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. For one of the teams, they are also playing for their home crowd and are seeking to return to the FIBA World Cup for the third straight time.
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: Slovenia vs. France
Slovenia is a proud host and have relished the opportunity to play in front of their hometown crowd. Even though they were only third in Group C, the team won two games out of three in the second round, qualifying them for the quarterfinals. The Slovenians are banking on the guard duo of brothers Goran and Zoran Dragic who have been playing fluid basketball so far in the tournament. Dragic, in particular, has elevated his play since being named the Phoenix Suns' starting point guard. They also have a couple of solid inside defenders in Bostjan Nachbar and Mirza Begic, who led Europe in shot blocks in the 2011 version of the tournament. Slovenia also want to let backup point guard Jaka Lakovic, who has experienced a career renaissance since going to Turkish club Galatasaray, have a third shot at the World Cup.
France brings a lot of star quality to Eurobasket 2013 as the roster boasts four current NBA players. Their performance in the second round did not show their talent level, though, as they lost two games to Lithuania and Serbia and won only once (against Latvia). While the French are a bit shorter than Slovenia, they more than make up for it with speed as San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker enjoys playing in transition. Parker is backstopped by Spurs teammate Nando de Colo and LA Clipper Nicolas Batum. Boris Diaw provides stability in the paint, while young center Joffrey Lauvergne has held his own against taller and bulkier big men. The French would like nothing more than to improve on their 13th-place finish at the previous World Cup; their talent level clearly shows that it has the capability as they placed in the 2012 London Olympics.
Both teams are blessed with great backcourts and gifted big men. Tony Parker might be the difference in this matchup, as he is clearly more court-savvy and experienced than his Slovenian counterpart Goran Dragic. The Lauvergne-Begic battles in the paint will surely be interesting to watch, but the upper hand should go to Slovenia. The key to this game would be dictating the tempo. If Slovenia can get enough offensive rebounds to stall France's explosive running game, they might just go on to the next stage. But France is far too talented individually to be taken for granted. In a close fight, France will prevail by five points at the least.