TrueHoop: Sergey Bykov
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 Painted Area is following every second of action of Eurobasket 2009 in Poland, and has this report on Day 2's action:
GROUP A: Greece 76, Croatia 68
In a battle of Group A heavyweights (and medal contenders), Greece's near flawless first half offensive execution was too much for Croatia to handle. Greece scored 52 points in the first 20 minutes on 76 percent shooting.
The Greek offensive spacing was superb with the wings staying wide and lots of weaving action up high in the first half. Lots of motion which made it hard for Croatia to get to shooters.
But the Greeks slowed considerably in the 2nd half, particularly in the 4th quarter where they only managed 11 points. Sloppy fourth quarter with too many fouls & TOs. Croatia chipped back into the game in the 2nd half by getting out in transition and getting to the free throw line.
Even with the sharp offensive execution by the Greeks, this game was tough to enjoy. Like the Lith-Turkey game from the night before, we had another Eurobasket game marred by too many whistles -- a combined 49 fouls.
Olympiakos' Giannis Bourousis showed why he's one of the top centers outside the NBA with 19 points & 8 rebounds. The 7-foot Bourousis was pure in the first half burying two 3-pointers. & a long jumper off the dribble. The big Greek scored 17 of 19 in the half on a perfect 7-for-7 shooting. Bourousis even added an emphatic dunk over Kasun off a roll that drew a foul.
Vasilis Spanoulis, always a better long shooter when he can get a little dribble into his shot, buried a key 3-pointer off an iso up high to seal the victory. Spanoulis sliced into the lane for some points (11 points), but never got consistent deep penetration, and still struggled trying to force passes (5 turnovers).
Greek SF Strat Perperoglou knocked down some 3-pointers for 10 pts, and Utah's Kostas Koufos added 10 points on short shots mostly in the first half.
Roko Ukic was the lone bright spot for Croatia's offense in the first half hitting a variety of runners. Ukic couldn't connect with his jumper (no surprise), but he did lead all Croatia scorers with 15 points...
GROUP B: Germany 76, Russia 73
Wasn't expecting an aesthetically pleasing game, and pretty much got what I expected. A battle of teams without dynamic scoring options ended with both teams combining to hit 35 percent of the shots attempted for the game.
Combine this putrid shooting with 60 fouls combined, and you have a recipe for another Eurobasket contest that was tough to follow. If there is one overriding theme in the first few days: way too many whistles. Doesn't make for a memorable viewing experience.
Russia sunk their chances by failing to capitalize on these aforementioned whistles. Russia went to the line 49 times, but only made 28.
Germany controlled the first half but let Russia stay within reasonable striking distance by putting the Russians on the free throw line 28 times. Russia made a run in the third where they pieced together a few positive offensive possessions and Germany helped with poor shot selection.
As usual, Russian head coach David Blatt mixed up his defensive looks, which was successful in the second half. We saw some extended pressure on occasion and some off-kilter zone alignment with man principles.
The always active Jan Jagla led the German squad with 19 points, 11 points, & 2 blocks. Jagla known for his off. boarding, grabbed 7 offensive rebounds, including a big off. board that drew a foul with 3:00 left. Jan Jagla has always been valuable as a live body who crashes the glass. He's just always been in the unfortunate situation of playing the same position as Dirk...
Reserve PG Heiko Schaffartzik scored 10 of his 13 points in the 1st quarter thanks to two pull-up 3-pointers (his specialty). Heiko only made one basket after the first quarter, but it was a clutch 3-pointer to give Germany a 71-67 lead with 1:45 left ... Schaffartzik cleverness with the dribble & lateral quickness helped him set up four assists
Russia's PG play wasn't too bad either. PG Sergey Bykov was key to Russia chipping into Germany's 14-point halftime lead. Bykov scored Russia's first eight points of the third. Sergey mixed some stellar drives with a few jumpers to score all his 11 points in the third. But Bykov was the primary culprit of Russia's foul shooting nightmare -- Bykov shot 3-for-11.
The good news for Russia, they have qualified for the 2nd round with Latvia's loss to France. The last second Round spot out of Group B will be determined by the outcome of the Germany-Latvia game. If Germany wins, they're on to the next round. They can actually afford a loss, as long as it's by less than nine points. But that scenario is contingent on Russia losing to France. If Russia beats France, then whoever wins the Germ-Latvia game outright goes to the second round.