France & Italy Begin Quest For Eurobasket
We'll mainly concentrate on Italy and France in this quick preview of the Eurobasket Additional Qualifying Round (AQR) that runs from August 5 to August 30. France opens up tourney play today vs. Italy, minus Tony Parker.
Six teams fighting for the one last open spot in the field of 16 for Eurobasket '09. Group A consists of Portugal, Bosnia, & Belgium, while Group B has Italy, France, & Finland.
Round-robin format where each team plays the other two teams in the group twice (home & away). The round-robin stage is spread out over two weeks. The teams with the best record in each group after four games face off in a final playoff for a trip to Poland.
Italy & France are clearly a level above the rest of the field, and the Group B winner should have no trouble with anyone in Group A. Finland is not to be totally overlooked. Finland could provide a tough challenge for either France or Italy when they have to travel up to Finland. The Finns are led by former Utah standout Hanno Mottola, Portland Blazer draftee PG Petteri Koponen, and former Valparaiso star Shawn Huff.
Probably the biggest news surrounding the mini-tourney---France's difficulty dealing with NBA front offices. After some haggling, Tony Parker has been ruled out of the first game on Wednesday vs Italy. Tony was initially going to play with a mild ankle sprain, but the Spurs were not taking any chances (probably hyper-vigilant after Manu's Olympic injury) and scratched Tony. Supposedly, Parker & France are a little miffed.
France can't be too pleased with the Bulls management, either. Joakim Noah was allowed to participate in some friendly games & training camp, but Bulls' pulled the plug on Noah's involvement with Team France for the rest of the summer. France could really use both NBAers, especially vs. Italy, and these decisions by two NBA front offices could cost France a berth in next year's World Championship.
As usual for Team France--they can't spread the floor at all. Continue to be a terrible outside shooting team, and this continues to be their biggest flaw. Don't really have a single reliable outside shooter on the roster; Parker might be the best, but he has the ball in his hands (They could use Mickael Pietrus, who is not playing in the AQR). In Euro '07, Parker could not get deep penetration very often because defenses were free to load up on him thanks to the severe lack of shooting around him. It's no surprise France can go thru extended lulls on the offensive end in the half-court.
They have shot the 3-ball terribly in the exhibition stage, not to mention their free-throw shooting has been bad as well. Team France should expect plenty of zone and sagging man. The one-foot-in-the-paint rule vs. France would be heavily emphasized if I was an opposing coach.
France has somewhat counteracted their perennial offensive woes with great effort on the defensive end & on the boards. France is the most athletic team in Europe, and has the ability to create havoc defensively. Boris Diaw, Nic Batum, and Florent Pietrus can guard multiple positions, and switch assignments. They have the ability to create turnovers, which should come in handy to create transition offensive opportunities. Also, always a very strong rebounding club.
Looks like recent Spur draftee Nando de Colo will be thrust into the playmaker role in Parker's absence. Wouldn't be surprised if Diaw is called upon to direct the offense as well. Though no Noah, France will have some NBA help on the frontline thanks to Ronny Turiaf & Johan Petro.
Marco Belinelli has been Team Italia's standout in the friendly stage. Italy had some success at Euro '07 when they let Belinelli handle the ball. When he keeps his flashy tendencies in check, Marco is a tough player to stop. Andrea Bargnani has looked solid so far, but needs to have better shot selection this summer than he had at Euro '07. Wouldn't hurt if he would use his size to rebound & defend the paint, something Italy badly needs from him.
Rebounding has been an issue for the Italians last few years, and looks to be a weakness again this summer. The subpar rebounding goes along with Italy's lack of a traditional interior presence. We know Bargnani really is just a oversized SF, and Angelo Gigli is too slender, and kinda a combo forward himself. Don't really have any servicable big bodies on their roster with the retirement of Denis Marconato. This is where France has the advantage.
6-11 Angelo Gigli is a very active big who will crash the glass, and has some range on his jumper. AJ Milano's Marco Mordente is a veteran combo guard who can drill coming off screens and will do a little ball-handling. Multi-skilled SF Matteo Soragna can handle as well, and do a little post-up work. Giuseppe Poeta will get the nod at point guard, and is adept at dribble penetration. Have multiple players who can handle the ball and initiate offense, and have plenty of shooting across the board. This is where Italy has the advantage.
It looks like that Team Italia will have the services of athletic SF Stefano Mancinelli for the tourney. Stefano has solid post-up ability and a good finisher. I guess FIBA chose not to suspend Mancinelli for his little ditty upside Canada's Aaron Doornekamp's head in a recent friendly game:
This is possibly both teams' last chance at keeping the hopes alive for next summer's FIBA World Championship. Tough to imagine a wild card berth being awarded to France or Italy if they can't even qualify for Eurobasket. Have to give Italy the slight nod to advance mostly because of Parker missing the game in Italy.