VILNIUS, LITHUANIA - SEPTEMBER 11: Boris Diaw of France defends against Pau Gasol of Spain during the EuroBasket 2011 second round group E match between France and Spain at Siemens Arena on September 11, 2011 in Vilnius, Lithuania. (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Today was the last day of the second round at EuroBasket 2011 with Group F wrapping up. Slovenia won the showdown with Finland for the fourth and final spot in the quarter finals, sending the Finns home after a surprising successful time down the Baltic coast in Lithuania. Meanwhile, Russia beat F.Y.R Macedonia (MKD - I'm not typing that mess every time) on a last second Sergey Monya jumper to earn first place in the group. It's not much of a surprise that Russia won the group - that MKD came within a couple seconds of doing so is a significant surprise. In the third match of the day, Greece beat Georgia in a game that had no bearing on the group standings - Greece was in third place going into the day, and that's where they are now.
It sets up quarter final pairings on Wednesday and Thursday as follows.
- the first place team from Group E (E1) Spain plays the fourth place team from Group F (F4) Slovenia
- F2 MKD plays E3 Lithuania
- E2 France plays F3 Greece;
- F1 Russia plays E4 Serbia.
Winners from the Wednesday games play each other in one semifinal while winners of the Thursday games meet in the other semifinal. Both semis will take place on Friday. The finals will be on Sunday. Bear in mind that since this tournament is also used to determine the two teams that will advance to the Olympics and the four teams that get spots in the last chance Olympic qualifying tournament next summer, losers will be playing each other all along the way as well, until positions 1 through 8 are determined. The intensity on the losers side of the bracket will be almost as high as the teams are fighting to keep a shot at an Olympic bid alive.
We've suspected all along that the Group E side of the tournament was much stronger, and that's still the way it looks on paper. This knockout stage may determine it once and for all. Did Russia struggle to beat F.Y.R. Macedonia today because Russia's just not that good? Or is MKD (the 47th ranked team in the world at the start of the tournament) just a lot better than anyone suspected? Looking at those quarter final matchups, it sure looks like Group E is the real deal. It's not difficult to imagine Serbia (the fourth place team from E) beating Russia (the last undefeated team in the tournament, first place from F), but at the same time it would be a major upset for Slovenia to beat Spain. In the 2-3 matchups, I'd pick the Group E team in each case - Lithuania with a home crowd has got to be considered a favorite against an overachieving MKD, and France has yet to lose with Tony Parker in the lineup, while Greece is a nice side, but is playing without several of it's national team mainstays.