The final day of the first stage of the tournament is upon us! Some groups are clear, but the situation is entangled in others, and even the possibility of a four-way tie in Group C is real enough to command attention. Follow me after the jump for some last predictions and news!
Group A: Spain and hosts Lithuania are guaranteed a spot in the next stage, and Spain has already captured a first place finish in the group. Turkey is seriously threatened with a premature exit, as they managed to drop the game against Poland, and need to beat Spain (or Poland to lose to Luol Deng) in order to advance.
- Great Britain vs Poland: the Brits won yesterday, for the first time ever in major competition. I believe this will be their last until the next Eurobasket, since Poland hold their fate in their hands: they did the difficult part, they just have to keep taking care of business. Prediction: Poland do what they should, play an un-inspired game and win.
- Spain vs Turkey: I believe this could be an interesting game. Turkey is in dire straights after losing to Poland, while Spain comes off a huge victory over the hosts - who didn't seem ready to challenge them as of yet. Turkey need to figure out how to survive whatever Spain throws at them - or they can try to make a rollercoaster out of the game and hope to shoot better from deep. Spain has enough experience to avoid such a situation, should it prove uncomfortable, and they are a team far more qualitative than Turkey. Prediction: Spain goes unbeaten to the next round, Turkey goes home.
- Portugal vs Lithuania: I pity Portugal a bit - they're probably going to play the role of a boxing sack. Lithuania need to vent away some anger, and Portugal won't be much of a challenge. Prediction: Lithuania turns this into a rout.
The most clear situation of all. Germany, Serbia and France are all guaranteed their spots in the second round (they form a group with Group A). The games today are going to determine first place - between Serbia and France. Germany will probably not risk anything and rest Nowitzki and Kaman while they can, giving PT to other people.
- Israel vs Italy: This would be a consolation victory for either team. Italy came hyped to the tournament, with their best squad in recent years, but the bubble soon deflated, as Italy could not take meaningful contributions out of every star in every game. Thus they were beaten by Germany - their main opponent for a third place finish, and despite almost upsetting France, in the end they ran out of gas, playing frantically against a talent-wise superior opponent for 40 minutes. Israel was a disappointment as well - the three-punch of Eliyahu in the paint, Halperin in the perimeter and Omri Casspi in the forward spot was destroyed when Casspi was - sadly - injured. Both teams beat Latvia; they failed when it mattered. Prediction: Italy is way too tired from yesterday. Israel take this one.
- Latvia vs Germany: Latvia played some inspiring basketball in Lithuania. They happened to fall in a lion's den of a group, against teams far better than them in terms of talent. They deserved a victory; maybe they'll take it against an uninterested Germany side, looking to rest key players (ok, Bauermann said he "didn't want to disrupt the rythm", but you don't get chances like this every day). I expect Germany to try new things, like letting the offfense flow through Jagla and Benzing for a longer time period, and playing Nowitzki and Kaman only in the first half. Prediction: Germany has enough to survive a shoot-and-run against Latvia, if their perimeter players are in good form. Germany wins.
- Serbia vs France: First place is the prize, and this would mean almost automatic qualification to the knockout stage. Might be enough of a motivation. Serbia indeed has a talented backcourt (Teodosic had a 12/9/9 yesterday, in 28 freaking minutes, and leads the competition with 7.8 assists per game), and if Parker misses the game (he was injured yesterday), Serbia would be the overwhelming favorite to me. On the other hand, it remains to be seen how Serbia can cope with France's talented wings - Batum, Gelabale and Diaw have been wreaking havoc lately. Still, with Nando De Colo at the halm for a long time France cannot beat a determined Serbia. Prediction: Serbia wins, Parker rests. Teodosic shoots 10% from deep but records a double-double with points and assists.
Now the situation is really complicated here. FYROM leads the group, and if they beat Bosnia & Herzegobina they stay first. Greece is pitted against Croatia - both teams need to win in order to be sure of advancing. Finland still has an outside chance of going forward if they beat an already disqualified Montenegro and Bosnia loses. It's really complicated.
- Finland vs Montenegro: If the Finns manage to push Pekovic out of his comfort zone and hit their threes, they could very well win, and even advance, if FYROM suffices against Bosnia. Montenegro only play with pride on the line - they won their opener but did not manage to surprise any opponent since. Prediction: Finland go focused in the game, spread the floor, win.
- Greece vs Croatia: after the wake-up call from FYROM and a 12-point loss (in an embarassing performance) Greece got their act together and pushed Montenegro aside after three quarters. They'll need more of that stuff in the upcoming game - Croatia isn't much of a team, but they feature talented players, and are not to be underestimated, plus it's the last chance to salvage their campaign and claim something better than a first round exit. Prediction: Greece has better defense, wins and advances (fingers crossed).
- FYROM vs Bosnia & Herzegobina: FYROM have their chance now: defeat Bosnia and go to the next round with a point advantage, then make an upset and hope for the best! In order to do so, however, they'll need the win against Bosnia, who need to win to stay ahead of pursuing Finland. They play last, so they'll know what they need by game-time, but in the best-case scenario they would still not mind a victory. Prediction: I don't know... It probably depends on whether Finland and Greece/Croatia has won. FYROM won't be bothered either way, but they'll definitely win against a no-interest Bosnia side.
First and second positions are already clear - it will be Slovenia and Russia. But the game between Ukraine and Belgium (both out) will probably determine which of Georgia and Bulgaria will participate to the next round.
That's it for today, stay tuned for the break-day recap of the first round!
- Georgia vs Bulgaria: If Georgia wins, they're through. They must not underestimate the Bulgarians though, who gave Russia a run for their money yesterday. I'd say, if Georgia plays with a bit of a plan and get their rebounds, they'll also get the win. Prediction: Georgia wins. Pachulia still owes the team a big game.
- Russia vs Slovenia: will the guards win or will their frontcourt pull the Russians to another victory? Neither team has been satisfying as far, but they both did their due against weaker opponents. If Slovenia make their outside shots (and Dragic is a miserable 1-18 so far), they should be in better position. Anyway, it's time to see how both teams react to real pressure. Prediction: Goran Dragic has a great game and leads Slovenia to victory.
- Ukraine vs Belgium: Ukraine got close, but not close enough with Georgia, and Belgium haven't won in 18 years in a Eurobasket. I suppose more Georgians and Bulgarians would watch the game, since in the event of a combined Bulgaria and Belgium win, Bulgaria would advance out of the tie. If Ukraine wins and Bulgaria prevails though, Bulgaria needs a 14-point margin over Georgia, elsewise they're left out. Prediction: I don't know, I don't care.
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