world, looked clueless on the floor ...

... France is headed to the quarterfinals with a No. 1 seed but there is a good chance Spain will get the #4 seed in Group F. Not a very nice prize for winning Group E. This loss dropped Greece to the No. 3 seed in Group E and it could face Slovenia, Turkey, or Spain in the quarterfinals. Not fun times for them either.

Croatia 70, Germany 68
In a win-or-go-home game, Croatia capitalized on a late flurry of German miscues to squeeze through to the Quarterfinal Round. Germany's quarterfinal hopes unraveled in the last six minutes of the fourth due to some untimely mistakes.

Germany committed six TOs over a four minute stretch midway thru the fourth that allowed Croatia to go on a crucial 7-0 run. If the Germans want to point to one thing that sunk their chances in this game, it was turnovers -- they coughed the ball up 20 times to only nine by Croatia.

Croatia were driven to victory by their big PG combo of Roko Ukic and Zoran Planinic. Roko was a blur on offense constantly busting into the teeth of the defense. Ukic hit an array of runners throughout the game, including an difficult hanging 10-foot jumper in the lane off a spin move that gave Croatia a 59-57 lead. Roko also got all the way to rim for a few scores, including a big driving dunk to tie the game at 57. Planinic mixed in some outside makes (two 3-pointers) with some work inside the arc, often setting teammates up out of the low post. Zoran finished with 11 points and four assts.

Croatian big man Sandro Nicevic came off the bench to chipped in 10 points from inside and out. Nicevic and Marko Banic each corralled four offensive rebounds, while Banic came up with a huge off. board with 0:40 left that allowed for Planinic's driving lay-in for a 67-62 lead ... 

... Croatia was not overly impressive today (like they have been all tourney), but it did secure the final quarterfinal spot out of Group E. Croatia's quarterfinal opponent will be the winner of the Turkey-Slovenia game on Wednesday. Croatia has underachieved up to this point, and find it hard to believe it can advance to the semis. 

Russia 71, Macedonia 69
The Russians turned back Macedonia's last gasp effort for a playoff spot thanks mostly to a dominating performance by 23-year-old center Timo Mozgov. Mozgov destroyed the Macedonians for 25 points (11-for-17) and 11 rebounds. He particularly ate them up on the offensive glass where he ripped down 10 offensive rebounds (That must be some type of Eurobasket record). The offensive rebounds were a huge bonus considering that Russia shot just 40% overall, and 1-for-15 on 3-pointers. Point guard Anton Ponkrashov complemented Mozgov on the perimeter with 10 points, seven assists and six rebounds. It what could be his last national team appearance, veteran PG Vrbica Stefanov finished a strong tournament with 16 points and 4 assists. Center Todor Gecevski chipped in with 16 points. Russia (3-2) winds up with the No. 2 seed in Group E which means it will face either Slovenia or Serbia in the quarters.

For the unabridged recaps, visit The Painted Area

And then there were 12. Eurobasket 2009 begins its second phase and The Painted Area has it all sorted out for you:

Pau Gasol
Can Pau Gasol lift Spain out of its first-round funk? 
(Photo by Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images)

Thursday was an off day so teams could transition from the opening round to the qualifying round (second round). Starting Friday in the Polish cities of Bydogoszcz & Lodz, teams play three games in their group with a day off between games. The top four teams from each group qualify for the quarters starting on Sept. 17th.

Israel, Latvia, Britain, & Bulgaria have been eliminated leaving 12 teams divided into two groups (Group E & F). Group E appears to be a little weaker, while Group F is packed with quality teams. You will have two pretty good teams not make the quarters out of Group F, while you will see a quarterfinal slot awarded to one of the three weaker qualifying round entries (Germ, Russ, Macedonia) in Group E. No off days in Group F.

