Right, so BallinEurope has already publicly logged Official Fearless Predictions™ for the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament knockout stage in bracket format. Europe’s four representatives – group winners all – take on some decent African and North American competition, but nevertheless the bookies like an all-Europe final four in Venezuela.
Indeed, there’s a high probability that none of these favorites will be eliminated today. In Groups B and D produced a fair number of underdog victories in round-robin play: Venezuela over Nigeria, Nigeria over Lithuania, New Zealand over Angola, and (BiE maintains) Angola over FYR Macedonia. In contrast, the quite-predictable 2008 version of this tourney included zero upsets in round-robin play and really only one that might be called at least moderately surprise: Puerto Rico over Slovenia.
So which European teams should be worried about the upset today/tonight (tomorrow morning CET)? From least to most? BiE would say the list looks like this…
The pointspread on this game has Team Russia giving 19 points, and why not? On a tier with France (and thus third-best overall among teams still in Olympic contention) in terms of sheer talent, this side has gelled nicely early. No – scarily early, in cruising through laughers with South Korea and Dominican Republic. There may be upsets involving Russia before all is said and done, but not today. Completely informal estimate of Angola’s chances for upset: 0.1%.
With Team France hurting, here’s another side to keep an eye on in the long term. Greece looks fit and Olympiacos heroes – Vassilis Spanoulis, Georgios Printezis, Kostas Papanikolaou – haven’t missed a beat from Istanbul, accounting for 93 points and 23 assists, nearly half the team’s totals in the stats. As a team, Greece shot a crazy 58.1% overall, including 50% (!) on threes while running up a combined 205 points on Jordan and Puerto Rico. Nigeria looked brilliant against Lithuania, but Hellas is on a whole other level right now and might just sharpshoot all the way to the podium in London. Chance of Nigeria upset: 3%.
3. FYR Macedonia
The Cinderella story is over? Yeah, surrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrre. Not only did the Lions get a much-needed assist from New Zealand of all teams, they managed to torch the Tall Blacks well enough to land atop Group D and draw the Dominican Republic rather than Russia. The oddsmakers see this as the closest result, with FYR Macedonia just a four-point favorite and the Dominicans are just 7/5 to win.
Against New Zealand, FYR Macedonia took care of business in out-running and shaking the opposition, but were again destroyed on the glass, this time out-rebounded 43-27 – a cause for concern, BiE’d say, with Russia looming in the near distance. Sure, the Lions should handle this one, but thereafter, well, they may have to rely on Bo’s creed: “You never know what might happen.” Chance of Dominican Republic upset: 20%.
What can BiE say, imply or infer that wouldn’t cause further anxiety in Lithuania? Was the Nigeria game not a maddening exercise with Lithuania ultimately throwing away a winnable one? Didn’t the team’s studs – Linas Kleiza, Sarunas Jasikevicius and Jonas Valanciunas – look great? But where was the support?
Should BiE mention that Mantas Kalnietis and Jonas Maciulis went a combined 3-of-16 to hurt Lithuania’s chances, though both played with restraint in the cliffhanging fourth quarter? Or that Kestutis Kemzura’s rotations seemed a little odd, with Valanciunas getting just 23 minutes against a big Nigeria side? Speaking of, didn’t Maciulis look a tad haggard after playing 35 minutes?
And isn’t Puerto Rico the famed team of big upsets?
Nevertheless, chance of a Puerto Rico upset: 30%.
BiE can’t see it happening, can you? Chances of all European teams advancing: 70%.