September 18 and 19 should prove to be exciting, as only the strongest teams were able to make it to the knock-out quarterfinals to be played in Ljubljana. At stake in the quarterfinals are slots in the semifinals and tickets to the 2014 FIBA World Cup World Cup in Spain. One team is trying to reprise their FIBA World Cup appearance three years past, while the other is trying to qualify for the first time.
Eugene "Pooh" Jeter is expected to lead the Ukrainian charge in Eurobasket 2013.
As the quarterfinals start on Wednesday, individual matchups and team cohesion start to come to the fore. In the second part of the four-part series on the quarterfinals, we will look at two teams on a collision course to the top of European basketball.
Game 2: Croatia vs. Ukraine
Croatia has had a proud history at the world level; they placed second to the USA Dream Team in Barcelona and have made the Olympics twice thereafter. However, since 1997, they have not made it past the Eurobasket quarterfinal round; the best finish for the Croatians has been 6th in 2007 and 2009. This year, they are one of the teams favoured to make the semifinals and have played like favourites so far. They demolished Greece Italy, and Finland in the second group stage to sit on top of the field with a 4-1 record. It is good to note that the current team has no active NBA players. They continue to rely heavily on their top-heavy roster, featuring eight players standing 6'8" and taller, including would-be Brooklyn Net Bojan Bogdanovic. While Bogdanovic was kicked out of the national team in 2012 for disciplinary reasons, he has since gotten back into coach Jasmin Repesa's good graces and has been the leader of the Croatian team in 2013's Eurobasket.
Ukraine has been among the surprises of the 2013 tournament. Head coach Mike Fratello was able to build a cohesive unit that can play competitively with anyone. However, the Ukrainians are notorious for being inconsistent. While they defeated Serbia in the second round, they also lost to both Latvia and Lithuania, the former by a whopping 34 points. Ukraine has a very young team, with no one over 29 years old, and do not give up much height to their opponents, with two centers standing 7'0" and 7'2". The latter, Viacheslav Kravtsov, is a backup center for the NBA's Phoenix Suns where he averaged 3.1 points off the bench. The team is run efficiently by naturalized American point guard Eugene "Pooh" Jeter III, a former Sacramento King with stints in Ukraine, Spain, Israel and China. They are aiming for no less than a podium finish after a string of disappointing finishes in the tournament, and the team is just coming together.
History favours the more consistent team, and Croatia is the most consistent team in the tournament so far. Croatia is also bigger and more experienced across the board. Ukraine, though, can make it an interesting match if they manage to control their turnovers and clog the inside passing lanes. In the end, Croatia will win by a mile.
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