Just one more day (or so, CET) until the heartily-named 2012 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Men tips off in Venezuela. BallinEurope continues with previews of the four European qualifiers with an assessment of Greece, a.k.a. Olympiacos and a bunch of other guys.
Roster: Vassilis Spanoulis, Georgios Printezis, Kostas Papanikolaou, Kostas Sloukas, Evangelos Mantzaris (Olympiacos); Ioannis Bourousis, Antonis Fotsis (Olimpia Milano); Nikos Zisis (Montepaschi Siena); Nick Calathes, Kostas Kaimakoglou, Ian Vougioukas (Panathinaikos); Dimitrios Mavroeidis, Kostas Vasileiadis (Gescrap Bilbao Basket); and Michael Bramos (Gran Canaria); head coach Ilias Zouros (Anadolu Efes)
Notable no shows: Dimitris Diamantidis of Panathinaikos retired from national team play, returning that all-important starting point guard role to Vassilis Spanoulis – not a bad trade off this year … also out are Kostas Koufos (Denver Nuggets) and Sofoklis Schortsanitis (Maccabi Tel Aviv) due to injury.
How they got here: In Eurobasket 2011, a hot start saw Team Greece winning five of the first six games, only to drop three of the final five with losses to Russia, France and Lithuania in the placement game. In the penultimate match, however, Hellas put together its best game of the tournament in topping Serbia, 87-77, to earn a spot in these qualifiers.
The win was emblematic of Greece’s entire Eurobasket and perhaps of this year’s Olympic bid. A quick jump out of the gate allowed Team Greece to be run by Ioannis Bourosis (who finished with 27 points, six rebounds); Nikos Zisis (18 points, five assists); Antonis Fotsis (16 points, eight rebounds); and Nick Calathes (10 points, 10 assists) – additionally, this quartet earned a composite +62 in the +/- stat.
Throughout the tournament, coach Zouros was encouraging patience from the fans while setting sights on a top-six finish. By the Serbia game, his roster had solidified and, with the exception of Fotsis, was being led by its younger members. These four are all back, while the addition/readditions of Spanoulis & Co. can only be a plus.
What they’ve done recently: Though the Torneio Eletrobase de Basquete in Sao Carlos, Brazil, recently ended with Greece’s 78-71 loss to the home country’s Olympic team, Greek backers have got to be loving this lineup with its combination of the “old” guard and Olympiacos Reds.
In the Brazil loss, Olympiacos players Printezis, Spanoulis and Papanikolaou all went for double figures to combine for 37, while Printezis was also good for a remarkable 17 points in 17 minutes in a 99-69 blowout of New Zealand. Earlier in the month, Greece recorded a nice 82-70 at a friendly in Lithuania which saw five players notch 11 or more – Printezis, Papanikolaou, Kaimakoglou (yet another Red), Vasileiadis and Pat Calathes – while Spanoulis was content to dish out eight assists.
Player to watch: In the year of Olympiacos, it’s tough not to go with the knee-jerk reaction here and say Spanoulis, but sheesh, how hot is the Euroleague championship hero Printezis? The non-European sides in this tournament may not be capable of protecting against this side’s many threats and worry about ol’ Agent 00.7 as well.
Once the tournament stage begins, Fotsis could be crucial to success. Beyond the long term of experience with Team Greece, all sides will simply need more big bodies when the likes of Russia and even Lithuania are in sight. A spry Fotsis and a couple of offensive rebounds could make all the difference in a knockout game.
Weaknesses: Giving up a combined 38 points to Marcelo Magalhaes and Marquinhos Vieira in the Brazil game looks a bit worrisome. While devoted to preventing damage from Tiago Splitter and Anderson Varejao, Team Greece suddenly found itself susceptible to the mid-range jumper. This could be a one-off, but one might well wonder if Greece’s threes can trap the quicker teams on half-court D.
Outlook: BiE has a long history of underrating Greece’s national teams and professional clubs, so hedging bets here is excruciating. Plus, Group A also includes the upset-minded Puerto Rico – and recall the game the islanders gave Hellas in the 2010 FIBA Worlds…
A win or loss against Puerto Rico will presumably set up a date with Lithuania or Nigeria out of Group B. A Nigeria draw should get Greece into the final four, whereas a Lithuania matchup against the now slightly improved team that topped them in Eurobasket … well, let’s just say that would be a nice one.
But what the hell, BiE don’t call them Fearless Predictions™ for nothing! BiE’ll take Greece beating Puerto Rico and winning the first knockout match against Nigeria before falling to Russia in the semis. (But how awesome would it be to see Printezis running it in against the mostly-CSKA Russians with a tick or two remaining? Flashback City, baby!)