TrueHoop: Nikola Vujcic
And then there were 12. Eurobasket 2009 begins its second phase and The Painted Area has it all sorted out for you:
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)
GREECE: 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
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
CROATIA: 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
GERMANY: 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.
(FYR) MACEDONIA: 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.
RUSSIA: 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: 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.
SLOVENIA: 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
SERBIA: 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.
SPAIN: 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.
POLAND: 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
LITHUANIA: 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.
The preliminary round of Eurobasket 2009 is in the books. The Painted Area has watched every second of every game, and tells us who's moving on to the qualifying round.
GROUP D: Turkey 87, Poland 69
Had a NBA vibe with a ton of post-ups for both sides and straight pick/rolls, while the players off-the-ball didn't move much. Nowhere near the off-ball movement we seen in other Euro games. And this game was heavily influenced by NBAers from the past (Maciej Lampe), present (Hedo Turkoglu, Marcin Gortat, Ersan Ilyasova), & future (Omer Asik).
It was finally nice to watch a game where the flow was not destroyed by constant whistles. Only 29 fouls and 16 turnovers between the teams. The third quarter had great back-and-forth action that was augmented by a boisterous Polish crowd.
Turkey was able to build a comfortable cushion in the fourth thanks to Hedo banging long jumpers. Hedo hit two back-2-back 3pts midway thru the fourth that put the game out of reach, then knocked a long 2-pointer a few minutes later. Hedo hit 3-of-8 on 3-pointers to finish with 13 points and 8 rebounds. Hedo paired with Kerem Tunceri and Ender Arslan to run the Turkish offense with a steady hand...
Once again, Ersan Ilyasova showed off his versatility and mismatch ability that should translate well to the NBA. Ilyasova hit a 3-pointer off of pick/pop action with Hedo (something he would do with Navarro or Lakovic with Barcelona). He hit another 3-pointer off an iso situation with ball fake, something he's shown a knack for in the past as well. Ilyasova scored put-backs on all of his three offensive rebounds. Ersan ended with 18 points on 7-for-12 shooting and 8 rebounds.
Poland did not get much from their perimeter, and their main scoring option, David Logan, was bottled up by the strong defensive backcourt of Turkey. Poland made a concerted effort to pound the ball into the post, and it paid off well. Poland got a tremendous effort from their starting backline, Marcin Gortat and Maciej Lampe.
Maybe Marcin Gortat is more than just a defensive & rebounding presence. Looks like Marcin can show D-Howard a few things about post footwork. Marcin put on a clinic. That's right, Gortat put on an offensive clinic...
GROUP B: Latvia 68, Germany 62
I don't know if I've ever seen a team celebrate with more on-court jubilation after a six point loss. Latvia won the game, but didn't win the game well enough. Latvia not only needed to win this game to avoid elimination, but needed to win by eight points to secure the tiebreaker. Germany unexpectedly gets to play on, Latvia goes home.
It wasn't pretty ... but Jan Jagla and Germany advances.
(Photo by Adam Nurkiewicz/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Latvia was up 11 points with 20 seconds left, but could not close the deal. They let Germany execute a very quick pick/pop 3-pointer to cut the lead to eight points with 15 seconds left. (Why they didn't overplay and force everything inside the arc, not sure). Then, Latvia's Ernests Kalve missed two free throws that could have pushed the lead back up to 10 points. Then, Latvia inexplicably fouled Jagla on the rebound of Kalve's second miss. Jagla hits both free throws to get the game to 68-62, and Latvia could not convert on their desperation shot.
Even though we had a suspenseful finish, this was another ugly Group B contest. The teams combined for 55 fouls and combined to shoot 38 for 102 (37 percent) from the field.
For the second game in a row, Germany accumulated a boatload of fouls (30). But for the second game in a row, they were fortuitous that the opposing team pooped the bed from the FT line -- Latvia shot 19-for-38. Atrocious opponent's free throw percentage is the overwhelming reason Germany is still alive.
Jan Jagla had another strong showing for Germany with 13 points & seven rebounds, converting a few times off curls coming on downscreens. Jan's biggest five points came in the last 20 seconds with the Germans down by 11 points. First, Jagla hit a quick pick/pop 3-pointer that cut the lead to 8 points with 0:15. Then, Jagla got fouled rebounding the Kalve's missed free throw. Jagla went to the line to bury two that cut the lead to six points...
