EuroBasket tips off on Saturday – and not only is there the prize of becoming basketball’s European champion at stake, but also two automatic spots up for grabs at Rio 2016 and five on top for next summer’s additional qualification tournament.
The first round is composed of four groups of six with the top four finishers moving into the knockout phases that begin with a Round of 16. And while defending champions France are deservedly the 2.75 favourites to retain their title, they won’t be short of challengers over the 15 days of the tournament.
GROUP A (Montpellier): France, Finland, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Poland, Israel, Russia
With home advantage throughout, right the way to a possible appearance in the final in Lille on 20 September, the French have every intention of a repeat. And in the opening round, they’ve been handed the softest of draws with none of their opponents likely to be strong enough to mount a challenge. Les Bleus are a defensive team and with international games generally a little less points-heavy than club contests, look for them on lines under 135 in the opening round. Their rivals are all offensively challenged with Bosnia and Israel primed for heavy defeats.
PREDICTION: 1. France 2. Finland 3. Russia 4. Poland 5. Israel 6. Bosnia
GROUP B (Berlin): Germany, Spain, Serbia, Turkey, Italy, Iceland
The Group of Death will see one viable quarter-finalist depart, with the Icelanders set to be a class below and worth at least +15 on the handicap every time, including a +16.5 in their opener with Germany. Despite an unbeaten preparation phase, I’m not sure Spain deserve to be 3.90 for the tournament, with World Cup runners-up Serbia great value at 7.00 for gold and 2.33 to win the opener between the sides. Look for Italy on total points of 160 or more with the defence-challenged Andrea Bargnani as their rim protector and a plethora of three-point shooters. And even with Dirk Nowitzki back, Germany are probably duelling out with Turkey to make it out of the first round.
PREDICTION: 1. Serbia 2. Spain 3. Italy 4. Germany 5. Turkey 6. Iceland
GROUP C (Zagreb): Croatia, Slovenia, Greece, Macedonia, Georgia, Netherlands
Let’s start with kicking Macedonia and the Netherlands out of contention, with the Dutch another seemingly destined for heavy losses. Slovenia, shorn of Goran Dragic and other veterans, will also slip down the rankings. As for Croatia and Greece, both could win the championship if they gel perfectly with the Croats taking a 100% record into the tournament. With homecourt in Round 1, they’re a solid outside bet at 12.00 to win the whole thing.
PREDICTION: 1. Croatia 2. Greece 3. Georgia 4. Slovenia 5. Macedonia 6. Netherlands
GROUP D (Riga): Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Ukraine, Belgium, Czech Republic
The 2013 runners-up Lithuania should coast this group but are the Green Machine the equal of two years ago? Leaning heavily on their 30-somethings, they may no longer be well-equipped for a durable tournament run – a trait that might see them regress in fourth quarters in the initial phase when starters are rested. Latvia and Belgium could emerge as solid sides that could even sneak into the quarters. As for Estonia, Ukraine and the Czechs, someone is going to advance by being the least-worst.
PREDICTION: 1. Lithuania 2. Latvia 3. Belgium 4. Czech Republic 5. Estonia 6. Ukraine
Best Bet: Have a punt on Croatia to conquer Europe and win the tournament at 12.00