Posts Tagged ‘Slovenia’

U.S. crushes Slovenia, rolls into semifinals


VIDEO: Team USA rolls into semifinals with rout of Slovenia

BARCELONA — Spain has supplanted the U.S. National Team as the trendy pick to win gold here at the FIBA World Cup.

Everybody from TNT’s very own Charles Barkley to members of the teams the U.S. crushes on their way to Thursday’s semifinal have chimed in and sided with the host nation Spaniards.

After the U.S. used one of the their trademark blitzes to run Slovenia off the floor at Palau Saint Jordi 119-76 in Tuesday’s quarterfinal, Phoenix Suns All-NBA point guard Goran Dragic weighed in with his belief that Spain is indeed the favorite.

That’s fine with the stars on the U.S. team, whose refusal to panic when things are tight early has become a hallmark for this bunch. Starters James Harden and Steph Curry were scoreless at halftime and the lead was just 49-42.

Not a problem. Not when Klay Thompson (20 points) and Derrick Rose (12) are your “backups.”

A swift 18-5 third quarter run later and the U.S. was off to the races, cashing in with its 61st straight win in World Cup/World Championship/Olympic and international competition, and one step closer to that date with Spain in Sunday’s gold medal game in Madrid.

“I thought we played really hard the whole game and we just couldn’t finish in the first half some of those plays,” U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said, “and then they stayed with it and then the floodgates opened in the second half.”

The U.S. faces Lithuania, a 73-61 winner of Turkey in Tuesday’s first game, Thursday at 3 p.m. ET.

They’ll do so having played arguably their best game, so far, of the competition. They stroked Finland by 59 points in their opener last week in pool play. But beating Slovenia down was a tougher task.

“It was tough. They are a really good team,” Harden said. “They kind of slowed us down in the first half, dictated the tempo. Coach talked to us at halftime about playing our brand of basketball and how we like to play. And we came out with that intensity.”

Harden did heat up, scoring 12 of his 14 points in the third quarter. Kenneth Faried finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds and Anthony Davis 13 and 11. The depth the U.S. boasts is like no other team in this competition, not even a seasoned Spanish team.

Rose, in particular, had his teammates fired up.

“You [saw] him,” Harden said of Rose. “He looked amazing. He’s so quick and athletic, the way he followed the holes and finished … he made some amazing passes tonight. He was phenomenal.”

While it certainly helped having Thompson in a groove from the start on both ends, Rose needed a push. With the Coach K mandate that he play with a green light, Rose was as aggressive as he’s been offensively at any point in the tournament.

Rose was just 8-for-37 shooting before Tuesday, so whatever color his light was prior to seeing Slovenia, is anyone’s guess.

“It eased me a little bit,” Rose said. “Gave me a lot of confidence. I’m not lacking in confidence, but when the head coach tells you to go out there and be aggressive it makes you think in another way. Coach gave me that green light and said go out there and play the way I play. Don’t worry about getting other guys involved … I felt good.”

On a team that is suddenly dealing with an underdog status, at least here in Spain, Rose, Thompson and some of these other elite reserves are finding a rhythm at just the right time.

Just in time for Thursday’s semifinals and then on to Madrid, where the underdogs might finally have their say about who should really wear the favorite’s tag.

Secrets to USA’s, Coach K’s success

Mike Krzyzewski (left, with Jim Boeheim) cites his college ties as one reason he has had such success with Team USA. (USA Today images)

Team USA and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski (left, with Team USA assistant and Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim) says his college ties have helped him with NBA players. (USA Today images)

BARCELONA — When a team rings up 61 straight wins during international competition, including the World Cup/World Championship and Olympics (and throwing in exhibitions), there are a number of factors involved.

Having the best and most star-studded roster every time you to take the floor helps. But the U.S. National Team has had more than just raw talent on its side.

During the Jerry Colangelo-Mike Krzyzewski era, the U.S. also has had a precise plan on how to structure the program, from the ground up, and a clear-cut understanding of the nuances that make the international game different from the NBA. The Americans also have had intense international scouting and have nurtured a revamped mindset among the players who make the up the pool upon which the roster is built.

With Colangelo, USA Basketball’s managing director, setting the overall operational tone, Coach K insists there are overlooked aspects of the program which allow him to do things differently than many of his NBA predecessors. For one, Krzyzewski’s extensive experience in a one-and-done tournament format helps, especially with NBA players who are used to best-of playoff series.

But Krzyzewski also points to this: Though he has been courted by NBA teams on several occasions, Coach K will almost certainly never take an NBA job where he would have to try to beat some of these players.

“I don’t coach against my players,” Krzyzewski said after the U.S. practice Monday at Palau Saint Jordi, where the Americans were preparing for Tuesday’s quarterfinal matchup against Slovenia (3 p.m. ET, ESPN). “I’m not a pro coach. [Syracuse coach] Jim [Boeheim] and I have the respect of these guys because of doing well in college basketball. But we can develop our own individual relationships with them and then never compete against them. I think that’s been a hidden factor of success in all this stuff.”

