EuroBasket 2011 Quarterfinals Preview (Part I): Spain-Slovenia, (FYR) Macedonia-Lithuania
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The round-robins are over and now its time for the win-or-go-home portion of Euro '11. After group play, Spain remains the prohibitive favorite for gold with either Russia, France or Serbia likely to meet Spain in the finals.
The quarterfinals start on Wednesday with Spain vs. Slovenia and Lithuania vs. FYR of Macedonia. The winners will meet in the semis on Friday. Russia vs. Serbia and France vs. Greece follow on Thursday with the winners moving on to Friday's semis.
Would not be surprised to see all four Group E teams in the semis. Russia is the one Group F team that might be considered a favorite in the quarters, but they're a slim favorite over Serbia at best, as that game looks to be biggest toss-up of the quarters.
Don't forget to keep an eye on the loser's bracket as the four losing quarterfinals teams will fight for the two last Pre-Olympic bids. The losers of Wednesday's games meet on Thursday to determine one bid. While the losers of Thursday's quarters meet on Friday for the last bid. The two EuroBasket finalists will qualify directly for London.
We'll focus on the Wednesday quarterfinal matchups in this post.
SPAIN (E-1) vs. SLOVENIA (F-4)
When Spain is locked in, they can blow any other team in this tournament out of the gym. With the way Slovenia has been (dys)functioning on offense, can't see how Spain has difficulty in this game. Slovenia has been one of the more disappointing teams in Euro '11, especially on the offensive end where they have played way below capabilities.
Slovenia is only averaging 68 ppg on 40% shooting. Slovenia has scored over 70 points in a game only once in eight games. Slovenia has been abysmal from long range--26% on 3PA--and this has hurt the slashing ability of the guards.
Slovenia has too much talent to be putting up these numbers. Expected the outside shooting numbers would go down a little with Boki Nachbar being replaced by non-shooter Zoran Dragic, but it been much worse than anticipated.
Goran Dragic reverting back to his pre-'09 shooting ways has had a significant impact. Goran is only shooting 39% from the floor and is currently 4-for-27 from behind the arc. This has hindered Goran's ability to slash into the lane, which further complicates things offensively. Also guards Jaka Lakovic (34%) and Saso Ozbolt (21%) are shooting the 3pt. shot below their capabilities.
As for Spain, they look primed for another romp through the playoffs similar to '09. Pau Gasol has been one of the top players at EuroBasket, as usual, and is in line for his second consecutive EuroBasket MVP, averaging 20.4 ppg on 61%.
Marc Gasol has worked well in the starting lineup next to his brother, pitching in 14.6 ppg on 54% and leading Spain in rebounding (7.4). The bros have been clinical in the post and have moved the ball well. Likely to see some them working some hi-lo action as well.
Juan Navarro has been off the mark inside the arc but has been his usual deadly self behind the arc (42% on 3PA). La Bomba will wear defenders out running through an endless phalanx of screens. The Navarro pick-n-roll has been very successful generating points for himself and his teammates in Euro '11.
Rudy Fernandez hasn't been quite as productive as last year but he still makes an impact with his frenetic energy. Rudy will be run off screens as well, and like Bomba, he will handle the ball some.
Serge Ibaka has been productive, providing strong finishes on cuts, put-backs and blocks in his 17 minutes of floor time (7 ppg, 4.4 rpg) but has been foul prone.
Very intriguing matchup between Slovenia's Erazem Lorbek and Pau. Lorbek is basically Pau just a little smaller and less athletic. Lorbek and Pau were the two best players at Euro '09, but Lorbek has not played quite as well this year.
He has not been converting at his normal rate throughout the tourney. Only shooting 41% overall which is keeping his scoring to a modest 11.4 ppg. Lorbek's scoring is down also because has been dealing with more double teams since his teammates can't hit jumpers. Lorbek has hit his 3pt. attempts and Slovenia should have him drag Pau away from the lane.
7-3 center Mirza Begic has been been a godsend since Matjaz Smodis is a shell of his former self. Begic (8 ppg on 62%, 6.6 rpg, 1.3 bpg) has been very productive in his 17 minutes per game banging the boards (especially off. glass), hitting hook shots and being a deterrent on the backline of Slovenia's defense. Begic will be matched up with Marc Gasol. Begic has the length to bother Marc but not the girth.
Slovenia has great speed on the perimeter that can keep up with Spain's perimeter speed. Slovenia can be dangerous in transition but don't think its wise to get into an uptempo game with Spain.
I expect Spain will apply pressure on the perimeter and try to induce Slovenia's guards into miscues. Slovenia's guards can easily get out of control and I bet Spain will prey on this vulnerability.
