FRANCE FAVOURITES BUT EUROBASKET FILLED WITH PRIZES

EuroBasket tips off on Saturday – and not only is there the prize of becoming basketball’s European champion at stake.

But there is 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 with Unibet 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.

But, still, they will be wary. “We can’t make any mistakes this year because next summer is going to be special for us,” said Mickael Gelabale. “My generation has only been to one Olympic Games, in London, and we loved it. So we have to do our best to get to another one.”

Their rivals are all offensively challenged with Bosnia and Israel primed for heavy defeats but Poland, helmed by ex-Leopards coach Mike Taylor, are hoping execution will see them through.

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. Despite an unbeaten preparation phase, Spain’s status is uncertain, with World Cup runners-up Serbia likely to threaten in their opening tie. Italy, even with the defence-challenged Andrea Bargnani as their rim protector, have 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 look 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
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

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