Krzyzewski, of course, knows a thing or two about operating under the pressure of constant win-it-all expectations. He knows all about trying to live up to the hype of a team that’s supposed to play perfect all the time.

“I’ve lived with that for 25 years as the Duke coach,” he said. “I’m the most prepared to do that because we’re closely scrutinized like that in college basketball for everything we do. But this is at a much higher level. Actually it helps that I’m coming from that environment. I also think it helps, when we’re in this competition, the one-and-done, what we live all the time, whether it be an ACC tournament or a NCAA tournament, so I’ve been in 150 to 200 one-and-done games. We try to tell our players it’s the seventh game of a series. About half of them have been in a seventh game, so they don’t think it’s a series. We’re not just going to be in Madrid. We have to win to get there.”

As for what keeps him going, grinding like this on both the USA Basketball front and during his regular job at Duke,  Coach K said it’s a combination of things that he learned long ago.

“It’s your watch, it’s your responsibility,” he said. “That’s something I learned at West Point. It’s your job right now. Do it the right way. And eventually someone else will have that job. But while you’re in command, make sure your unit does it the right way. And Jerry has set that example. We’ve tried to learn and we keep learning.”

World geography

A reporter trying to get a rise out of U.S. big man DeMarcus Cousins as the U.S. exited the floor from practice, quizzing the Sacramento Kings star on world geography:

“Do you know where Slovenia is?” the reporter asked.

“Do you know where Alabama is?’ Cousins replied.

Forget the friendly

The U.S. has already seen Slovenia on the court this summer. The Americans beat Slovenia 101-71 in an Aug. 26 exhibition game in Gran Canaria.

Led by Phoenix Suns All-NBA point guard Goran Dragic and his brother Zoran, Slovenia will present the U.S. with a style change that will likely cause Coach K to tinker with his rotation to make sure the U.S. can match up with a small-ball lineup.

“The very first thing you have to do is forget the friendly,” Coach K said. “They were holding their guys back and Goran was held down in minutes that game. They’ve gotten better and he’s become even more of a factor as the leader of the team. We’ve gotten better, too. But we just have to focus on the fact that they are an unusual team in that they can put five 3-point shooters on the court.”

Chasing history

This U.S. team is not only trying to win gold on Spain’s home turf, it is also trying to make a little history by becoming just the third nation to repeat as World Champs. Only Brazil (1959 and 1963) and Yugoslavia (1998 and 2002) have accomplished that feat since the event was initiated in 1950.

The U.S. is a four-time champion but never has been able to put together back-to-back titles.

Davis leads U.S. to easy win


VIDEO: USA-Slovenia recap

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The U.S. National Team wrapped up its exhibition schedule on Tuesday with an easy 101-71 win over Slovenia in Gran Canaria, Spain. Next stop: Bilbao, for World Cup pool play, which begins Saturday.

Anthony Davis was, by far, the best player on the floor, registering 18 points, nine rebounds, three steals and five blocks in less than 19 minutes of action. He controlled the paint and snuffed out Slovenia’s pick-and-rolls. Basically, if he was in the area, they couldn’t complete a pass or make a shot.

It was a 10-point game at the half, but the U.S. scored 27 points on its first 13 possessions of the third quarter to go up by 31. The highlight of that run was a lob from Kenneth Faried to Davis on a roll to the hoop.

The U.S. finished 4-0 in exhibitions and still hasn’t lost a game (whether it counts or not) since the semifinals of the 2006 World Championship.

Here are some notes from Tuesday’s action …

  • So … many … fouls. The officiating in this game was a stark contrast to that of Friday’s game against Puerto Rico at Madison Square Garden, when both sets of guards got away with a lot of contact on the perimeter. Hand checks were called on Tuesday, with the two teams combining for 53 fouls in 40 minutes.
  • The U.S. was the bigger beneficiary of the whistles, getting to the line 46 times. But they shot just 29-for-46 (63 percent), leaving several points at the stripe. They had shot 81 percent through their first three exhibition games.
  • At the other end of the floor, the U.S. paid for its aggressiveness on the perimeter. Stephen Curry fouled out in the first minute of the fourth quarter after just 14 minutes of playing time. Klay Thompson picked up two hand-check fouls on the first possession he was on the court. And Kyrie Irving and James Harden each picked up three fouls apiece. The Americans have depth in the backcourt, but not as much as they’d have if they hand’t brought four centers on the roster. The guards are going to have to do a better job of adjusting to the way games are being called.
  • We got a basic look at the U.S. rotation. Derrick Rose (or Irving when Rose starts), Thompson and Rudy Gay were the first guys off the bench. DeMarcus Cousins backed up Davis, and DeMar DeRozan was the 10th man. Andre Drummond and Mason Plumlee only played garbage time.
  • The U.S. starters had huge plus-minus marks, while the reserves were a mix of low pluses and minuses. In fact, in 14:23 with four or five U.S. starters on the floor, the score was USA 45, Slovenia 8. In the other 25:37, with three or fewer American starters in the game, Slovenia outscored the U.S. 63-56.
  • Thompson shot well (3-for-5 on threes) and Gay was active on the offensive glass, but the bench was otherwise disappointing.
  • Rose did not play well. He showed flashes of his quickness, but did not finish plays. He shot 0-for-3 and committed three turnovers in 20 minutes of action.
  • The U.S. halfcourt offense still needs work. There was some real sloppiness on Tuesday, especially in the fourth quarter.
  • Goran Dragic had his moments – he went around-the-back to get past Rose on the break – in limited minutes, but his brother was the star for Slovenia. Zoran Dragic scored 16 points on 6-for-12 shooting and grabbed six boards.

