Today, the Eurobasket will enter its final and most exciting stage. After two weeks of somewhat meaningless group games, the top 8 teams have been placed in a single-elimination bracket with a guaranteed spot in the Olympics on the line. Okay, the top 2 teams get Olympic bids, but the Eurobasket Gold is still a coveted prize.
Below you'll find a short profile on each of the top 8 teams, how far I think they can go, and predictions for the entire bracket. If you're watching the games....be sure to keep an eye out for your favourite blogger when Spain plays. He just might be making a special guest appearance.
1. Spain (Group E)
NBA Players: Serge Ibaka, Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, Rudy Fernandez, Ricky Rubio, Jose Calderon
Spain is the odds-on favourite to win this tournament, and they've done little to prove otherwise. Save for a Pau Gasol-less loss to the now-eliminated Turkey, they have breezed through the competition. They knocked off host nation Lithuania by 12, and they crushed second-placed France with a dominant second-half performance. The team easily has the best talent in the tournament, and they seem poised to win another championship. They do stand a chance of losing, since they have a huge target on their back and they rely a lot on the Gasols for scoring. But it would take a team that could play really good inside defense and not fall easily to pressure from outside guards.
How far will they go? They're the overwhelming favourite.
4. Slovenia (Group F)
NBA Players: None
Slovenia is traditionally a European basketball contender, but they fell on hard times during this Eurobasket. Their slow-footed big men caused them problems, along with some terrible ball-movement on the offensive end. They pretty much limped into the Tournament stage by defeating a Finland side that isn't good by any stretch of the imagination. They have the talent to win, but they don't have a reliable shooter, and they don't have a good distributor. And in the fast moving Eurobasket, that's a recipe for disaster. Their big men, Slokar and Lorbek, are good enough to compete with the Gasols. But their backcourt isn't nearly as good, save for Jaka Lakovic.
How far will they go? They could upset Spain, but it's kind of like putting your money on the best 15 seed in the NCAA tournament. I don't see them getting inside the top 6.
Below: The remaining three Quarter-Finals Matchups, Predictions!
2. The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Group F)
NBA Players: None
There is one huge reason Macedonia has gotten this far in the Eurobasket: Bo McCalebb. No, he is not really Macedonian. He kind of reminds me of Hollis Price: A high scoring point guard who was considered too small in the NBA, but someone who benefits greatly from European-style ball. He is quick enough to provide great pressure defensively and slice into the lane, but he also has a deadly shot from outside. Sure, Antic and Gechevski can bang inside a bit, but by and large, McCalebb has carried this team. Macedonia can shut down the paint well, and they can feel it up from outside, but if the other team has the defensive presence of mind to shut down certain players, Macedonia is done.
How far will they go? They have the hardest route to the championship, seeing arguably the top three teams in the tournament in all three potential games. Their Cinderella run will end quickly, but I wouldn't put it beyond them to grab 5th place.
3. Lithuania (Group E)
NBA Players: Darius Songaila, Jonas Valanciunas
Lithuania is missing a few players that could really be helping them out right now, but they've ridden the backs of their excellent fans and a strong teamwork ethic to the Quarter-Finals stage. They've performed admirably in a tough group, but they do extremely poorly against scoring point guards who drive the lane....just ask Nando De Colo, Tony Parker, and Juan Carlos Navarro, who all turned in 20+ point winning performances against Lithuania. This bodes badly for them against Macedonia and Spain. But, one thing I've learned in my time watching international basketball is that you can never underestimate Lithuania. They're a team with an excellent strategy and a lot of heart.
How far will they go? They can probably win against underdog Macedonia, despite McCalebb. But a win against Spain in the second round might be asking for too much.
2. France (Group E)
NBA Players: Tony Parker, Nicholas Batum, Boris Diaw, Joakim Noah, Kevin Seraphin
France was content to settle for second in Group E when they sat Joakim Noah and Tony Parker in their finale against Spain. As a result, after sweeping the tournament, they were blown out by a more talented Spanish team. How much of a mistake was it? Well, instead of playing Slovenia, France is now matched up with Greece, which isn't looking that threatening at the moment. But it does make you wonder if France just doesn't feel as if they have the firepower to take on Spain. Otherwise, they're probably the second-favourite to win the whole thing. They soundly defeated every other team they played, and they haven't had the offensive problems a lot of people predicted they would have.
How far will they go? The final is a strong possibility, especially in the weaker side of the bracket.
3. Greece (Group F)
NBA Players: Kosta Koufos
Greece is in the process of rebuilding their team after the departure/injury of many of their main stars before the commencement if this Eurobasket. Since Greece is the deepest country in all of European basketball, their roster is still loaded with talent. But they're relying on guys who are still developing and role players, so I don't think they can carry themselves out of the first round, especially against France.
How far will they go? They have a hump to get over in order to get out of the first round, but if they somehow get past France, the final is a possibility.
1. Russia (Group F)
NBA Players: Andrei Kirilenko, Timofey Mozgov
Had Sergey Monya not hit a buzzer-beating three, Russia would be in the upper part of the bracket, playing Lithuania right now. Russia may be a one seed and the only undefeated team in the tournament, but they benefited from playing in a weak group. They are a team with definite strengths, like the ability to control the pace of the game and score down low. But they can also fall prey to good perimeter play from their opponent and offensive stagnation. As long as they can stick to their gameplan and keep the pace of the game in their favour, they can win virtually any game. But if things start falling out of their hands, they'll crumble fast.
How far will they go? The final is a possibility, but so is losing in the first round. There's no clear cut answer for them, so consider them a dark horse candidate.
4. Serbia (Group E)
Serbia is a team that definitely feels like they're underachieving. They had to scrape a win against Turkey by one point just to reach the Quarter-Finals. This is the same team that achieved 4th place in last Summer's FIBA World Championship, and a team that has more or less stuck together for three years. Their backs are against the wall, and their nation wants a medal. Krstic, Teodosic, and Keselj lead the scoring charge and function as their three main stars, but Serbia's main strength lies in their balance. They're good in several areas but great in few, which cleaves the door of ambiguity wide open when considering their gold medal chances.
How far will they go? Again, Serbia can be considered a dark horse candidate. They could get to the final, or they could lose in the first round. But they play well under pressure, so I think they can get out of the first round.
1. Spain vs. 4. Slovenia: Spain
2. F.Y.R. Macedonia vs. 3. Lithuania: Lithuania
2. France vs. 3. Greece: France
1. Russia vs. 4. Serbia: Serbia
1. Spain vs. 3. Lithuania: Spain
2. France vs. 4. Serbia: France
1. Spain vs. 2. France: France
3rd Place Game:
3. Lithuania vs. 4. Serbia: Lithuania
2. F.Y.R. Macedonia vs. 4. Slovenia: F.Y.R. Macedonia
1. Russia vs. 3. Greece: Russia
5th Place Game:
1. Russia vs. 2. F.Y.R. Macedonia: F.Y.R. Macedonia
7th Place Game:
3. Greece vs. 4. Slovenia: Greece
Who do you have winning the 2011 Eurobasket? Vote in the poll, post a comment!