Thursday, September 15, 2011

EuroBasket 2011 Semifinals Preview

We're abruptly diving into the conclusion of a spectacular tournament. It's an intriguing Final Four to say the least. You really couldn't have written it better than this almost March Madness type of setting. The favorites and defending EuroBasket champions Spain are still in it. You have the Cinderella story in FYROM. The perennial choke artists France can redeem themselves and finally seek gold. Finally, you have the '07 champs in Russia, who thrive on discipline and athleticism. It's going to be an interesting Semifinal round Friday.

Remember, the two teams in the Final receive guaranteed bids to London's 2012 Olympics. The teams finishing 3rd-6th are entered into the Pre-Olympic qualifying tournament. Earlier Thursday, Lithuania bounced back from their shocking defeat to FYROM by taking down Slovenia (who ran out of gas against Spain) to nab one of those qualifying spots for next summer. Greece-Serbia will determine who else keeps their Olympic dreams alive.

Friday at 10:30 a.m. EST

Slovenia gave the defending cup winners quite a scare in the first quarter of Wednesday's Quarterfinal. By halftime though, Spain had taken the momentum and the lead before Coach Scariolo's squad pounded the Slovenians into submission. Juan Carlos Navarro went into 'La Bomba' mode and torched Slovenia with 17 of his game-high 26 points in the 3rd period. The remaining 10 minutes of the match were an after-thought.

Pau Gasol will win MVP as long as Spain does what they're expected to do, hoist the cup again. 5th highest scoring average in the entire competition, 4th best shooting percentage, 1st in blocks. He's been doing it with ease too. Point guard play is still questionable. It's a reason why Slovenia got the jump on them early.

Jose Calderon rolled his ankle pretty badly in the second half, but he should start this game still. Ricky Rubio still can't score worth a damn, but his defense and passing are what keep him seeing him parquet time. Are Calderon and Rubio quick enough to slow up McCalebb? Tough to say. Ricky can sort of flip the media's view of him if he can prevent Bo from going off.

Serge Ibaka's role grew a little bit in the last contest with Marc Gasol getting into foul trouble. He had a few blocks, but he doesn't look as comfortable as he does with the Thunder. The X-Factor the rest of the way for Spain will be Rudy Fernandez. He's playing fine, but he needs to assert himself more. There's is no one on FYROM that should be able to stop Rudy. As is sometimes the case, only Rudy can prevent Rudy from going off.

Bo McCalebb is a legitimate contender for tournament MVP regardless of what happens the rest of the way. Game after game after game, the American stud out of New Orleans is pure money in crunch time (Even if it was Vlado Ilievski that has brought FYROM to the Semis). McCalebb has the 4th highest tournament scorin average (one spot ahead of Pau Gasol and one behind Tony Parker).

Pero Antic is being known as the love child of Carlos Boozer and Marcin Gortat, only Pero is already a bigger winner than either NBAer. He really may have been born with that crazy tattoo of his. Statues in Skopje may get erected of this team.

So other than those two (and Antic's shot was off), how in the hell did FYROM beat the hosts and medal favorites Lithuania?! Grit and determination which can lead to some great defense. Ilievski I already mentioned, he made the game-winner but also notched 12 points. Vlado's percentages still suck, but no one is criticizing him at this moment. Like I said a few days ago, one of the Stojanovski twins needed to step up. Vojdan Stojanovski was that twin. 15 points on 5-for-5 from 3-pointer range is beastly. I just want to know why Coach Dokuzovski didn't give Vojdan more touches?

All of those guys need to do their part to give Spain fits in this David v. Goliath encounter. But, they need one more man to overcome weak shooting and be a force around the paint. Predrag Samardziski. 10 rebounds in the win over Lithuania was greatly needed. The 2-for-8 shooting? Not so much. Predrag will have to somehow battle with the Gasols and Ibaka to relieve the extra attention that will be on Antic. Now, if Chekovski can magically transfer his extra girth to the rim as a gravitational force that would help put the ball into the hoop, I'd say Gjorgij could potentially be depended on. Don't hold your breath.

Let's see if the FYROM fans will have to deal with Lithuanian security guards again. To be honest, I'm not surprised that occurred in the previous outing. Whenever two boisterous and quite large fanbases try to outdo each other, you'll see the security guards come in as a precaution. I'm sure there won't be flag issues this time around either. Just don't throw drinks and push the armed guards. Those FYROM fans have bigger issues though, praying that their roster can somehow keep this Spain game in the 60s. Do that, and Bo will have a chance to win the game once again.