Three More Earn World Cup Berths

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Three more teams earned berths to the 2014 World Cup of Basketball on Thursday. Slovenia, Croatia and Lithuania will be making the trip to Spain next August thanks to big wins at Eurobasket.

Slovenia had to recover quickly from Wednesday night’s disappointing loss to France, playing Serbia just 16 hours later. But they pushed the pace early and got off to a hot start, scoring 30 points in the first quarter. It was the second straight day that Serbia got smoked in the opening 10 minutes. They were able to recover a little better than they did against Spain on Wednesday, but they shot a brutal 2-for-18 from 3-point range and never really made things interesting.

It was Zoran Dragic who led the way for Slovenia with 23 points and nine rebounds, with brother Goran finishing with 15 points and five assists. The win puts the Eurobasket hosts in the WCOB field (see below) and they will play the winner of Ukraine-Italy in the sixth place game on Saturday.

In Thursday’s first quarterfinal, Croatia used a 19-1 run in the second quarter to build a double-digit lead against Ukraine, who could never cut that lead down to less than eight. Bojan Bogdanovic had a relatively quiet afternoon, but Krunoslav Simon picked up the slack, scoring 23 points on just 10 shots from the field. Croatia’s 84-72 win was their eighth straight (after losing their opener to Spain) and put them in the semifinals, with Ukraine being sent to the loser’s bracket, where it will have win one of the next two games to qualify for the WCOB.

The nightcap was the best matchup of the quarterfinals, and it sure looked like it through three quarters. But Italy went scoreless over the first 5:57 of the fourth as Lithuania built a 14-point lead. They held on for a four-point win that sends them to the semifinals against Croatia and makes them the 18th team to qualify for the WCOB. It was a balanced attack for Lithuania, who played small with only one big man on the floor, leaving Jonas Valanciunas on the bench for all but 10:51. Marco Belinelli led Italy with 22 points.

So here’s where we stand with three more days of action left in Slovenia. Early on Friday (8:30 a.m. ET), Italy will play Ukraine for another spot in the WCOB. The winner of that game will play Slovenia on Saturday for sixth place, while the loser will play Serbia for the seventh place and the final WCOB berth.

Also on Friday, we’ll have the two semifinals, both on NBA TV: Croatia-Lithuania (11:45 a.m. ET) and France-Spain (3 p.m. ET). Both are great matchups between teams playing some of their best basketball. The final will be on Sunday.

2014 World Cup of Basketball field

No. Team Qualified
1 Spain Host
2 USA 2012 Olympic champion
3 Iran FIBA Asia champion
4 Philippines FIBA Asia 2nd place
5 Korea FIBA Asia 3rd place
6 Australia FIBA Oceania champion
7 New Zealand FIBA Oceania 2nd place
8 Angola FIBA Africa champion
9 Egypt FIBA Africa 2nd place
10 Senegal FIBA Africa 3rd place
11 Mexico FIBA Americas champion
12 Puerto Rico FIBA Americas second place
13 Argentina FIBA Americas third place
14 Dominican Republic FIBA Americas fourth place
15 France Eurobasket semifinalist
16 Croatia Eurobasket semifinalist
17 Lithuania Eurobasket semifinalist
18 Slovenia Eurobasket 5th/6th place
19 Ukraine/Italy winner Eurobasket 5th/6th place
20 Serbia or Ukraine/Italy loser Eurobasket 7th place
21 Wildcard
22 Wildcard
23 Wildcard
24 Wildcard

Parker Leads France To World Cup Berth

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – With an impressive, quarterfinal win over hosts Slovenia, France became the 15th team to qualify for next year’s World Cup of Basketball and set up what could be a terrific EuroBasket semifinal matchup with Spain on Friday.

Slovenia and Serbia, who got crushed by Spain, now head to the loser’s bracket. They’ll play Thursday (8:30 a.m. ET) with another WCOB berth on the line. The loser of that game will head to the critical seventh place game on Saturday.

France-Slovenia was a pretty ugly game in the first half, but France took control with a 10-0 run early in the third quarter. Slovenia got back to within three, but couldn’t tie or take the lead. France opened things up again in the fourth quarter behind their NBA big three and held on for a 10-point win.

