02/27/2020 | News release | Distributed by Public on 02/27/2020 05:44
MUNICH (Germany) - The first window of the FIBA EuroBasket 2021 Qualifiers treated us with down-to-the-wire drama, incredible plays and a flurry of surprising results all over the continent.
We invited FIBA writers Igor Curkovic, Bradley Gains and Jeff Taylor to look back on the February action and offer their thoughts on the first two gamedays of the qualifying campaign.
Following the February games, only seven national teams remain undefeated in the Qualifiers. Which one of them would you crown the winner of the window?
IC: Croatia, of course. Not a lot of people expected Croatia to come up with a win, let alone two of those, after their abysmal FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers campaign. But times are a-changin; coach Veljko Mrsic has made Croatia the toughest defending team of the FIBA EuroBasket 2021 Qualifiers, and Roko Ukic is now back to take the responsibility when the offense becomes stagnant. A perfect window for Croatia, just what they needed heading into the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Split in June.
BG: There are a few big names missing from those seven that have started 2-0, which sums up the unpredictability of these Qualifiers. Hungary deserve a lot of credit for the way they came through nail-biting contests against Slovenia and Ukraine, but Belgium are my winners for the manner in which they brushed aside Lithuania before following up with another convincing display in Denmark. A perfect start - and one that was needed with their toughest window to come next.
Belgium were one of seven teams to finish the February window without a loss
JT: Hungary. This is a team that should reach the EuroBasket, yet not one that I would call automatic. They not only won twice, but by just two points each time, at home against Slovenia and at Ukraine. That's what I call close shaves. They now have a springboard to reach the Final Round.
If there was an MVP award to present, who would you give it to?
IC: Giorgi Shermadini. The only player who finished in the Team of the Gameday both times. Sure, it was Thad McFadden who hit the game-winning shots against Serbia, but Shermadini was the man who kept Georgia in contention all the time, hitting his layups and picking up the rebounds - he's the leading rebounder with 12.0 of those in two games. Without Shermadini, Georgia would probably be at 0-2 after two close calls. With him, they stand tall at 2-0.
Giorgi Shermadini averaged 19.5 points and 12.0 rebounds in the two Georgia wins
BG: I'd go for either AJ Slaughter or Giorgi Shermadini. Slaughter was colossal in helping Poland bring down Spain in Zaragoza, taking his tally to 55 points during the first window, while Shermadini was influential as ever for Georgia as they just about came through unscathed with two wins that could easily have been defeats. Two double-doubles, two victories - the Georgian gets the nod.
JT: There are so many candidates for this. I'd give it to AJ Slaughter, who averaged 27.5 points in this window for Poland, who endured a narrow home loss to Israel but struck back with a pulsating victory at Spain. With no Mateusz Ponitka, no Adam Waczynski, Slaughter simply had to carry more of the load and he did. If Poland had fallen at Spain, they'd be 0-2 and in a little bit of trouble but instead he poured in 26 points at Spain. At 1-1, that Polish ship is still sailing in the right direction.
Every window offers new players an opportunity to showcase their skills on the big stage, and many of them do so successfully. Who was the big revelation for you?
IC: I've followed guys like Vit Krejci, Carlos Alocen or Keye van der Vuurst de Vries through their Basketball Champions League runs, so can't say that I'm surprised with their outings. That's why Kristian Kullamae gets my vote. Being 20-years-old and delivering a 31-point performance against North Macedonia, away from home, that's impressive. Especially because that could potentially be the win that sends Estonia through to the Final Round.
Kristian Kullamae scored 31 points in Skopje against North Macedonia
BG: Not so much a revelation as this kid has already captured the attention of the basketball world, but it was still impressive to see a 19-year-old have such a huge impact on a senior international game. Deni Avdija starred, in just 24 minutes, to guide Israel to their second victory. Moving away from stating the obvious, I'll also mention Spain's Carlos Alocen. I remember watching him in Radom at the FIBA U16 European Championship 2016 and 9 assists in both games of this window proved why he was tipped for a bright future.
JT: Out of a gazillion possibilities, I choose Vit Krejci, 19, of the Czech Republic. I nearly jumped out of my seat a couple of times when he made plays for the Czechs in a win over the Danes and a loss to Lithuania.
Now there are PLENTY countries to choose from, but who do you think inflicted the biggest upset of the window?
IC: Belgium over Lithuania. The Netherlands in Turkey. Georgia in Serbia. Sweden against Turkey. Any one of those could do. However, Poland's win in Spain was the biggest upset for me, since I did call for a perfect Qualifiers campaign for Spain, and that prediction is out of the books already. Coach Mike Taylor really knows how to silence home crowds, as evident by his success against China in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019, and this one, over Spain, this week.
Sweden took down Turkey in front of 11,390 spectators at the Globe Arena in Stockholm
BG: Home defeats for powerhouses Spain and Serbia certainly raised eyebrows across the continent, while there was of course Belgium's aforementioned dominance over Lithuania. The biggest upset of the window, for me, was a combination of results that see Turkey head into November, 0-2 - dropping their opener in Ankara to the Netherlands before going down to another seven-point loss against Sweden - ouch.
JT: Sweden, No. 56 in the FIBA World Ranking Presented by Nike, won at home over No. 15 Turkey, 87-80. Are you kidding me?! The Swedes had lost by 16 at Croatia in their first game, and Turkey should have been desperate after being upset in Ankara by the Netherlands. Wow.