Friday at 2 p.m. EST

France almost looked like they'd succumb to the pressures of their 2005 nightmare. Almost. Greece had Coach Collet's crew on the ropes after 3 quarters. The Greeks were playing the style and tempo they knew would be necessary for victory. Then Tony Parker and Nicolas Batum, through sheer talent, fought off Ilias Zouros' brilliantly executed offensive and defensive strategies and exorcised their basketball nation's demons.

Mickael Gelabale trying to play on that bad ankle actually hurt his team every second he was on the court. Boris Diaw may as well have been at McDonald's. Kevin SeraphinCharles Kahudi, and Florent Pietrus were also all mostly useless when depth was greatly needed. Nando De Colo though is growing up right in front of our eyes. After a rough tourney start, the guy is on a roll. He had half of France's points after the first 10 minutes. Collet was very smart in having Nando start the second half, even if he was relatively ineffective (it shows trust).

Ali Traore had his issues with the better Ioannis Bourousis, but he proved more valuable than a beat up Noah who didn't really recover from his blow to the face until the final 60 seconds of the contest. Will this squad's depth be able to match that of Russia's. I thought they could, but now I'm not so sure. This is an even battle in my eyes of athleticism, mixed youth, talent, and experience.

Coach Collet would have me perturbed if I was a French fan. I didn't really see any in-game adjustments that created the comeback against Greece. It was just strong individual efforts from very skillful men. So how will he handle the genius of David Blatt? Probably not that well. Also, a few of these current Russians were on that 2007 cup hoisting squad. This is essentially two undefeated sides going at it (French purposely dropped that Spain game), expect a gold medal type game here.

Well, I've learned my lesson in trusting Serbia. David Blatt flat out manhandled Dusan Ivkovic from the bench. Blatt just knows how to positively use all the athleticism from his players, and now he's undeniably the most feared coach in this Final Four. Russia is showing phenomenal ball movement and passing ability that no one could really see happening. Oh yeah, they have the best defense in Lithuania. No dominating center, but this is a very tall and lanky roster. Russia won't blow you out, but the control they have in any situation can be demoralizing for opponents.

Victor Khryapa is sharing the wealth like a point guard, not a forward. His scoring and rebounding are not too bad either. Sergey Monya seriously saves all his points for the final minute of games. That's not necessarily a bad thing because there are few EuroBasket men as clutch as Sergey has proven. 'Money Monya' is his new nickname. If they have successful outings on Friday, France is definitely in trouble.

Timofey Mozgov had a stellar first quarter against Serbia, but faded away afterwards. A key matchup will be him against Noah. Two guys who haven't been completely comfortable in FIBA ball who can either prove to be solid contributors, or just bodies to bang around in the paint. This is a center matchup of 'who will have the fewest mental lapses?' I think Noah comes through. Aleksey Shved's energy is something to truly admire. You can get away with a 5-for-16 shooting performance when you're as active as Shved has been this entire EuroBasket.

Can Andrei Kirilenko be contained? AK47 almost posted a triple-double versus Serbia and is still dominating the steals category. If Gelabale was healthy I'd say maybe. Diaw's too fat and really should only be used to play Khryapa or Mozgov. Batum may have to slide over to the 3, which isn't the worst thing in the world considering Collet wants to play a De Colo-Parker backcourt. Pietrus and Kahudi will I'm sure also get their chances at Andrei. A spot in the Final depends on if Kirilenko is stopped.

I expect a thriller of a contest. The lower scoring for Russia, the better. Unless the likes of Andrey VorontsevichSergey Bykov, and Vitaliy Fridzon get hot. Can Blatt manage his way to a second EuroBasket crown? Will we see the first undefeated EuroBasket winner since Sarunas Jasikevicius' Lithuania did in 2003? Despite Monya's clutchness, Russia doesn't have a dependable scorer down the stretch. That was where J.R. Holden came in. A replacement still hasn't quite stepped up. So if Russia is in a tight affair come crunch time, I'd give their current French opponent the slight advantage.



If FYROM somehow knocks off Spain, I swear to God I will pick them to win gold. This isn't your France of the past. Joakim Noah and De Colo are bringing that fresh non-choker blood to the table. Russia's had a great run, but I don't think David Blatt has enough late game offensive horses to eek into the Final. However, no one will be shocked if we see another Spain-Russia EuroBasket championship clash.

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