The 2015 European Basketball Championships for national teams just concluded the eight games of the Round of 16, called the eighth-finals in Europe. There were no surprise eliminations in the opening round, which saw the 24 teams spread out into four groups of six teams each, with the top four in each group advancing to the Round of 16. With that, they had separated the men from the boys. Now, it’s men vs. men. Here are the quarter-final match-ups.
Spain vs. Greece. Spain’s ‘Rojos’ have struggled, so far, under coach Sergio Scariolo, with whom they’ve won two Europeans and an Olympic silver. But they have speed, depth, tradition and the formidable Pau Gasol, Rudy Fernandez and Sergio Llull. Greece is undefeated (5-0 in the first round), so far, under coach Fotis Katsikaris. They may be the most complete and versatile team in the tournament, with multi-dimensional players and certified killers like Vassilis Spanoulis and Georgios Printezis.
France vs. Latvia. Les Bleus of coach Vincent Collet are heavily favored here, with the best defense in the tournament, great depth, great athleticism, and are loaded with NBA players like Tony Parker, Nicolas Batum, Boris Diaw and several other stars. Latvia, under coach Ainars Bagatskis, surprised a few people with their upset over favored Slovenia in the eighth-finals but they just simply do not have enough talent or depth or experience to cope with France’s suffocating defensive pressure.
Serbia vs. Czech Republic. Coach Aleksandr Djordjevic’s Serbia is a force, rolling over everyone, undefeated, so far, and playing beautiful, spectacular basketball. They were 2nd in the Worlds, to the USA, last year. They are favored to win this one. The Czech Republic, under coach Ronen Ginzburg, shocked many with their 80-59 blowout of Croatia in the eighth-finals. Are they hitting their stride just now? Perhaps, but it won’t be enough against Serbia’s ‘perfect storm.’
Lithuania vs. Italy. Lithuania’s coach Jonas Kazlauskas’s ‘Green Machine’ has not come together, as yet, as their 85-81 comeback win vs. Georgia in the eight-finals shows. But they have Mr. Clutch with them, match-winner Jonas Maciulis. Coach Simone Pianigiani’s ‘Azzurri’ destroyed Israel, 82-52, in the eighth-final. Are they peaking at the right time? Well, Danilo Gallinari, Marco Belinelli and Alessandro Gentile certainly are peaking. This game, like Spain-Greece, is a toss-up.