Hello ladies and gentlemen, this is galicae and, as promised, I'm bringing you the 2011 Eurobasket preview. First part contains group 1 as well as tournament format, miscellaneous thoughts and knowledge tidbits. After the jump.
For two-and-a-half-ish weeks (August 31 - September 18) 24 european national teams will be duking it out in 6 arenas in Lithuania, aiming for 6 tickets for the next european championships and 2 direct tickets for the London Olympics. Oh, there's also the european championship itself, a coveted trophy that has been claimed 14 times by the former Soviet Union and only 7 times from countries that didn't belong to the soviet block (out of 36 tournaments). Current champion Spain are aiming to defend their title, presenting the fullest national team they have ever had; other suitors will show up with revamped rosters, since the pending lockout is forcing NBA players to play with their national teams in order to stay fit during the summer (people like it, but I find it to be disturbingly professional. I mean, they only remember the national team when there's a lockout? Yao Ming and Dirk Nowitzki always did it the other way round.).
Moving on: the tournament format (currently) consists of three stages. In the first, 24 teams are arranged in four groups of six teams, which play against each other (it's called a round-robin). The three best out of each group are then arranged in two new groups of six, and have another round of going against each other. Then, the four best enter the knockout stage, which is kinda like the NBA playoffs (1st from Group A with last of Goup B etc.), only it's a best of 1. This leads (in a pretty straightforward matter) to the finals. Something else to remember is the fact that rank is important, since it determines who doesn't need to enter a qualification tournament for the next great event, so every position is decided by games between the contestants.
So much on competition format. Next comes the section about teams, groups and predictions!
Starting with the hosts: Lithuania has a pretty roster, and a nice mixture of experienced veterans, hungry, talented youths. I'd love to say so, but as a matter of fact only 5 of the 14 players are younger than 30, and only one younger than 25 (Valanciunas). Lithuania still hasn't announced their final roster cuts (they are allowed to suit up 12 players), but you don't need to be an expert to see it's their last chance at a successful run at a title. Soon the elder statesmen will need to retire, and if not at London, then definitely next European championships, this team won't look a lot like this one. Lithuania has shown some inconsistency during friendly play, but home court advantage and the combination of experience and talent are sure to propel them at least past the first round.
Spain: the defending champions. They could field up to 5 completely different starting line-ups, and all of them would be as dangerous. Carlos Navarro is the undisputed leader of this team, and many times Spain might fluctuate along with him, but it's a team with many different options on both ends of the floor. They have a legitimate inside presence even subtracting the Gasol brothers from the equation, and maybe the best backcourt in Europe. All in all, a big favorite for the title, if they manage to keep their focus.
Turkey: they reached the World Championship finals, but that was in Turkey. The team is built around Hedo Turkoglu, a very
consistent streaky shooter who is overpaid in his NBA team, does not have any resemblance of a backcourt, and was not utilizing other assets (Omar Asik and Ersan Ilyasova) last time I watched them play. This will probably be enough to get them to the second round, might even prove enough for the knockout stage, but I do not count them as legitimate contenders.
As far as Portugal is concerned, I must admit to knowing absolutely nothing about the team. All of their players compete in the portuguese league, and as such should not have any substantial international experience. They managed to edge their way in the tournament through an extra qualification tournament, but also gave up a 14-point lead to Finland in the last qualification game. All in all, I suppose they will be content with making life difficult for their opponents, and maybe snatching a win or two on the way back home.
Poland comes next: Their best player, Marcin Gortat will not participate, and that mostly sums it up. The Polish have no surrogate inside presence, and also miss 3 key players; They will have "Polish" swingman Thomas Kelati with them, giving them a potent outside presence. I wouldn't expect them to make it past the first round.
Great Britain: They were good enough to advance to the tournament, defeat the turnaround jumper 91-90 in overtime and recruit Luol Deng. I don't know what Daniel Clark can do against formidable opposition, but he's a guy with promise, and he delivered when England needed him most. I am looking forward to watching them play. Still, I cannot imagine them getting past the first round.
Prediction: Spain, Lithuania, Turkey advance, others go home.