FIBA Eurobasket play resumes on Thursday, opening with a trio of potentially explosive match-ups that are sure to make any basketball observer stand up and take note. The usual suspects are present, of course, but one underdog team is threatening to disrupt the prevailing order in European basketball.
Game 1: Finland vs. Croatia 8:00 p.mThe Finns surprised everyone by finishing second in Group D, behind only Italy. Croatia also finished second in their group, but have been very inconsistent, pulling off narrow wins against less-fancied teams and getting shellacked by Spain. Both teams want to prove that they belong in the second phase of the competition. Finland has been getting immense contributions from Petteri Koponen and Shawn Huff, who have combined for 25 points per game. Crotia has been riding the broad shoulders of Bojan Bogdanovic (17.0 ppg), who is amply supported by Krunoslav Simon and Ante Tomic, who averages 8.0 rebounds a game, a team high. Both teams rely on high-octane offense. However, the loss of Hanno Mottola for might prove to be too much for a team that does not have much depth in the frontcourt.
Game 2: Greece vs. Spain - 11:45 p.mThe second game features two teams considered among the best in the world. Spain has been impressive so far in this year's tournament, dropping only a 69-78 loss to home team Slovenia, and dominated the rest of its group en route to a 4-1 record. Greece, on the other hand, dropped two games after losing guard Vassilis Spanoulis to injury. Spanoulis has since recovered and scored 17 points in a losing effort against Finland. Despite not having Pau Gasol in their lineup, the team from the Iberian peninsula is still led by a three-headed monster composed of Rudy Fernandez, Ricky Rubio and Marc Gasol, that averages a combined 32.8 points per game, half of Spain's total production. Greece has its own version of the Big Three, with Spanoulis, Yannis Bourosis and Nikos Zisis scoring a total of 34.9 points a game. This game will likely go down the wire, but it's hard to score inside if you have a Marc Gasol standing in your way.
Game 3: Slovenia vs. Italy - 3:00 a.mSlovenia proven to be a less-than-gracious host, losing only to Croatia in the first group. On the way to a 4-1 card, they also defeated Olympic silver medalist Spain and are using their homecourt advantage to the hilt, being spurred on by raucous crowds. Italy has also been terrific in the tournament, sweeping their group and remaining the only unbeaten team. This is an example of an unstoppable force on offense (Italy) meeting an immovable object (Slovenia) as the two teams have contrasting styles of play. Italy has four players averaging more than 12 points a game, led by Marco Belinelli with 15.8 markers. In contrast, Slovenia prides itself on stingy defense, inside points, and rebounding, where they are among the tournament leaders (39.2 rebounds a game), while leaning on the three-point shooting of Domen Lorbek. If Slovenia can dictate the pace and stop the fastbreaking attack of the Italians, they have a chance at an upset; however, Italy has far too many offensive weapons at their disposal.
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