EUROBASKET 2017: GROUP PREVIEW

Here we go again for another EuroBasket – and although there is much of the familiar, there is also a breeze of change blowing through.

Old faces either retired or resting (a term that also covers ‘my NBA team didn’t want me to play’). New names set to make their mark. A second successive edition to be shared among four host cities but the first where the championships are a mere stand-alone, offering nothing more than glory in the here and now with no qualification up for grabs for events ahead.

Yet, despite forecasts of doom and D-Listers on show, there is still 32 NBA All Stars set for the almost-finalised rosters, plus a host of the Euroleague’s finest.

And as has become traditional, defending champions Spain – with Pau and Marc Gasol back together as brothers-in-arms – go in as heavy favourites to retain their title, even if this tournament may, in reality, be the most open in years.

 

GROUP A (Helsinki)

Finland, Poland, Greece, Iceland, France, Slovenia

France have gone from rock solid to more uncertain despite a 5-2 record ahead of the event. Minus Tony Parker, as well as long-time frontmen Mikael Gelabale and Florent Pietrus, Euroleague MVP Nando de Colo, whose role has shifted incessantly in the past, becomes the undisputed leader for a rebuilding Les Bleus who will lean on the experience of Boris Diaw and Joffrey Lauvergne alongside the backcourt punch of Evan Fournier.

Greece, even without Giannis Antetokounmpo, are stacked with proven Euro veterans like Georgios Printezis, Nick Calathes and Kostas Sloukas and have the valuable commodity of size. And Slovenia, with Goran Dragic making his last international appearance, have long believed they can enter the elite with so many eyes on Real Madrid’s teenage tyro Luka Doncic.

The other three will be fun to watch with the ever-noisy Finns throwing a spotlight on home hero Lauri Markkanen. There shouldn’t be as much between all these rivals as it seems.

 

GROUP B (Tel Aviv)

Israel, Ukraine, Germany, Georgia, Italy, Lithuania

Lithuania, silver medallists in 2015, always come strong to EuroBasket but they’ve toiled over the past month with a mere 4-4 record including reverses to Latvia, Spain and Croatia. Maybe this isn’t their summer, even if Jonas Valenciunas can finally emerge as their alpha dog.

Italy went 5-1 in their preparations and have looked solid under the coaching of Ettore Messina. They have a nice group headed by Marco Belineli’s NBA experience and Luigi Datome and Nicolo Melli coming off fine European seasons. They have good chemistry and are well capable both of winning the group or making the semifinals.

Georgia have also impressed and could be a dark horse to make the quarter-finals.

 

GROUP C (Cluj)

Romania, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Montenegro, Spain.

Spain lost only once in the build-up and it says much for their strength in depth that they have dropped more stars than anyone else and still possess the strongest roster. Plus there’s the indefatigable Pau who needs just 59 points to overtake the departed Tony Parker as the top scorer in EuroBasket history.\

 

But they face a strong challenge from a young talented Croatian team who should flourish over the next decade. Coming first in pool C is not a reach. Everyone else, including co-hosts Romania, is a write-off with the Czechs badly depleted and Montenegro not the force of old.

Further down the line, Croatia could be an excellent outside bet for the title with Bojan Bogdanovic and Dragen Bender capable of being prolific scorers.

 

GROUP D (Istanbul)

Turkey, Belgium, Great Britain, Latvia, Russia, Serbia

Have Serbia turned into perennial bridesmaids? Runners-up at the Rio 2016 Olympics after similar returns at the 2014 FIBA World Cup, the 5.00 third-favourites were dealt a blow when the ever-influential Milos Teodosic withdrew.

However they went 6-1 in the build-up and have a relatively easy first round, with Turkey – and perhaps the emerging Latvia and possible MVP Kristaps Porzingis – their only realistic foes.

Great Britain are long shots to make it out of the group but will hope that Belgium and still-floundering Russia are as vulnerable as they seem.

For daily betting on EuroBasket, visit https://www.unibet.co.uk

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