In spite of a lengthy list of NBA absentees, a slot in the ‘Group of Death’,no captain fantastic and Rakocevic opting out, Serbia have enough in their locker to survive. With a core of European high fliers and an experienced coach driving them, they are slowly but surely heading in the right direction again. Passing the Group stages would signal success. The masterplan may have the 2012 Olympic Games in London as its destination in the proposed four year reign of Ivkovic, but Eurobasket 2009 is an important first major landmark for this young team.
The real issue for Ivkovic and his players is that they have been drawn in the toughest pool and one nicknamed the ‘Group of Death.’ While reigning World Champions Spain will be expected to progress, there seems little to choose between perennial challengers Slovenia and Great Britain.
Players like Velickovic, the man who will lead the Real Madrid revolution under Ettore Messina and the likes of Perovic back onto the roster alongside Krstic and with players such as Tepic and Tripkovic full of confidence after big summer moves from Belgrade to Athens, Serbia do have big weapons capable of winning games. However simply getting out of the group would be an achievement.
Prediction: 4-7 place
This team is very young but so much talented that we should not underachieve them. They working great in defense, has some offensive problems but comparing to other teams they have less fatigue factor playing against them because of their youth bodies. They should be capable of winning the key game against England and can beat Slovenia for sure. If they will find a way to win 3 games (i.e. win against Poland, Slovenia and Turkey/Lithuania) they can see theirselves in quarterfinals where all is possible for them. But in the long term I don’t see them in the medals because youth teams usually mix good games vs bad games and it will pretty hard for this young team to play 3 consecutive great games in playoffs round.
This year, Nesterovic and Sani Becirovic won’t participate in EuroBasket 2009, but still the national team shows a great potential. The new coach Jure Zdovc, who has replaced Ales Pipan, announced a selection composed of young talents like Goran Dragic, Jaka Klobucar or Emir Preldzic supervised by experienced leaders like Jaka Lakovic, Goran Jagodnik or Captain Matjaz Smodis. Almost all the players play or have played in EuroLeague.The aura of the Slovenian legend Jure Zdovc could finally lead the team to success. To do so, the squad will have to count on its two major strengths which are its size and its shooting ability. Indeed Slovenia will be one of the biggest teams in Poland. Coach Zdovc can count on a half dozen players over 2.05! Plus almost all these big men have soft hands and can shoot the ball from long-range. It’s especially the case of Uros Slokar and Erazem Lorbek who are lethal behind the three-point line.
But unfortunately Slovenia’s preparation for Eurobasket campaign was full of injuries. M.Smodis missed almost all friendlies, B.Udrih got injured in last game and will miss Eurobasket’09 while Sasha Vujanic has not recovered from injury and was cut from the roster.
Prediction: 6-9 place
2 months ago I would bet on Slovenia to get a medal here but now it looks completely different. They still do have enough power to make a suprise here but at the same time they too much veterans who can’t fire up. It will be important for Slovenia to find offensive balance during the group stages to be a real strength in playoffs round. So far their offense did not look impressive. Defense is working well for them and it should help them to enter 2nd group stage but there they will need to work hard to get a win over Turkey and Lithuania. Everything is possible for Slovenia here including medals round but more fair story is their fight for WC-2010 place. The bad scenario also could happen if they lose to Serbia in first round.
With Pau Gasol leading the team once more, Spain will look in Poland for its first ever EuroBasket gold. The current World Champions and Olympic silver medalists have been on the European podium four times in the last five championships, but never on the top. au Gasol is up to the challenge and most stars have followed his path, so the reds will arrive to Poland with an astonishing lineup. Next to the Lakers genius will be fellow NBA players Rudy Fernandez and Marc Gasol, Euroleague superstars Juan Carlos Navarro, Felipe Reyes and Jorge Garbajosa and the new prodigy, Ricky Rubio, aged 18 but expected to start after a promising debut at the Olympics. Carlos Cabezas, Alex Mumbru, Berni Rodriguez, Raul Lopez and Victor Claver, all proven good in club and National team competitions, join them in a very deep and talented roster.
But Spain will have to overcome two key absences: Jose Manuel Calderon and Carlos Jimenez, both starters in the last championships, will rest this summer. Calderon, a world class playmaker who shines in the NBA with the Toronto Raptors, will sit down because of several injuries, while veteran forward Carlos Jimenez announced his retirement from the national team the same day Spain went up to the Olympic podium at Beijing.
Prediction: 1-2 place
European analog of Dream Team. With no doubts Spain is a best team in Europe in may aspects. Spain is absolutely best team on the continent and it is impossible to imagine medals round with them. But there is a possibility of losing only one game in playoffs round. Spain is a kind of a team which is very difficult to beat by other opponent because they don’t have weak places, but at the same time Spain can lose a game to theirselves like this already happened at several Eurobasket campaigns.. Just look at history of Eurobasket campaigns and how impressive Spain was before playoff round and lost in every Eurobasket campaign so far. Here we have at least 2-3 teams who can give a fight on good day: Croatia, France and Lithuania. Let’s see how they will perform but I would not bet on Spain at 1.55.
Great Britain are entering virgin territory after their spectacular rise to prominence from Division B under the watchful eye of the wily Chris Finch. Once touted as dark horses with their expected NBA talent, the crushing double whammy of losing the talismanic Luol Deng to injury and Ben Gordon failing to commit means a fundamental shift in expectation. From confidence of emerging from the toughest group, they will now be left merely treading water and hoping to stay competitive in their three group game.
Prediction: 14-16 place
Unfortunately the seed for Great Britain was not lucky. Slovenia, Serbia and Spain are simply too good team to fight for a win. Maybe brits would not be so bad as many expects but it will be not enough to get out of the the group. In the battle for 13-16 this team is capable of winning against teams like Germany/Russia, Bulgaria/Poland or Israel. So the 14th place would be a suprise for me and if have account at Ladbrokes it is worth to try Great Britain to win 1 game @ 3.50.