Friday, August 25, 2006

2006 FIBA Worlds-Round of 16 Preview (part I)

Games to be played on Friday night/Sat. morning (in US):

-Argentina (A-1) vs. New Zealand (B-4): Argentina should breeze thru this game. Even after a sluggish performance vs. Serbia, they still showed great toughness by winning a game that meant nothing to them, besides going undefeated in group play. It's really hard to pick out the most impressive player so far, since the wealth is so spread out. Take your pick: Manu, Luis Scola, Nocioni, Pepe Sanchez, Walter Herrmann, or Delfino, they all have been superb. Argentina is shooting 50 % overall & 41 % from 3pt. Their outside shooting use to be a little spotty but guys like Manu & Nocioni have refined their stroke over the last couple years.

New Zealand backed their way into the last Group B spot and really do not deserve a berth, it just happens that Group B is so weak. They have not shot the ball well at all--40.3 % overall & 30.3 %. Former Wisconsin PG Kirk Penney has led the way with 14.2 per game and is followed up by the rotund Pero Cameron's 13.8 per game--both guys are shooting a respectable 39% from deep. The only other NZ player of note is current Winthrop University center Craig Bradshaw who pitches in with 11.4 & 6.4 rebs per. Argentina should be on their way to a matchup vs. the winner of the Turkey-Slovenia tilt.


- Italy (D-2) vs. Lithuania (C-3): Should be a competitive game. The outside shot is a big part of both teams' offensive attack, but both teams have been uncharacteristicly subpar from the 3pt.--Italy-35.5% & Lith.-31.5. But don't be fooled by those numbers because both teams have multiple guys who can get real hot & bury jumpers. Lithuania has Arvydas Macijauskas who is one of the deadliest shooters in the world. He has been a little off with his shot (37% from 3pt.), but is still 50% overall and adds 3 rebs & 3 assts a game.

Lithuania does have one distinct advantage in this game--their frontline. They have a good rotation of 4 bigs that Italy can't match up with in the painted area. Darius Songaila has been his steady self with 12.4 ppg & 6 rpg on 52.2% shooting. Darjus Lavrinovic provides a versatile big offensively--9.4 ppg, 5 rpg & 5/6 from 3pt. SA Spur draftee Robert Javtokas brings a strong athlete who is limited offensively, but does a great job on the boards & defensively. Lithuania's defense has been a slight surprise by holding teams to 39.4% overall & 33.1% from 3pt. This combined with them being the best rebounding team in the preliminary round--38.8 per, & 12 rpg more than their opponent. But their 20 TOs per game in group play is something that could come back to haunt them.

Italy likes to play a more methodical pace and does a good job taking care of the ball--11 TOs per. They have been led by lottery-bound SG Marco Belinelli who has averaged 14.4 ppg, but needs to sharpen his shot selection--34.8% overall & 27.3% from deep. With his crazy athleticism he needs to drive more instead of jacking up off-balance jumpers. Matteo Soragna is another solid shooter for Italy who has pitched in 11.4 ppg on 52.6% overall. Somewhat disappointing has been the play of Gianluca Basile, who had a great 1st game but really fell off the next 4 games--8.2 on 35% from both the field & 3pt. But again he his extremely dangerous in a one game scenario because he's as pure a shooter as Macijauskas. Wily veteran Denis Marconato provides a big to throw at the Lith. bigs. This game is a toss-up in my mind, could possibly come down to which team gets hotter from outiside, but I'm leaning toward Lith. because of their frontline, but watch for the turnover difference.


-Turkey (C-2) vs. Slovenia (D-3): Another game that should project to be a good one. Turkey has been a small surprise by finally playing well together. Slovenia was a small disappointment with the way they finished off their group play being upset by China, and needing Italy to barely hold off Puerto Rico to slip back into the playoffs.

Turkey has been led by their sharp shooters Serkan Erdogan (15.5 ppg) & former Sonic Ibrahim Kutluay (12.8). Their shooting percentages have not been super but believe me these guys can bury it from outside--Kutluay is on the same level as Macijauksas & Basile. They have a nice rotation of bigs, no one who is great, but just good by committee. Athletic Kerem Gonlum has been very active off the bench with 10.2 & 6 rebs on 67%. Kaya Pekar is a nice big body who does a little bit of everything (8.2 & 6). Ermel Kurtoglu uses his great footwork to give Turkey a nice post option. Fatih Solak does a decent job by just taking up alot of space. And their secret weapon is young Milwaukee Buck Ersan Ilyasova, the kid is legit. He has solid numbers of 10 ppg on 45.2% overall & 53.8% from 3pt., but he shows glimpses of NBA starter talent like step-back 3pts. Their free throw shooting is a little bit of a worry--63.4%.

Slovenia has pretty good balance on their roster where 6 players have averaged between 10 to 13 ppg. Both NBA bigs Primo Brezec & Rasho Nestorvic have been consistently solid with each guy averaging around 12 ppg & 6-7 rpg and both being a presence in the middle. Slovenia also was the 2nd best 3pt shooting team in group play with a stellar 46%. Undersized speedster Jaka Lakovic is both dangerous with the dribble & from outside (he's shooting a blistering 67% from 3pt.) and leads Slovenia with 13.4 ppg. I felt NJ Nets Bostjan Nachbar has provided a nice spark of energy for this team and has showcased more athleticism then I realized (he is pitching in 10 & 5rpg). Like the Ita-Lith game, this one could possibly just come down to which team is hotter from outside.


-Spain (B-1) vs. Serbia (A-4): Like with Argentina, its difficult to pick out who been the most impressive for Spain, they spread the wealth just as well. I guess you would have to go with Pau Gasol who has not surprisingly been one of the most dominant players in the Worlds--21.4 ppg, 8 rpg, & 2 blks on 69%. Juan Navarro has looked great as well and has continued to show his improved shooting stroke--45% from 3pt. Toronto's Jose Calderon, draft prospect Rudy Fernandez and recent Toronto signee Jorge Garbajosa have also been great. Spain pretty much cruised thru Group B with a point differential of 28 ppg, even pounding their closest comp Germany. They have shot the ball great--54.6% overall-- and really have improved upon their 3pt shooting--44%--which use to be a significant flaw for this team. Their renown defense has stayed the same--39.7%-- and they play the finest zone in the tourney.

Serbia really is just a two-man show: former T-Wolf Igor Rakoveic & Darko Milicic. Igor has been one of the top players in the FIBA Worlds & has kept this young team afloat with his deadly combo of outside shooting & blistering drives to the rim. He's up there with Gasol on the scoring leaderboard with 20 ppg on 55.7% from the floor & 50% from 3pt. This guy definitely needs another shot in the NBA. The much maligned Darko has continued his summer of redemption with showing off his outside shooting touch & sweet post moves for 15.8 ppg & 8.2 rpg. He also has set a tone by being one of the most imposing physical presences in the tourney right up there with Dwight Howard--3 blocks per & numerous changed shots.

Darko could possibly neutralize Pau & Igor could easily do the same to Navarro, so if Serbia's role players step up big in this game this could be more competitive than Spain would have liked for a 1st round game. I expect Spain to come away with this one, but would not be stunned if Serbia gives a run for their money before finally fading down the stretch do to Spain's superior talent & depth.

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