Tony Parker led the way with 27 points on 9-for-20 shooting, while Nicolas Batum and Boris Diaw combined for 24. Slovenia got 18 points from Goran Dragic, but shot poorly and allowed France too many second chances on the glass.

In the day’s first game, Spain simply ran over Serbia. A big first quarter from Rudy Fernandez, a big second quarter from Sergio Rodriguez and the tournament’s best defense gave Spain a 25-point lead at halftime. They shot 13-for-25 from 3-point range and led by as many as 40 in the third quarter.

The other two quarterfinals will take place after the Serbia-Slovenia game on Friday. At 11:45 a.m. ET, Croatia faces Ukraine and at 3 p.m. ET, Lithuania plays Italy. The winners of those two games will face each other in the semifinals on Friday and join France and the winner of Serbia-Slovenia in the WCOB field.

2014 World Cup of Basketball field

No. Team Qualified
1 Spain Host
2 USA 2012 Olympic champion
3 Iran FIBA Asia champion
4 Philippines FIBA Asia 2nd place
5 Korea FIBA Asia 3rd place
6 Australia FIBA Oceania champion
7 New Zealand FIBA Oceania 2nd place
8 Angola FIBA Africa champion
9 Egypt FIBA Africa 2nd place
10 Senegal FIBA Africa 3rd place
11 Mexico FIBA Americas champion
12 Puerto Rico FIBA Americas second place
13 Argentina FIBA Americas third place
14 Dominican Republic FIBA Americas fourth place
15 France Eurobasket semifinalist
16 Croatia/Ukraine winner Eurobasket semifinalist
17 Lithuania/Italy winner Eurobasket semifinalist
18 Serbia/Slovenia winner Eurobasket 5th/6th place
19 Eurobasket 5th/6th place
20 Eurobasket 7th place
21 Wildcard
22 Wildcard
23 Wildcard
24 Wildcard

16 NBA Players Still Going At EuroBasket

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – With training camps set to open in less than two weeks, most NBA players are getting back to their places of business and working out with their teammates.

Several guys, however, are in Slovenia, representing their countries at EuroBasket. Sixteen teams have gone home and eight remain, playing for national pride and seven spots in next year’s World Cup of Basketball. EuroBasket has been the best basketball of the summer and the single-elimination action starts Wednesday.

Here’s the quarterfinal schedule:
Serbia (E1) vs. Spain (F4), Wednesday, 11:30 a.m. ET (NBA TV)
Slovenia (F2) vs. France (E3), Wednesday, 3 p.m. ET (NBA TV)
Croatia (F1) vs. Ukraine (E4), Thursday, 11:45 a.m. ET
Lithuania (E2) vs. Italy (F3), Thursday, 3 p.m. ET

And here are the 16 NBA players still playing, with some notes on how they’ve done so far…

Nicolas Batum (Blazers) – France
His stats: 28.1 MPG, 11.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.6 APG, .463 FG%, 7-for-31 3PT
The buzz: Batum has been filling the box score (as he’s known to do). He had 19 points, 10 boards, six assists, a steal and a block in last Friday’s win over Latvia. But he’s had some rough shooting nights from beyond the arc.

Marco Belinelli (Spurs) – Italy
His stats: 31.6 MPG, 14.1 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.4 APG, .369 FG%, 11-for-34 3PT
The buzz: Belinelli is Italy’s primary ball-handler, a different role than he’s played in the NBA. He’s had some big games, but will be facing one of the tournament’s toughest defenses in the quarterfinals on Thursday.

Jose Calderon (Mavs) – Spain
His stats: 23.4 MPG, 9.4 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 3.0 APG, .458 FG%, 18-for-37 3PT
The buzz: Sharing the backcourt with Ricky Rubio, Calderon has been playing a lot of two guard for Spain. But that’s OK, because every team needs a secondary ball-handler and he’s also a great shooter. He has a 24/8 assist/turnover ratio and has hit three or more 3-pointers in four of Spain’s eight games.

Victor Claver (Blazers) – Spain
His stats: 17.9 MPG, 4.9 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 0.9 APG, .412 FG%, 5-for-15 3PT
The buzz: Claver is a terrific rebounder starting at power forward and doing the dirty work for Spain. He’s averaging almost 11 boards per 36 minutes at Eurobasket and had 11 in just 24 minutes before fouling out against Greece. He has drained a few threes, but probably spends a little too much time hanging out on the perimeter.

Luigi Datome (Pistons) – Italy
His stats: 29.9 MPG, 14.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.3 APG, .488 FG%, 15-for-36 3PT
The buzz: The Pistons’ rookie has had a couple of big games and sent Monday’s thriller against Spain to overtime with a driving layup at the buzzer. He can shoot and will be a decent role player in the league, but will need to play off Detroit’s playmakers. He’s not very mobile or skilled off the dribble.

Nando De Colo (Spurs) – France
His stats: 20.3 MPG, 8.8 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 0.9 APG, .413 FG%, 11-for-26 3PT
The buzz: Coming off the bench for France, De Colo shot well early in the tournament, but has cooled off of late.