Slovenia will likely get dispatched easily by Spain, but they still have a shot of staying alive in Olympic qualifying if they win their first loser's bracket game.
(FYR) MACEDONIA (F-2) vs. LITHUANIA (E-3)
In FYR of Macedonia's first-ever appearance in the EuroBasket knockout phase, they have the unenviable task of trying to beat Lithuania in front of their home fans. I think Lithuania is the better team and they will be very tough to beat at home.
Macedonia (6-2) is coming off a last-second loss to Russia and its only other loss came in OT to Montenegro on the opening day. Lithuania is 6-2 as well, but they've gone up against stiffer competition than Macedonia.
The contrast in offensive efficiency is jarring. Lithuania has one of the deadliest offenses in the field. Lithuania leads the tourney in ppg (85) and FG pct. (53%). As usual, Lithuania has been deadly behind the 3pt. line--45%, which also leads the tourney. It's been vintage Lithuania: crisp ball movement, exacting pick-n-roll action and multiple players drilling jumpers.
The simple fact is that Macedonia's offense is not that great as a whole. Macedonia is the worst shooting team in quarters at 37.5% from the floor and are only 30.6% from behind the arc. But Macedonia does have Bo McCalebb, who can carry his team in spite of the poor shooting around him.
Next to Tony Parker, Bo McCalebb has been the toughest guard for defenses to contain in the tourney. He can blow by any defender without a ball screen. And when in pick-n-roll he's not just a danger to dribble off the pick and turn the corner, but he's also dangerous splitting or going opposite of the screen. Can finish with either hand at the rim.
PF Pero Antic (11.3 ppg, 8.8 rpg) has been a decent second option to Bo. Antic can float out to the 3pt. line. Antic is a pop option and will occasionally run pick-n-roll himself. Antic can iso opposing PFs up and he can drive the ball (uses a ball fake well to set up his drives). Though, Antic has a tendency to chuck up some dicey shots and is currently shooting 35% overall.
Macedonia could be without starting center Todor Gechevski, who missed the Russia game, which would hurt as he's Macedonia's third best scorer.
Combo guard Vlado Ilievski can create a little bit off the dribble and hit pull-ups, but he tends to be streaky. The rest of the perimeter players don't offer very much. Center Peja Samardziski can score in the post a little (hooks & turnarounds) but won't overwhelm the opposition.
None of Lithuania's guards can physically keep up with McCalebb. so good team strategy is key. What's promising is that the Lithuanian bigs did a decent job showing hard on Parker ball screens and prevented him from turning the corner with impunity.
If Lithuania does decide to go over the top of screens with McCalebb, they have to have their bigs show hard to string him out toward the sideline. Think it's better to go underneath screens since McCalebb's jumper is subpar.
Expect to see some zone from Lithuania to make McCalebb a shooter and cut down on his penetration. Plus the rest of Macedonia's perimeter players are erratic shooters.
The keys to Macedonia neutralizing their poor shooting is that they keep their turnovers down (10.5 TOpg) and they lead the tourney in steals (9 spg). Macedonia has won the turnover battle in every game besides the Finland game. They come into the quarterfinals with a sterling -6.3 TOpg margin. They couple this a with Defensive FG pct. of 41.7%.
The Lithuanian guards do have a tendency to be careless with the ball, this is a perennial problem, and they've struggled with turnovers this year. Lithuania does not necessarily have a good history handling extended ball pressure. So this is an angle that Macedonia needs to exploit. Keep an eye on the turnover disparity.
Saras Jasikevicius (10.6 ppg, 4.8 apg, 57% overall, 53% on 3PA) has been very effective in limited minutes (18 mpg) and still runs the pick-n-roll as well as point guard in the field. He can still deliver perfect passes and he's a danger to pull up for jumpers going left or right. He already seems to have meshed well with Jonas Valanciunas to create a deadly pick-n-roll tandem. But Saras can also still get too cutesy and fling passes away.
Starting PG Mantas Kalnietis has had a solid Euro tourney as well and has shot his jumper better than he normally does. But like Saras his turnovers are little high.
Toronto Raptors lottery pick Jonas Valanciunas (10.4 ppg) has acquitted himself quite nicely in his first senior team season. Jonas has done his damage rolling or cutting to the rim, where he finishes at a high rate (71%). As mentioned above, his two-man game with Saras has been fun to watch.
Simas Jasaitis (10.4 ppg, 5 rpg) is on this team to drill catch-n-shoot jumpers and that's just what he's done this summer--60% overall, 52% on 3PA. Veteran guard Rimas Kaukenas has also shot the ball very well (12 ppg on 70%) and will also do a bit of ball-handling.
If Lithuania keep its turnovers in check, don't see Macedonia being able to hang with the home team.
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