Quick wrap-up of other Wednesday action:
Greece 106, Israel 80 -- Greece rolls into the second Round undefeated, while Israel leaves Poland without a victory. Even in a meaningless game, Greece's offense continued to impress. Primary playmaker Vasilis Spanoulis led the way with 18 points and five assists, and kept his turnovers down. Spanoulis' Panathinaikos teammate, Antonio Fotsis, had his outside stroke working, scoring all of 16 points on four 3-pointers. Colossal PF Sofo Schortsanitis bulled his way to 16 points, and most encouraging, he made his free throws -- 8-for-9 on the line. The Greeks took the opportunity to sit their starting center, Giannis Bourousis. Israel got another strong game by uber-athletic forward Lior Eliyahu (Houston Rockets hold rights). Eliyahu was superb with 21 (9-for-14), eight rebounds and eight assists. Lior was the top scorer in the first round with 21 ppg.
Croatia 81, (FYR) Macedonia 71 -- After a poor first half, Croatia came out of the locker room to outscore Macedonia 47-23 in the second half. Croatia shot 56 percent from the floor, and 21 of their 24 field goals were assisted. Croatia's combo of tall PGs, Roko Ukic & Zoran Planinic, combined for 13 assists. Croatia got solid effort from their deep frontcourt rotation. Nikola Vujcic pitched in with 12 points and Marko Banic 11 points. Ex-Kansas St. forward Jeremiah Massey paced Macedonia with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Grizzled vet PG Vrbica Stefanov played his usual steady floor game with 12 points and five assists. Both teams advance to the next round.
France 69, Russia 64 -- France sweeps through the weakest group with another less-than-impressive win. Hey what do you know, Boris Diaw decided to show up today. Boris had himself a great all-around game with 19 points (9-for-12 fga), seven rebounds and seven assists. Now expect a no-show in the next game from Diaw. Tender Ronny Turiaf dominated the interior with 18 points and 14 rebounds. Tony Parker had an uneven game with 17 points, four assists, four steals, but had five turnovers. France still had issues shooting either from the perimeter or on the foul line. They were 4-for-15 from deep and 15-for-28 on free throws. France glossed over these negatives by grabbing 15 offensive rebounds to Russia's 15 defensive rebounds. Wing Kelly McCarthy led Russia with 13 points. Big PG Anton Ponkrahov had another solid floor game with eight assists and seven points. Russia will take an 0-2 record into the second Round because their win over Latvia is wiped off the books.
Spain 90, Slovenia 84 (OT) -- In one of the most anticipated games of the first Round, Spain held off Slovenia in OT. Should have a more detailed analysis of this game Thursday later in the day.
Serbia 77, Great B
ritain 59 -- Serbia ended Britain's Eurobasket campaign. Serbia got nice contributions up & down their deep roster. Nenad Krstic and combo guard Milenko Tepic led the Serbs with 17 points each. Lefty PG Nate Reinking tried to keep the Brits close with his perimeter touch -- 4-for-5 on 3-pointers, 21 points overall. High-flying Pops Mensah-Bonsu helped with 16 points. Britain will have to wait to see if a wild card berth is awarded. A long-shot, but FIBA might want the next Olympic host country to get some major competition experience under their belt.
Lithuania 84, Bulgaria 69 -- Lithuania picked up their first victory after looking out of sync in their first two games. This game was a little closer than the score would indicate. Lithuania pulled away in the fourth to end Bulgaria's Euro '09 run. Ksystof Lavrinovic was big for the Green Team with 16 points, six rebounds and four assists. Ksystof's eight points in the last 5 mins was key to Lithuania's 18-5 run to end the game. Bruising big Marijonas Petravicius continued to be a physical interior presence with drawn fouls (8-for-9 fts) & 8 rebounds. Former Nug Linas Kleiza brought 10 points and 7 rebounds to the mix. Bulgaria shot just 34 percent from the floor, but were able to stay close because they crushed the offensive glass -- 22 offensive rebounds. The Ivanov twins combined for 9 offensive rebounds and former UNC Tarheel Vassil Evtimov hauled in five offensive rebounds, 13 total. Bulgaria's offense was led by their dynamic scoring perimeter. Explosive PG Earl Rowland dropped 18 pts on 7-for-14 shooting, while wily wing Todor Stoykov scored 16 points. Lith takes a 0-2 record into the second round.