Boris Diaw (Spurs) – France
His stats: 28.1 MPG, 10.1 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 3.4 APG, .508 FG%, 3-for-12 3PT
The buzz: Tony Parker is the star in France, but it’s Diaw’s passing from the high post that can really make the French offense click. Though Parker has the ball in his hands more, Diaw has almost as many dimes.

Goran Dragic (Suns) – Slovenia
His stats: 23.3 MPG, 15.3 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 4.4 APG, .392 FG%, 8-for-32 3PT
The buzz: Dragic is a terror on the break and has had some big games for the tournament’s hosts, including 28 points in a win over Greece on Saturday. The shooting numbers look ugly, because he missed his first 11 threes of the tournament. His matchup against Parker could be the best of the quarterfinals.

Marc Gasol (Grizzlies) – Spain
His stats: 29.5 MPG, 13.8 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.8 APG, .521 FG%, 3-for-6 3PT
The buzz: Though Gasol had 32 points and 10 boards in Monday’s overtime loss to Italy, his offensive numbers don’t make it clear that he’s one of the two best players in the tournament. But he’s anchored Eurobasket’s No. 1 defense, which has allowed 16.5 fewer points per 100 possessions than the tourney average.

Mickael Gelabale (Wolves) – France
His stats: 25.5 MPG, 7.9 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.6 APG, .449 FG%, 8-for-23 3PT
The buzz: Like De Colo, Gelable shot well early on (7-for-15 from 3-point range in the first round), but has since cooled off (1-for-8) in Round 2. He’s in France’s starting lineup for his defense, but can provide some scoring off the ball.

Viacheslav Kravtsov (Suns) – Ukraine
His stats: 17.9 MPG, 6.6 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 0.8 APG, 1.4 BPG, .436 FG%
The buzz: Ukraine’s only NBA player is its fifth leading scorer. Kravtsov is a big body who needs more polish in the post.

Donatas Motiejunas (Rockets) – Lithuania
His stats: 11.6 MPG, 5.8 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 0.3 APG, .486 FG%, 4-for-12 3PT
The buzz: Lithuania is deep up front and Motiejunas was barely playing  earlier in the tournament (he picked up three fouls in eight minutes against Bosnia). But he totaled 23 points in 39 minutes in Lithuania’s last two games, helping them secure a spot in the quarters.

Nemanja Nedovic (Warriors) – Serbia
His stats: 26.0 MPG, 9.0 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 2.5 APG, .368 FG%, 11-for-38 3PT
The buzz: With the absence of Hang Time favorite Milos Teodosic, Nedovic – the No. 30 pick in the 2013 Draft – has been starting at point guard for Serbia. He’s solid and can shoot off the dribble, but he doesn’t have the quickness to be much of a threat on the pick-and-roll. But he doesn’t need to be a real floor general with a team like Serbia, that moves the ball pretty well.

Tony Parker (Spurs) – France
His stats: 27.9 MPG, 17.3 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 3.9 APG, .532 FG%, 7-for-26 3PT
The buzz: The best offensive player in the tournament is leading the No. 1 offense. Parker has been a terror on the pick-and-roll (no surprise there), but his pull-up jumper has been a little shaky. France has a lot of work to get through Slovenia on Wednesday, but a semifinal matchup against Spain could be the game of the tournament.

Ricky Rubio (Wolves) – Spain
His stats: 21.4 MPG, 8.3 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 3.0 APG, .446 FG%, 3-for-7 3PT
The buzz: Against defenses that are packing the paint (there’s no defensive three-second rule in FIBA), Rubio isn’t as dynamic a playmaker as he is in the league. He’s done a decent job of making opponents pay for going under the screen, stepping up and knocking down the mid-range jumper. But shooting is probably why Calderon has played more minutes.

Jonas Valanciunas (Raptors) – Lithuania
His stats: 17.4 MPG, 7.9 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 0.0 APG, 1.0 BPG, .697 FG%
The buzz: Continuing his excellent play from Summer League, Valanciunas has made 23 of his 33 shots and is averaging 16.3 points and 12.4 rebounds per 36 minutes. But Lithuania is deep up front, so his playing time has been somewhat limited. He had a double-double in just 13 minutes against Belgium on last Friday. We’ll see if he gets more minutes in the elimination rounds.

FIBA Update: Eurobasket Quarters Set

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Eurobasket quarterfinals are set, and seven of the remaining eight teams will receive automatic berths to next year’s World Cup of Basketball.

For the second straight day, the result of the first game sent a team in the second game to the quarters. Greece needed a win in their first game against Croatia to stay alive, and they were able to do that temporarily when Nikos Zisis hit a 3-pointer in the closing seconds of regulation to send the game to overtime.

Greece had a three-point lead near the end of the first overtime, but Croatia’s Bojan Bogdanovic hit his own contested, step-back 3 to send it to a second OT. And then he took over in the second overtime to send Greece home.

