EuroBasket tips off on Wednesday in Slovenia and, with a host of basketballing goliaths from the NBA and elsewhere missing, there is potential for surprises over the next 18 days on the road to Ljubljana.
Spain, who are going for a hat-trick of titles, start as favourites after compiling the only undefeated record in the build-up to the championships. But, led by 2011 runners-up France, there are a host of sides ready to bring an end to their long reign.
SPAIN (2.75 to win the title)
Even without NBA All Star Pau Gasol and former Euroleague MVP Juan Carlos Navarro, the Spanish have barely skipped a beat since lifting silver at the 2012 Olympic Games. They’ve got huge depth in their backcourt, led by Minnesota Timberwolves’ Ricky Rubio (pictured) and Dallas Mavericks’ Jose Calderon, as well as the potential for the tournament’s most explosive offense. They also have Los Angeles Lakers’ Marc Gasol in his prime. If he can stay out of foul trouble, they will be very hard to stop.
Formerly favourites, the French have been hit hard by absentees among their NBA contingent with the loss of Chicago Bulls’ Joakim Noah and Minnesota Timberwolves’ Ronny Turiaf hurting their chances. They do, however, still have San Antonio Spurs star Tony Parker and a strong supporting cast. The great unknown is how some of their less inexperienced newcomers will cope with the scrutiny and pressure. In the past, Les Bleus have shown an ability to achieve defeat in the face of victory. They’ve a lot to prove.
The champions of 2005, Greece have gone 8-2 in the build-up and coped admirably with the absence of Memphis Grizzlies pair Nick Calathes and Kostas Koufos. In their favour is a core group drawn from 2013 Euroleague champions Olympiacos, headed by the incomparable Vasilis Spanoulis. With the inside pair of Antonis Fotsis and Ioannis Bourousis proving formidable, the Greeks have the ability to lift the title if they retain their focus.
My dark horse for EuroBasket. Following his regulation to a back-up with the Houston Rockets, Omer Asik (pictured) has a bigger reason than anyone to prove his worth. And the Turks, who were world championship finalists just three years ago, can give him the support to complete his mission. Add to that the experience of Orlando Magic’s Hedo Turkoglu and the scoring punch of Milwaukee Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova, and they look a great outside bet at 12.00 to attain a 1-2 placing.
Spain’s Marc Gasol is the MVP favourite at 4.00 and if the champions pull off a successful defence, he is sure to be among their leading lights. Same with France’s Tony Parker (pictured), who’s priced at 7.00 for the award – they can’t win unless he steps up – while it’s a similar tale for Vasilis Spanoulis of Greece who is also priced at 7.00. The only factor which might count against Gasol is that he is likely to have his minutes regulated in a bid to keep him on the floor. So far, that’s a policy that’s worked and he looks ready to challenge Parker as Europe’s best.
With the classification play-offs at the end featuring the top eight, and with the possible reward of spots at the 2014 World Cup, there will be plenty of incentive for offensive weapons to continue to go for their points. And there are a few intriguing battles to see who will be the top scorer on each team.
Parker is 1.60 to lead France with Nicolas Batum at 2.75. Take Parker, who will likely be the highest scorer in the tournament. There’s better value on going with Rudy Fernandez to head Spain’s totals at 3.00 or even on Jonas Jerebko at 3.75 to top Sweden’s charts.
FIRST ROUND TIPS
GROUP A (Ljubljana)
Belgium, France, Great Britain, Germany, Ukraine, Israel
Winner: France at 1.12. Placing (1-3): Ukraine at 1.90
GROUP B (Jesenice)
Lithuania, Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Latvia
Winner: Macedonia at 5.00. Placing (1-3): Montenegro at 2.00
GROUP C (Celje)
Spain, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Georgia, Croatia, Poland
Winner: Spain at 1.35. Placing (1-3): Poland at 1.80
GROUP D (Koper)
Greece, Russia, Turkey, Italy, Finland, Sweden
Winner: Greece at 1.65. Placing (1-3): Sweden at 15.00
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