Group E: (Playing in Bydogoszcz)
1) Greece (2-0)
2) France (2-0)
3) Croatia (1-1)
4) Germany (1-1)
5) Macedonia (0-2)
6) Russia (0-2)

Should have no trouble moving onto the quarterfinals. Greece's change from a methodical defensive-minded brand of basketball to a more free-wheeling offensive team looks successful, so far. Greece's offense has looked exacting with constant movement and spacing. Greece has outscored their opponents by a combined 66 points and lead the tourney with 58 percent from the floor. The Croatia game where they won by 8 points, wasn't not quite as close as the score should indicate.
schedule: Fri., vs. Germ./Sun., vs. Russ./Tues., vs. France

Though, they went 3-0 in Group B, they weren't all that impressive. Group B was easily the weakest, and Les Bleus only beat Russia & Germany by five pts each. As usual, the half-court offense has gone thru major lulls. And obviously, this team can't hit from outside. Still having trouble shooting -- 14-for-53 (26 percent) behind the arc and 45-for-81 (56 percent) at the free throw line. France is the worst deep-shooting team left in the field. We've beaten this into the ground, but still holds true -- pack the painted area all game vs. France. France counteracted their ragged offense like they always do -- with great defense and rebounding.
schedule: Fri., vs. Mace./Sun., vs. Croat./Tues., vs. Greece

Nice contributions from their big PG combo, Roko Ukic and Zoran Planinic. Both have done a good job getting into the lane to create scoring opportunities. Nikola Vujcic had been the leader of the deep, veteran frontline scoring in double figures in each game. Expect them to secure a spot in the quarters with wins over Russia & Germany. France game is a toss-up.
schedule: Fri., vs. Russ./Sun., vs. France./Tues., vs. Germ

Not surprisingly the Germans have found it difficult to score with no Dirk. No one who is a reliable No. 1 option, and the Germans shot 38 percent from the floor in the opening round. Jan Jagla has brought his usual activity, but when he's your leading scorer you're in trouble. Only reason they're still playing has been the horrible free throw shooting of their Group B opponents. France, Russia and Latvia combined to shoot 65-for-120 (54 percent) from the free throw line vs. Germany. Germany is in better shape for a quarterfinal berth than Russia or Macedonia because they get to carry over a win into the second round. Don't see them beating Greece or Croatia, have a chance vs. Macedonia. A win vs. Macedonia would be huge for their playoff chances.
schedule: Fri., vs. Greece/Sun., vs. Mace./Tues., vs. Croat.

Macedonia has a legit shot at the quarters because they should be favored to beat Germany, and are closely matched with Russia. Wouldn't be shocked if they pushed France. Gotten strong play from their frontline of Jeremiah Massey, Todor Gecevski and Pero Antic. Vrbica Stefanov has also been his usual steady floor genera selfl.
schedule: Fri., vs. France./Sun., vs. Germ./Tues., vs. Russ.

Offense has not been quite as putrid as I thought it would. Kelly McCarty's athleticism has been a nice addition on both ends of the floor after the loss of Andrei Kirilenko and Viktor Khryapa. Gotten solid play from their PG combo of Sergey Bykov and Anton Ponkrashov. Will be tough to get victories against Greece and Croatia. Really can't afford a loss to Macedonia.
schedule: Fri., vs. Croat./Sun., vs. Greece/Tues., vs. Mace.

GROUP F: (Playing in Lodz)
1) Turkey (2-0)
2) Slovenia (1-1)
3) Serbia (1-1)
4) Spain (1-1)
5) Poland (1-1)
6) Lithuania (0-2)

Turkey has looked like a totally different team than the one that stunk up the '07 Euro. The Turkish offense that couldn't get out of its own way two years ago, has been smoking this year. Most importantly, they are converting shots around Hedo Turkoglu. Turkey has a point differential of +54 and is shooting 54 percent overall, 42 percent from 3. Their NBA pair of forwards have not disappointed. Hedo and Ersan Ilyasova have shown their mismatch ability creating offensive opportunities all over the floor. Ilyasova has led the Turks with 17 points per game on 58 percent & seven rebounds per game, while Hedo has added 13 points per game. Hedo has teamed with Kerem Tunceri and Ender Arslan to bring some type of order to their PG position. The PG play has left a lot to be desired the last few years, but nothing to complain about this year. Arslan has been hitting runners off ball screens & burying his open shots (8-for-11 on 3-pointers.).
schedule: Sat., vs. Spain./Mon., vs. Serb./Wed., vs. Slov.