Greece’s loss ensured Spain’s spot in the quarterfinals. So the second game between Italy and Spain was only for seeding. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great game. The Pistons’ Luigi Datome sent it to overtime with a driving layup in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter and then Italy ran off an 8-0 run in OT. Datome’s chase-down block on a Victor Claver dunk basically sealed the game and Italy’s spot as the No. 3 seed in Group F.

Of course, Spain’s loss is bad news for Serbia, who won Group E, but will have to face the defending Eurobasket champs in the quarterfinals. Spain has lost three games by an average of 6.0 points and won five by an average of 27.0. So, they’re a bottom seed with the tournament’s best point differential (see below).

Finland beat Slovenia in the third game, which had no bearing on quarterfinal seeding at all. Goran Dragic played just five minutes.

So here are your quarterfinal matchups, with a look at how each team has performed offensively and defensively thus far…

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Serbia (E1) vs. Spain (F4), Wednesday, 11:30 a.m. ET (NBA TV)
Serbia – OffRtg: 107.6 (4), DefRtg: 104.8 (15), NetRtg: +2.8 (8)
Spain – OffRtg: 106.7 (5), DefRtg: 86.3 (1), NetRtg: +20.4 (1)

Slovenia (F2) vs. France (E3), Wednesday, 3 p.m. ET (NBA TV)
Slovenia – OffRtg: 103.8 (11), DefRtg: 105.2 (16), NetRtg: -1.4 (9)
France – OffRtg: 112.6 (1), DefRtg: 104.0 (11), NetRtg: +8.6 (3)

Croatia (F1) vs. Ukraine (E4), Thursday, 11:45 a.m. ET
Croatia – OffRtg: 102.4 (14), DefRtg: 97.6 (4), NetRtg: +4.9 (7)
Ukraine – OffRtg: 103.4 (13), DefRtg: 107.3 (19), NetRtg: -3.9 (15)

Lithuania (E2) vs. Italy (F3), Thursday, 3 p.m. ET
Lithuania – OffRtg: 104.5 (10), DefRtg: 94.6 (3), NetRtg: +9.9 (2)
Italy – OffRtg: 109.5 (3), DefRtg: 102.2 (9), NetRtg: +7.4 (4)

By Thursday night, we’ll have at least four (and possibly five, because Wednesday’s losers play Thursday) more automatic berths into next year’s World Cup of Basketball. As long as Spain doesn’t lose its next two games, the biggest game of the tournament will be for seventh place on Saturday, because it will determine which of the eight teams above doesn’t get an automatic berth.

And by the way, you’ll notice that, in terms of point differential, the fifth and sixth best teams in the tournament are going home. They are Greece (NetRtg: +6.6) and Latvia (+5.6).

Greece’s exit will make it that much tougher for FIBA to determine the four wild card spots for the World Cup, which they will do later this year. Other candidates include Brazil, Canada, China, Nigeria, Russia, Tunisia and Turkey.

2014 World Cup of Basketball field

No. Team Qualified
1 Spain Host
2 USA 2012 Olympic champion
3 Iran FIBA Asia champion
4 Philippines FIBA Asia 2nd place
5 Korea FIBA Asia 3rd place
6 Australia FIBA Oceania champion
7 New Zealand FIBA Oceania 2nd place
8 Angola FIBA Africa champion
9 Egypt FIBA Africa 2nd place
10 Senegal FIBA Africa 3rd place
11 Mexico FIBA Americas champion
12 Puerto Rico FIBA Americas second place
13 Argentina FIBA Americas third place
14 Dominican Republic FIBA Americas fourth place
15 Eurobasket champion*
16 Eurobasket 2nd place*
17 Eurobasket 3rd place*
18 Eurobasket 4th place*
19 Eurobasket 5th place*
20 Eurobasket 6th place*
21 Wildcard
22 Wildcard
23 Wildcard
24 Wildcard

* If Spain finishes in the top six, the seventh place team will qualify.

FIBA Update: Greece Stays Alive

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Things got a lot more interesting at Eurobasket on Thursday, as wins by Greece and Slovenia tightened up Group F on its first day of second-round action.

In the first game from Ljubljana, Croatia picked up an easy and important win over Finland, improving to 2-1. Finland had one of the tournament’s worst offenses in the first round and things were ugly early on Thursday. They shot a brutal 17 percent in the first half and couldn’t recover from a 39-20 halftime deficit. Damjan Rudez led the way for Croatia, hitting five threes and leading all scorers with 17 points.

The day’s second game was, by far, the best. Spain led by 10 at the end of the first quarter, but Marc Gasol picked up his third foul near the end of the period. With the tournament’s best player on the bench for the entire second quarter, Greece turned that 10-point deficit into a three-point lead by halftime. Gasol seemed to take over in the third quarter, but Greece fought back and Michail Bramos hit a pair of huge shots down the stretch to give Greece a 79-75 victory.

Had they lost, Greece would be at 0-3 and struggling to stay alive. Now, at 1-2, they’re in the thick of it, with games against Slovenia (Saturday) and Croatia (Monday) remaining.

