The first two rounds of EuroBasket 2009 are in the books, and we're (finally) down to the final eight, and the elimination phase. These tournaments are always interesting, and here's what caught my eye going into the quarterfinals.
France was one of the last teams to qualify for EuroBasket 2009; Spain is the 2006 World Champion, the 2008 Beijing Olympic silver medal team, and was the prohibitive favorite going into this tournament. France surprisingly is the only undefeated team in the tournament, and their reward based on the seedings is.... a quarterfinal match with Spain! Ouch. Spain struggled enough early in the tournament, losing two of their first four games, that they finished with the fourth and final spot in Group F. But they've seemed to right the ship recently, having won two straight in fairly convincing fashion. So it's undefeated, number 1 seed France versus the 4 seed Spain - and you have to call Spain the favorites. This game features the two most NBA-centric teams in the tournament - France's roster features five players with NBA experience including NBA all star Tony Parker, while Spain includes six NBA players, not to mention two more 2009 first round picks, led of course by NBA all star Pau Gasol.
When Greece played France on Tuesday it was for the top spot in the group. France won that game on a last second turnaround jumper by Nando De Colo, but we see what their reward is. Greece dropped down to third in Group E, and so faces the second place team in Group F. That team turns out to be Turkey, which was undefeated until Wednesday's action. So Greece also ends up with a tough opponent in the quarterfinals, but in theory all of the opponents should be pretty good at this point. Hedo Turkoglu is the familar name on the Turkish team - Mehmut Okur isn't playing, and few NBA fans are familiar with Ersan Ilyasova from his Milwaukee days. I haven't seen any of Turkey's games so far, but based on the box scores, Hedo is struggling with his shot - he's shooting 31% in the tournament.
By the way, in the game against France, MBFGC scored 12 points in 12 minutes, shooting 4 for 4 from the field and 4 for 6 from the line. France couldn't stop him. Unfortunately, he managed to stop himself by picking up 5 fouls in those 12 minutes. Sofo is shooting over 62% and continues to be easily the best per minute scorer in the tournament. It will be really interesting to see how they use him at Olympiakos this season - he's proving in Poland that he needs to be on the floor.
The other two quarterfinal matches are Russia versus Serbia and Croatia versus Slovenia. Maybe it's just me, but I am fascinated by the fact that two decades ago, Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia (not to mention FYROM and Bosnia and Kosovo and Montenegro) were all part of Yugoslavia. In 1990 I was in Seattle to witness as Toni Kukoc and Vlade Divac destroyed a US team made up of college all stars in one of the events that precipitated the creation of the first Dream Team. The irony was that just as the US was finally entering its best team in an international competition, the rest of the field was significantly weakened by the geo-political events that resulted in the dissolution both of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. I think that one consequence was that we came to believe that the NBA stars were completely invincible, as Michael,and Larry et al coasted through a field that frankly was in disarray. Of course, the notion of invicibility was disproved a mere decade later in Indianapolis.
At any rate, imagine how good a combined Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia would be. As it is, they form 3/8ths of the EuroBasket quarterfinal field.
Germany was eliminated on Tuesday, as they lost to Croatia. Throughout the tournament, Germany was more competitive than most people thought they'd be without Dirk Nowitzki or Chris Kaman, and with a trip to the quarterfinal round on the line, they came up two points shy against Croatia. So Germany will need to receive / buy one of the four Wild Card bids to Turkey next year if Chris Kaman is to fulfill his lifelong dream of representing his (grandfather's) country in the World Championships.
There are two games on Thursday: Russia-Serbia followed by France-Spain. On Friday, it's Turkey-Greece followed by Slovenia-Croatia. The semi-finals are Saturday, and the Finals are Sunday. Remember, there are two big games on Sunday - the final will determine the European champion, but the match for seventh and eighth place will determine the last automatic bid to the 2010 Worlds.