Were some questions how all their talent would mesh, and so far, so good. Looked sharp vs. Serbia, and pushed Spain to OT with Matjaz Smodis only playing five minutes. The strong defense from their '07 run seems to have transferred over. No surprise the offense has looked crisp with the collection of shooters this team can put on the floor at once. Slovenia is shooting 51 percent overall, 36 percent from deep. PG Jaka Lavovic (14 points per game) has led the way buried jumpers off of screens -- Jaka is 9-for-19 from 3-pointers. Boci Nachbar has been ballin' as well with 12 points per game on 54 percent and 5.7 rebounds per game. Erazem Lorbek has been a nice option on the blocks with his sharp footwork -- 13 points per game and 5.7 rebounds per game. Phoenix Sun Goran Dragic has been a defensive pest once again--gave Rubio & Spain issues -- and even adding a little scoring to the mix with 11 points per game. They can take it up a notch if Smodis can go heavier minutes in the next round. Supposedly, his back is feeling better.
schedule: Sat., vs. Lith./Mon., vs. Pol./Wed., vs. Tu

Have gotten nice contributions up and down their deep, young roster. 10 players average at least 14 mins/game. Stunned Spain with an impressive defensive effort. Nenad Krstic (12 points per game & four rebounds per game) has been a solid option on the blocks and protecting the rim. Guards Milenko Tepic and Milos Teodosic have run the offense efficiently and stayed away from forcing the action. Need to get their shooting back on track after a poor display in the first round -- 24 percent from 3.
schedule: Sat., vs. Pol./Mon., vs. Turk./Wed., vs. Lith.

Not sure what's going on with this team. Serbia totally whupped them, Britain gave them a huge scare, and Slovenia roared back to push them to OT. Maybe they're too many players to keep happy with playing time. Maybe it's the coaching change (Spain's third change in as many years). Maybe they're disinterested. Whatever the reason, it's hard to figure because this team rarely, if ever, goes-through-the-motions. Should get props for controlling Slovenia for most of the game, but questions resurfaced when they let Slovenia comeback in the fourth to force OT. Expect them to get in a groove in the next round. But I thought they would destroy Britain, but that didn't happen.
schedule: Sat., vs. Turk./Mon., vs. Lith./Wed., vs. Pol.

Our sleeper pick has performed admirably in front of the home crowd. The frontline has been killing it. Marcin Gortat has been an interior force and also turned himself into an offensive juggernaut the last week. Gortat is averaging 17 points per game (fifth-best) on 67 percent (fourth-best) and 11 rebounds per game (second-best). We highlighted some of Gortat's newfound offensive skills. PF Maciej Lampe has been an inside-out terror scoring 18 points (third-best) & grabbing seven rebounds per game. Gortat and Lampe are leading the tourney in blocks as well. The offense has functioned very well shooting 50 percent from the floor and 38 percent from 3-point. land. Don't have an easy road to the quarters with Serbia, Slovenia and Spain on the upcoming schedule.
schedule: Sat., vs. Serb./Mon., vs. Slov./Wed., vs. Spain

We knew there would be struggles without their two legendary playmakers, Saras Jasikevicius and Ramunas Siskauskas. The shot selection has been spotty, which is a rarity with the normal precision offense we expect from this national team. Their patchwork backcourt has been predictably lackluster. Deep frontline has been solid, but they could play better as well. Burly big Marijonas Petravicius (16 points per game on 71 percent shooting) has been a nice interior presence drawing fouls, finishing around the basket, and pushing people around. Linas Kleiza has been a little uneven and can't find his deep touch (0-for-7 on 3s) The normally sweet-shooting Lithuanians have been off from deep -- 32 percent from 3. Lithuania's quarterfinal chances are dicey with a 0-2 record and having to face brutal gauntlet of the top three of Group C.
schedule: Sat., vs. Slov./Mon., vs. Spain./Wed., vs. Serb.