In the nightcap, hosts Slovenia used a 10-0, third-quarter run to take control and eventually hand Italy its first loss of the tournament. Goran Dragic was the star, scoring 22 points and dishing out six assists for Slovenia.

That result leaves every team in Group F at either 2-1 or 1-2. So every one of Saturday’s games is critical and that Spain has already lost twice in this tournament is evidence enough that anything can happen. After Monday, the top four teams in the group will make the quarterfinals.

Group E returns to the floor on Friday, with Serbia looking to clinch a spot in the quarters and Belgium looking to stay alive. The biggest game should be the nightcap between France and Latvia.

2014 World Cup of Basketball field

No. Team Qualified
1 Spain Host
2 USA 2012 Olympic champion
3 Iran FIBA Asia champion
4 Philippines FIBA Asia 2nd place
5 Korea FIBA Asia 3rd place
6 Australia FIBA Oceania champion
7 New Zealand FIBA Oceania 2nd place
8 Angola FIBA Africa champion
9 Egypt FIBA Africa 2nd place
10 Senegal FIBA Africa 3rd place
11 Mexico FIBA Americas champion
12 Puerto Rico FIBA Americas second place
13 Argentina FIBA Americas third place
14 Dominican Republic FIBA Americas fourth place
15 Eurobasket champion*
16 Eurobasket 2nd place*
17 Eurobasket 3rd place*
18 Eurobasket 4th place*
19 Eurobasket 5th place*
20 Eurobasket 6th place*
21 Wildcard
22 Wildcard
23 Wildcard
24 Wildcard

* If Spain finishes in the top six, the seventh place team will qualify.

FIBA Update: Three More Earn Bids

Luis Scola, now with the Pacers, had a major impact on Argentina's win over Canada.

Luis Scola, now with the Pacers, had a major impact on Argentina’s win over Canada.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Three more teams punched their tickets to next year’s World Cup of Basketball on Sunday. The Dominican Republic, Argentina and Mexico will be in Spain next summer, thanks to the results of the first two games at the FIBA Americas tournament in Caracas.

In the first game on Sunday, the Dominican used a 9-0 run spanning the third and fourth quarters to take control against Uruguay. They held on for their fifth straight win, earning the country its first berth in a major international hoops tournament since 1978. Al Horford didn’t play this summer, but he could join Francisco Garcia and company next summer in Spain. He certainly seems excited about the possibility…

In the second game, Argentina finished the third quarter on a 20-6 run to turn a nine-point deficit into a five-point lead. Behind a huge game (28 points and seven rebounds) from Luis Scola, they held on to beat Canada and get back to the world stage. And it will be interesting to see if veterans like Manu Ginobili, Carlos Delfino and Pablo Prigioni will join them for one more run next summer in Spain.

For Canada, this was a brutal end to the tournament. They won four of their first five games, but then lost their last three (by an average of six points) to get sent home. When Argentina made its third-quarter run, the Canadians simply couldn’t handle the pressure.

Cory Joseph (16.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists), Andrew Nicholson (15.0 points on 53 percent shooting) and Tristan Thompson (11.6 points and 10.0 rebounds) all had their moments during the tournament, but consistency was an issue.

If they finished in the top four, the trio (along with Joel Anthony) could have been joined by Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Kelly Olynyk at the World Cup next summer. With four wild card invitations to be handed out later this year, that possibility still exists, but there’s already a strong list of wild card candidates — including Brazil, China and Nigeria — who will be joined by a few solid European teams.

The Argentina win also clinched a spot for Mexico, who owned the tiebreaker over Venezuela. Mexico went on to make things doubly official with a win over Puerto Rico, who rested Carlos Arroyo, Renaldo Balkman and J.J. Barea, having clinched a top-four spot on Saturday. So we should be seeing the the Hawks’ Gustavo Ayon (averaging 16.4 points and 8.0 rebounds) next summer in Spain.

The FIBA Americas semifinals, which will be largely ceremonial, take place Tuesday.

Eurobasket field thins out after Monday

After Day 5 of Eurobasket, only one team remains unbeaten and, surprise, it’s Italy. Led by 42 combined points from the Spurs’ Marco Belinelli (23) and the Pistons’ Luigi Datome (19), the Italians beat Greece in a matchup of 3-0 teams on Sunday. Both teams, along with Finland (3-1) are on their way to the second round as Group D’s three representatives.

The other unbeaten teams going into Sunday’s action were host Slovenia and Mike Fratello‘s Ukraine squad. Slovenia held a 13-point lead in the third quarter over Croatia. But Croatia came back and won in overtime to join Spain and Slovenia at 3-1 in Group C. The Czech Republic has a shot to crash the party if they can beat Croatia on Monday.

Ukraine was knocked off by France (Tony Parker had 28 points), leaving things still up in the air in Group A, where Ukraine-Great Britain will be Monday’s big game. Similarly, Bosnia-Lithuania could shake things up in Group B.

