The good news for Clipper fans is that MBFGC has gotten increased minutes every game of the tournament so far. In five games to date, he's logged 14, 14, 15, 20 and 23 minutes (Eurobasket games are 40 minutes long, so he was on the floor for the majority of their last game). The bad news, particularly if you're attaching any allegiance to Team Hellas, is that Greece suffered their first defeat of the tournament on Sunday, losing to Russia 68-65, and although Sofo led the team in scoring, he was a mere 4 for 12, which is an absolute shooting nightmare for him, since he was around 75% going into the game. He remains a scoring machine - they don't have a points per 36 stat available anywhere that I can find, but he would certainly seem to be leading the entire tournament in that category from what I can tell. At 24.3 points per 36, he's scoring at a higher clip than teammate Vassilis Spanoulis (19.1), Tony Parker (21.8), Rudy Fernandez (17.6), Pau Gasol (21.3), Hedo Turkoglu (14.8), Ersan Ilyasova (23.8), Nenad Krstic (20.7), or anyone else I can think to check on. He's also been to the line 34 times in the last 4 games - if he were making more than 53% of his free throws, he might be averaging 30 points per 36.
For those of you rooting for Greece, the loss to Russia doesn't much matter at the end of the day. Group E would have come down to tomorrow's showdown between Greece and France regardless of yesterday's outcome. The basics remain more or less the same - if Greece beats France, they win Group E; if they lose, they likely finish second (although the loss to Russia did create the possibility that they could finish third). No matter what happens, Greece is already through to the elimination round. Yes, in theory it would be nice to avoid Spain in the quarterfinals, but the way the Spaniards are playing they could finish fourth in Group F or even fail to advance, so what are you going to do? (Spain faces a decent Polish team, playing with home court advantage, on Wednesday in a game where it is likely that the winner will advance and the loser will not. Absolutely no one saw that coming.)
As it happens, there are really only two outcomes that matter in this tournament: you either win it in which case you're delirious, or you finish in the top seven, in which case you're still happy because it qualifies you for the World Championships next year. So from second place to seventh place, there's not much difference. It all sets up an interesting final day of the competition on Sunday. There's the championship game, which is huge. Then there are games for third place and fifth place, which are completely meaningless, as both teams are already qualified for the Worlds. And finally, there's the seventh-eighth game, which is almost as big as the championship. (If Turkey, which is undefeated so far and already qualified for the elimination phase, somehow stumbles and finds themselves in that seven-eight game, then it too will become meaningless. Turkey is hosting the 2010 World Championships, and as such qualifies automatically. If they lose two straight in the elimination round and have to play in the seven-eight game, their opponent will be out of the Worlds win or lose. That would suck for them.)
So given the basic structure, the first order of business is just to advance. Greece has to win three straight in the elimination round against three presumably quality opponents to win the championship, so it doesn't matter a lot whether you advance as the first place team, the second place team or the third place team from the group. Yes, you want to avoid a red-hot Turkish team, but you're going to have to beat them eventually to win the crown.
I guess the Kaman connection (or maybe the fact that I used to live in Germany) has given me a slightly elevated level of interest in Team Deutschland. Kaman and Dirk Nowitzki left the team in the lurch a bit by not playing in Poland (to the relief of MDsr and Mark Cuban). One assumes they would have easily finished in the top seven with their only NBA players - but without them, they are in serious jeopardy of missing the cut. After a loss to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM, yuck) on Sunday, they are facing a must win game tomorrow against Croatia. The winner will likely advance to the final eight, the loser will definitely be done.
FIBA still holds 4 wild card bids for the Worlds, and if Nowitzki commits, one assumes that Germany would get one of them. After all, it's in FIBA's interest to get as many major international stars into the tournament as possible, and it surely doesn't hurt that there's a very large Turkish population living in Germany. Then again, traditional powers Croatia and Lithuania and Italy and possibly even Spain may also be on the bubble, the Domincan team featuring Al Horford and Charlie Villanueva should get some consideration after barely missing qualification in the Americas tournament, and there could be some sentiment to let Great Britain in with the 2012 Olympics on the horizon in London. Suffice it to say, FIBA's going to be getting a lot of phone calls from National Federations pleading for one of those precious at-large bids. Still, you'd expect Germany to get their golden ticket if Dirk agrees to play.
I mentioned after watching Germany play Greece that I was impressed with some of the youngsters on Team Deutschland. I later came across an article on the EuroBasket site discussing that very subject. It turns out that Robin Benzing had a career game against Greece, scoring 16 of his 30 total points in the tournament. But he's only 20, and he looked like a big time player in the one game I watched, so now I'm a fan. Another 20 year old, Elias Harris, looks to be a major athlete and a potentially solid wing. It turns out we'll get plenty of chances to watch him on ESPN the next few years, as he'll be playing for the Zags. Overall, the German team in Poland features 5 players 21 or younger - if Dirk is still at the top of his game for the 2012 Olympics (a big if, as he'll be 34), and die kinder continue to develop, Coach Bauermann could surround the Diggler with some serious talent for the first time ever in a major international competition.
I'm actually fascinated by what I believe is a very traceable phenomenon. Take the recent success of Spanish basketball. Pau Gasol, JC Navarro and Raul Lopez are 29, Jose Calderon is 27, Rudy Fernandez and Marc Gasol are 24, Sergio Rodriguez is 23. These guys ranged in age from 12 to 6 when Michael and and Larry and the gang came to Barcelona in 1992. Something has to happen for the best athletes in a country (especially the ones that aren't seven feet tall) to reach down and pick up the ball with their hands, rather than constantly kicking it around with their feet. For the Spanish kids, it was the Dream Team and the Barcelona Olympics. For the German kids, it was Dirk Nowitzki blowing up in the NBA. Think about it - five kids who are 20 or 21 on the German National team. They were 9 and 10, no doubt obsessed with soccer, 11 years ago when Dirk was drafted by the Mavericks. Coincidence? No way. I expect that a decade after the Beijing Olympics, some time around 2018, China will feature a group of NBA level backcourt players.