EuroBasket 2013 Quarterfinals Preview

Back in his home country of Slovenia, Suns' point guard Goran Dragic has led Slovenia to the quartefinals of EuroBasket 2013, which begin on Wednesday. They're joined by seven other teams, which include everything from perennial powerhouses like Spain to tournament surprises like Ukraine.

Here's a look at the best of each team's talent, and how they used that talent to get this far.


Slovenia

Record: 5-3

Notable performers: Goran Dragic (15.3 ppg, 4.4 apg, 3.1 rpg), Bostjan Nachbar (9.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg), Zoran Dragic (9.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg)

Most significant win: 78-69 over Spain

Next opponent: France

How they got there: Speed, offensive rebounding (second-best in the field) and a raucous home-court advantage. The fans in green have had plenty to cheer about between the Dragic brothers’ fastbreak game, Nachbar’s one-on-one ability and the team’s overwhelming edge in the rebounding and loose balls categories. Outside shooting hasn’t been as consistent as they’d like (31.7 percent from deep), but Slovenia has ripped off enough runs and momentum swings to make them a dangerous, emotion-charged opponent.

Goran Dragic hasn’t disappointed as the marketed face of the team, putting up games of 23, 22 and 28 points against Croatia, Italy and Greece, respectively. The Suns point guard is averaging just 0.86 turnovers per game over the last seven contests.

Look for Slovenia to push the pace whenever possible, especially when both Dragic brothers are on the floor. Nachbar is a difficult matchup offensively, and the tag-team of Mirza Begic and Gasper Vidmar (35.7 mpg, 10.7 rpg, 2.4 bpg combined) has quietly been one of the best one-two punches of interior defense in the tournament. Slovenia’s shooting (40.2 percent as a team, worst of the advancing teams) hasn't been at its respective best, but the home team’s turnover numbers (10.5 per game) lead the survivors.

Previous tournament results: EuroBasket 2011 (7th), 2010 World Championships (8th), EuroBasket 2011 (7th), EuroBasket 2009 (4th)


France

Record: 5-3

Notable performers: Tony Parker (17.3 ppg, 3.9 apg, 53.2 FG%), Nicolas Batum (11.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.1 bpg), Alexis Ajinca (10.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.5 bpg)

Most significant win: 77-71 over Ukraine

Next opponent: Slovenia

How they got there: Offensive efficiency. France is shooting a scalding 49.1 percent from the field as a team, with five of their top eight scorers eclipsing the 50 percent mark.

Parker is the engine that makes this team go, but there’s a lot of NBA-quality parts built around him. Batum, Ajinca and Boris Diaw give France multiple and versatile scoring options.

Continued efficiency and a deadly passing game had France pegged as one of the favorites, though they have to be less than pleased with drawing the surprising host team Slovenia this early in the elimination rounds. Look for France to use offensive execution in an attempt to take the crowd out of the game early.

Previous tournament results: 2012 Olympics (6th), 2011 EuroBasket (2nd), 2010 World Championships (13th), 2009 EuroBasket (5th)


Spain

Record: 5-3

Notable performers: Marc Gasol (13.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 52.1 FG%), Rudy Fernandez (11.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.3 spg), José Calderon (9.4 ppg, 3.0 apg, 48.6 3FG%)

Most significant win: 68-40 over Croatia

Next opponent: Serbia

How they got there: Star power and experience. Spain has been an international powerhouse for a decade, one of the reasons they’re still the most respected team in the field even without Pau Gasol (injury).

Big names aside, Spain’s strength lies in its passing game, a big reason they lead the field in assists. Marc Gasol picks defenses apart from the high post, and his teammates are more than willing to make the extra pass for an even better shot. They're just as dangerous on the other end, yielding the fewest points per game thanks to Gasol on the inside and quick hands and reaction time on the perimeter.

Serbia’s formidable frontcourt could make things more difficult than usual for Gasol, but Spain’s guard rotation (Ricky Rubio, anyone?) is almost unmatched in terms of depth and talent.

Previous tournament results: 2012 Olympics (2nd), 2011 EuroBasket (1st), 2010 World Championships (6th), 2009 EuroBasket (1st)


Serbia

Record: 5-3

Notable performers: Nenad Krstic (16.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.0 apg), Nemanja Bjelica (11.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.9 apg), Bogdan Bogdanovic (10.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.3 apg, 47.1 3FG%)

Most significant win: 77-65 over France

Next opponent: Spain

How they got there: Gritty, tough play. Between Krstic, Bjelica and guard Stefan Markovic (4.5 rpg, 1.2 spg), Serbia boasts players at multiple positions who are willing throw their opponents off balance.

Krstic, a former standout with the then-New Jersey Nets, has been a revelation in international play. His ability to post up or step out from mid-range makes him a constant threat, which has put less pressure on their relatively thin backcourt to create shots for themselves.

