caseyholdahl

Sep 16

EuroBasket 2013: Both France And Spain Limp Into Quarterfinals

By caseyholdahl

After two weeks and two rounds of group play, the stage is finally set in Slovenia for the knockout stages of EuroBasket 2013. A tournament that started with 24 teams has been trimmed to the top eight teams in Europe, though there is no clear favorite to take the title when the championship game is played on September 22.

Both Nicolas Batum and Victor Claver will play in the quarterfinals after their respective national teams qualified, albeit in less than impressive and/or expected fashion. Here's where both players/teams stand.

France and Nicolas Batum

After starting the tournament as one of the favorites, the French have been underwhelming since losing to Germany, a prohibitive underdog, in their first game of the preliminary stage. France overcame that tournament-opening loss to take first place in Group A while earning a top seed for the second round, but have struggled mightily ever since. After losing 76-62 to Lithuania in their first game of the second round and bouncing back with a 102-91 victory against Latvia, France was beaten 77-65 by Serbia on Sunday. Nicolas Batum was one of four French players to finish the game with 12 points, though he shot just 33 percent from the field and 25 percent from three.

Luckily for France, the EuroBasket competition system greatly incentivizes winning your preliminary round group, which is the only reason they're advancing after finishing the second round with a record of 1-2.  That's the good news for the French.

The bad news is that, by backing their way into the quarterfinals, France find themselves matched up against the host country, Slovenia, in their first elimination game of the tournament. Slovenia also enters the quarterfinals having lost their last game 92-76 to Finland on Monday, though there was nothing at stake as they were already locked into second-place in Group F.

There aren't any cushy games left at EuroBasket, but drawing the host team playing with confidence after beating three quality sides in Spain, Italy and Greece while having Bostjan Bachbar, Zoran Dragic and Goron Dragic is probably about the worst draw France could have imagined. The only plus for the France drawing Slovenia is they're the only team remaining in the tournament that shoots as badly from distance as they do (France and Slovenia have both shot 32 percent from three during the tournament) and if there's one thing that sinks France's defense, it's good three-point shooting. Just ask Germany.

France undoubtedly has more individual talent than Slovenia, or any other remaining team outside of Spain for that matter, but as we've seen all throughout EuroBasket, the team with the most individual talent doesn't necessarily come out on top.

(France vs. Slovenia will stream Wednesday on Watch ESPN.com at 11:50 AM)

Spain and Victor Claver

The only reason France isn't the runaway winner of the "most disappointing team at EuroBasket 2013" award is thanks to the equally underwhelming play of Spain, a team that is going through serious growing pains without the services of long-time stalwarts Pau Gasol and Juan Carlos Navarro. One would think that a team featuring Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, Rudy Fernandez, Jose Calderon, Sergio Rodriguez, our own Victor Claver and a host of players who compete in the highest levels of European club basketball would have more than enough talent to maintain the front-runner status they've enjoyed for the last five years, but that hasn't been the case at EuroBasket 2013.

While Spain doesn't have any "bad losses" on the level of France's loss to Germany, they are no longer the team that was all but unbeatable for the last five years in European competition. Case in point: Spain has lost as many games during EuroBasket 2013 (three) as they lost during EuroBaskets 2011 and 2009 combined. They took gold in both those competitions, a feat they look unlikely to repeat after giving up a 15-point fourth quarter lead in an 86-81 overtime loss to Italy in their final game of the second group stage.

Victor Claver, after turning in his best performances of the tournament during consecutive games against Greece (nine points, 11 rebounds) and Finland (12 points, seven rebounds, scored five points and pulled down six rebounds in limited minutes in the loss to Italy. Claver playing only 18 minutes against Italy was a head-scratcher considering his performance in the last two games and the fact that he was one of the few players on Spain's roster who finished with a positive +/-.

With the loss, Spain ends up in fourth place in Group F, which means they draw the top team from Group E, Serbia, in the quarterfinals. The Serbs haven't been much better than Spain during the tournament, having also lost three games through the first two rounds, but much less is expected from a team that only has one currently NBA player, guard Nemanja Nedovic, on their roster (they do, however, have two other players also named Nemanja), though Nenad Krstic, who currently plays for Euroleague power CSKA Moscow, is a talented veteran of the NBA.

No one would be surprised if Spain, despite struggling as of late, returned to form to win their third-consecutive EuroBasket, but they're no longer the sure-bet they once were.

(Spain vs. Serbia will stream Wednesday at on Watch ESPN at 8:20 AM)

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