Okay, here's the deal. Over the course of this weekend, there's going to be 8 basketball games on, none of which will overlap each other. They're all going to be less than 2 hours long and feature very little commercials. All of the games are part of a single-elimination tournament, and will feature NBA talent. It gets better. The games will be over by the evening time or so. So you can get back to your life/football at night. There's absolutely no reason not to check out one of these games.
With this preview, I didn't attempt to be all-inclusive or anything like that. I've been watching these teams for quite a few years now, and I wanted to give a few quick facts that I think most fans might not know. So I'm not gonna waste your time telling you Pau Gasol plays for Spain, or what everyone's record is. That stuff's known. Anyway, let's talk turkey....
(By the way, a complete bracket can be found here.)
Matchup 1: Spain vs. Senegal
Spain in a nutshell: They're one of the early favorites to win the tournament, and they've played like it so far. Absolutely cruised through their 5 group games, and completely shut down some of the strongest front courts in Brazil and Serbia. Only weakness is a lack of depth at the wings.
Senegal in a nutshell: They're a very exciting team that thrives on defensive intensity, cleaning up the offensive glass, and raw athleticism. Senegal will do anything for a steal though, including giving up a ton of easy points due to over commitment. Make no mistake, as long as this team can find some way to score, they can compete with anybody.
The matchup: If you're looking for a big upset, I'd definitely look here. Senegal pulling this one out isn't likely, but they've proven that they can run with top level teams. Spain could easily overcome them by simply not turning the ball over, though.
Matchup 2: Croatia vs. France
Croatia in a nutshell: A well-coached team from a basketball-crazy country. They're well stocked with Euroleague talent and can score at an extremely high level, particularly in the post. Bogdan Bogdanovic is their biggest name, and is probably the best non-NBA shot creator in this tournament.
France in a nutshell: A ton of athleticism with no point guard to tie them together, and only Diaw to rely upon in the post. France won the 2013 Eurobasket with Tony Parker at the helm, but he's taken this competition off, along with France's better centers. So they're left with a ton of athletic wings, and can get killed in the post or on the boards.
The matchup: Croatia should cruise here. I could see France making some noise if they can lock down Bogdanovic, but in the end I think Saric and Tomic will be too much for them to deal with down low.
Matchup 3: Greece vs. Serbia
Greece in a nutshell: With an influx of new talent and the return of the dynamic Kostas Papanikolaou, Greece has returned to their former days of basketball glory. They didn't have a single nail-biter in the group stage, and have a legitimate chance of winning it all. Strategically, Greece spaces the floor with shooters, moves the ball from side to side extremely well, get tons of points on the break, and can even post the ball up frequently with Ioannis Borousis. They don't have many weaknesses, but one of them is guarding the three point line.
Serbia in a nutshell: They're a big team with some decent individual talent, but their offense is only as good as their best player. The combo of Krstic and Teodosic didn't work for them in the past, but the banging presence of Raduljica, and catch and shoot presence of Bjelica and Bogdanovic have certainly helped things. Still, they're just not good enough at moving the ball to make any noise. If they could get a true PG and slot Teodosic at SG, I think this would be a much more dangerous team.
The matchup: Greece should be able to run away with this one once they create a few turnovers. Unless a couple of Serbia' scorers have absolutely terrific games.
Matchup 4: Brazil vs. Argentina
Brazil in a nutshell: This is an experienced team with a deep roster of talent that's played together for a long time. They're extremely skilled offensively, with virtually every player on the roster holding a high basketball IQ and at least one type of shot that they can pull off. Brazil can struggle though, particularly when their post players can't score, preventing them from moving the ball. They'll also very rarely win the battle of the boards, despite their size.
Argentina in a nutshell: This is a team of true grizzled veterans, with four of their top 6 scorers at age 34 or above. They're the last of the "Golden Generation" of Argentina, whom led the team to the Gold Medal in 2004. They excel at passing and taking advantage of teams that like to trap. They're small though, and will lose games due to getting crushed on the boards.
The matchup: El Superclasico! This one should be amazing, with lots of tricky passes and amazing ball control. These teams were 1-1 in prelims, but Scola, normally an offensive rock for Argentina, was effective in neither contest. So my money's on Brazil.
Matchup 5: USA vs. Mexico
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Matchup 6: Slovenia vs. Dominican Republic
Slovenia in a nutshell: After an extremely good run when hosting the 2013 Eurobasket and a breakout year from Goran Dragic, Slovenia has come back to earth a bit. Dragic is an excellent shot creating threat, but he's asked to do too much because the team doesn't really have another one. His brother (Zoran) and Erazem Lorbek are just really skilled spot shooters. So Slovenia goes as far as Goran does.
Dominican Republic in a nutshell: They're going to take a ton of threes, and they're going to struggle to move the ball. There's a lot of talent on the wings, but their bigs are mostly undersized or underskilled. The one exception is Jack Michael Martinez, who's probably the best facilitator for ball movement they have. They'll go as far as their shooting takes them. Which can be pretty far with Franscisco Garcia hoisting them up.
The matchup: Slovenia should roll here. Pick and roll constantly into the paint, that is. Expecting a big day from Lorbek and Omic.
Matchup 7: Lithuania vs. New Zealand
Lithuania in a nutshell: After a injury to point guard Mantas Kalnietis during preliminaries, Lithuania found themselves in the same boat they were in one year ago. They were/are an excellent team without any semblance of a point guard. PRetty much every rotation spot is stocked with a player that can do something, but they've got no shot creator to help them move the ball. They'll dominate other teams inside, but any squad of skilled guards could give them a run for their money.
New Zealand in a nutshell: They're a undersized team of talented shot creators. Their guards are generally the ones who do most of the shot creating, while the bigs mostly stretch the floor with jumpers. Whether those jumpers go in, how well they're able to mask their lack of size inside, and the amount of offensive rebounds they get are all key components to a Team NZ win. And, of course, how well Corey Webster is able to create for himself.
The matchup: Believe it or not, New Zealand actually finished within 6 points of Lithuania in their sole preliminary clash. O-boards went in New Zealand's favor, and they shot a decent clip from three. Still, it's really hard to see Valanciunas not having his way down low, or seeing a way for NZ to effectively guard the shots of Motiejunas, who wasn't in that game.
Matchup 8: Turkey vs. Australia
Turkey in a nutshell: They're a big team, and a solid collection of top-flight European role players. They all know how to play within themselves and make smart decisions, though their lack of talent will catch up to them. Omer Asik soldifies their presence near the rim, and coach Ergin Ataman isn't hesitant to broadly change his strategy from game to game.
Australia in a nutshell: They intentionally lost their game against Angola, so don't pay attention to that result. Also, Dante Exum is here, but he's not much more than a backup. They can score with the best of them and shoot the lights out, but avoiding turnovers is almost always a problem. Aron Baynes gives them a lot of stablity down low and Joe Ingles can score everywhere, but they simply don't have the defense to back it up a lot of the time. Steals are their forte, though.
The matchup: I'm thinking Turkey will be able to pull this one out. Baynes has had success against Lithuania in the past, but I think Asik will be too much for him to handle. Also, Turkey will drive Australia crazy by holding onto the ball forever.
What do you think about the Round of 16? Who's going all the way? Can anyone beat Team USA? Drop a comment and let us know!