The Serbian big man and his team will face their stiffest test yet in Marc Gasol and Spain, though they have a team that is seemingly built to disrupt free-flowing offenses. If Serbia advances, it will be because their big men stood up to Gasol and their guards 1) took care of the ball and 2) hit open shots.

Previous tournament results: 2011 EuroBasket (8th), 2010 World Championships (4th), 2009 EuroBasket (2nd)


Ukraine

Record: 5-3

Notable performers: Sergii Gladyr (13.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.8 apg), Eugene Jeter (12.3 ppg, 3.9 apg, 43.6 3FG%), Viacheslav Kravtsov (6.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 1.4 bpg)

Most significant win: 87-68

Next opponent: Croatia

How they got there: Who knows? They’re not in the top 10 in any major statistical category. They don’t have anyone in the tournament’s top 20 in scoring or rebounding, and Eugene “Pooh” Jeter is 13th in assists.

Glass half-empty: they drew an easy group pool that included Great Britain, Belgium, Israel and Germany (sans Dirk Nowitzki). Glass half-full: They’re riding a feel-good wave of momentum behind head coach Mike Fratello and willing themselves to wins in unconventional fashion.

Gladyr is the real deal, and Suns’ big man “Slava” Kravtsov has provided a huge lift defensively off the bench. Jeter, a naturalized citizen, has given the team a big-game swagger it sorely needed.

The one number that makes this team legit from a stats point of view? Three-point percentage. Their 39.2 percent clip from deep is better than even Spain, and is by far the best of the remaining eight teams.

Previous tournament results: 2011 EuroBasket (17th), 2005 EuroBasket (16th), 2003 EuroBasket (14th)


Croatia

Record: 7-1

Notable performers: Bojan Bogdanovic (17.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg), Ante Tomic (9.4 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 2.4 apg), Krunoslav Simon (8.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 40 3PG%)

Most significant win: 76-74 in OT over Slovenia

Next opponent: Ukraine

How they got there: A steady, unrelenting diet of rebounds. Croatia leads the field in that category and it isn’t even close (Slovenia trails them by 3.3 boards per contest). Tomic sets the tone on the glass, but he’s far from alone. Four other teammates average at least four boards per game.

Rebounding often leads to open three-pointers, the last thing opponents want to give up to the likes of Simon, Damjan Rudez (50 percent) and Dario Saric (50 percent). Aside from regular heavyweights like Spain and France, Croatia might have the most consistent inside-outside game in the field.

Ukraine will hope to fight fire with fire on both fronts, but Croatia looked a lot more convincing in bigger wins over better opponents.

Previous tournament results: 2011 EuroBasket (11th), 2010 World Championships (14th), 2009 EuroBasket (6th)


Lithuania

Record: 6-2

Notable performers: Mantas Kalnietis (9.9 ppg, 5.5 apg, 4.8 rpg), Jonas Valanciunas (7.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.0 bpg), Linus Kleiza (9.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg)

Most significant win: 76-62 over France

Next opponent: Italy

How they got there: Experience combined with an infusion of youth and muscle on the frontline. Valanciunas (Raptors) and Donatas Motiejunas (Rockets) are NBA quality big men who help complement veteran perimeter players Kalnietis and Kleiza.

Defense has been Lithuania’s calling card in EuroBasket 2013. They’re second in points allowed, second in opponent field goal percentage and third in rebounding. It’s a startling yang to the offensive yin of quarterfinalists like France, Spain and Italy.

Lithuania has taken a step back from its medal-heavy era of the 1990s and early 2000s, but their black-and-blue style of basketball could yield a more pleasantly colored medal by the time this tournament is over.

Previous tournament results: 2012 Olympics (8th), 2011 EuroBasket (5th), 2010 World Championships (3rd), 2009 EuroBasket (11th)


Italy

Record: 5-3

Notable performers: Alessandro Gentile (14.6 ppg, 50 FG%, 45.5 3FG%), Marco Belinelli (14.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.4 apg), Luigi Datome (14.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 41.7 3FG%)

Most significant win: 86-81 over Spain

Next opponent: Lithuania

How they got there: Offensive fluidity. Italy’s half-court sets and passing within those sets is beautiful to watch – except for opponents watching the points that come as a result. When the Italians score, they do it big.

The result? 77.8 points per game (4th) on 46.6 percent shooting (3rd) and a sizzling 40 percent from deep (2nd).

Belinelli is the most recognized marksman on the team, but EuroBasket 2013 has been Gentile’s coming-out party. His 25 points in the win over Spain came on just 11 shots and a perfect 11-for-11 showing at the free throw line.

Italy’s shooting stroke will determine its fate, but keep on eye on big man Marco Cusin (5.6 rpg, 1.8 bpg). If he can hold his own against Lithuania’s bruising front line, Italy will stand more than a shooter’s chance.

Previous tournament results: 2011 EuroBasket (20th), 2007 EuroBasket (9th), 2006 World Championships (9th)