After a dozen games on Monday, half of the teams that came to Lithuania for EuroBasket — an Olympics qualifying tournament — have been sent home.
Now things get serious, as virtually all of the top teams are in one supergroup — a true group of death that will mean some very good teams will not advance even to next summer’s pre-Olympic qualifying tournament, let alone the games themselves.
Let’s look at Monday’s results through the lens of the new groups (which start play Wednesday). So you understand the system, there were four groups of six to start the tournament (24 teams) and the top three of each group advanced to the second round (12 teams). We have two groups of six. A team’s record against the other teams in the group that advanced remains, and each team plays the three new teams in the second group. Four teams will advance from each group to the elimination round. Just stick with me, it will make more sense.
Group E (the supergroup)
France (2-0): They got a big 97-96 overtime win over Serbia Monday on the last day of the first round, keeping them undefeated heading into the second round. Tony Parker had 24, including the game winning free throws in an interesting way. Serbia hit a three to 24 seconds to go to take a 96-95 lead. But rather than do something crazy like play good defense, Serbia intentionally fouls Parker so that they can have the last shot. Parker hits both free throws (giving you the final score) but it almost worked as Serbia had a wide-open look to win it and just clanked it.
Serbia (1-1): Read the description of the game with France above, then tell me if a team that does not trust its defense is likely to advance. They will have to play better over the next week.
Spain (1-1): They lost to a desperate Turkey team on Monday (Turkey needed to win to have any shot to advance, and still needed Luol Deng and Great Britain to win and provide some help). But there was no Pau Gasol, out with a sprained ankle, and it was a reminder that with the elder Gasol Spain is a contender, without him they are very beatable. Gasol is day-to-day.
Turkey (1-1): On paper as talented as Spain (or nearly), but they never play up to that potential. They are led by Hedo Turkoglu, enough said.
Lithuania (0-2): FIBA’s fifth ranked team in the world coming into this tournament, but they are going to have to step it up to qualify for the Olympics.
Germany (0-2): They picked up an 81-80 win over Latvia on Monday and they may have the best front line in EuroBasket with Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman. But they need better play from the guards and wings to climb out of this hole.
Russia (2-0): The team almost certain to advance out of this group with the top seed, they have gotten great play from Andrei Kirilenko (well, except on Sunday).
Macedonia (2-0): This is the most surprising team to advance, but they have won three straight including 75-63 over Bosnia Herzegovia on Monday.
Slovenia (1-1): Their loss came by just one point to Russia on Sunday. It’s a sign this is a team that (in this group anyway) has a good shot to advance and cause problems for others.
Greece (1-1): Considering they are in a transition with the program (older stars pulling away and making room for young stars), this was a good job to advance. They beat Montenegro 71-55 on Monday Huge game against Serbia Thursday.
Georgia 0-2: Led by Zaza Pachulia, they will need some magic to get out of this hole. They face Macedonia on Thursday.
Finland 0-2: This is maybe the most unexpected find, just getting here was a victory. Finland should savor it.