Eurobasket top offenses (points scored per 100 possessions) through Sunday (4 games):
1. Greece – 115.6
2. Italy – 114.2
3. Georgia – 112.2
4. France – 111.2
5. Germany – 105.4

Eurobasket top defenses (points allowed per 100 possessions) through Sunday (4 games):
1. Spain – 76.0
2. Finland – 86.3
3. Lithuania – 90.6
4. Czech Republic – 92.2
5. Italy – 95.2

2014 World Cup of Basketball field

No. Team Qualified
1 Spain Host
2 USA 2012 Olympic champion
3 Iran FIBA Asia champion
4 Philippines FIBA Asia 2nd place
5 Korea FIBA Asia 3rd place
6 Australia FIBA Oceania champion
7 New Zealand FIBA Oceania 2nd place
8 Angola FIBA Africa champion
9 Egypt FIBA Africa 2nd place
10 Senegal FIBA Africa 3rd place
11 Argentina FIBA Americas top four
12 Dominican Republic FIBA Americas top four
13 Mexico FIBA Americas top four
14 Puerto Rico FIBA Americas top four
15 Eurobasket champion*
16 Eurobasket 2nd place*
17 Eurobasket 3rd place*
18 Eurobasket 4th place*
19 Eurobasket 5th place*
20 Eurobasket 6th place*
21 Wildcard
22 Wildcard
23 Wildcard
24 Wildcard

* If Spain finishes in the top six, the seventh place team will qualify.

FIBA Update: Spain Upset, Puerto Rico Stays Unbeaten

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Thursday was a big day in FIBA qualifications, with the second round of FIBA Americas getting started and Day 2 at Eurobasket seeing a thrilling upset.

Down goes Spain

The story of the day was Slovenia coming back from 10 points down to beat Eurobasket favorite Spain. The Suns’ Goran Dragic led the way for the tournament’s hosts, registering 18 points, six rebounds, seven assists and two steals.

The game was more important for Slovenia, who now looks like a strong candidate to earn one of Europe’s six automatic berths to next year’s World Cup, than Spain. The two-time defending Euro champs have finished first (2011 Eurobasket, 2009 Eurobasket, 2006 World Championship) or second (2012 Olympics, 2008 Olympics, 2007 Eurobasket) in six of their last seven international competitions (the exception being the 2010 World Championship), despite losing preliminary-round games in almost all of them.

But there wasn’t any clear gamesmanship on Spain’s part. Marc Gasol played all but three minutes on Thursday.

Down to the wire

Slovenia-Spain was a great game, and it wasn’t the only thriller on Thursday. Latvia edged Montenegro on a jumper by Kristaps Janicenoks in the final seconds, Croatia beat Georgia on a Ante Tomic, pick-and-roll layup, and Belgium outlasted Germany in overtime.

The ends of these FIBA games can be really fun, because there are fewer timeouts in the final possessions. You’re not allowed to call a timeout on a live ball.

What happened to Turkey?

As someone who witnessed Turkey’s magical run to the 2010 World Championship gold medal game first-hand, it’s disappointing to see how much they’ve fallen off. They’ve been a mess offensively without long-time point guard Kerem Tunceri (whose absence on the roster was the coach’s decision, according to my Turkish friends on twitter) and with Hedo Turkoglu and Ersan Ilyasova combining to shoot 11-for-38 (29 percent).

More disappointing is the Turkish defense, which was dominant in 2010 and has allowed about 108 points per 100 possessions in their two games this week. With their size, they can extend their 2-3 zone out beyond the 3-point line, but they didn’t really go to it until the third quarter on Thursday. And when they did, Italy just picked it apart.

The good news for Turkey is that Hedo’s tan looks fabulous.

Greece back on top

The bad news for Turkey is that, after a day off, they next face Greece, who has the tournament’s best point differential after two games. Greece had a couple of down years (they didn’t qualify for last year’s Olympics), but has looked strong in wins over Sweden and Russia.

Greece is one of seven unbeaten teams. The most surprising of the seven has to be Finland, who has been led by former first-round pick Petteri Koponen. Also unbeaten is the Ukraine, coached by TNT’s Mike Fratello.

Big wins for Canada, Puerto Rico

While Spain can brush off Thursday’s loss, every game at the FIBA Americas tournament is critical right now, because the top four teams after this round of games will earn the automatic bids to next year’s World Cup of Basketball.

So Canada’s 89-67 win over Mexico, putting them in second place with three games to play, was huge. The Spurs’ Cory Joseph, now averaging 16.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists, has been one of the best players in the tournament.

Also big was Puerto Rico’s win over Argentina. Puerto Rico trailed by 16 midway through the second quarter, but came back and took control with a 13-0 run late in the third. They haven’t clinched a top-four spot just yet, but as the only undefeated team in the tournament, they’re in great shape.

Former Knick and Nugget Renaldo Balkman has been huge for P.R., averaging 20.6 points and 8.4 boards through five games.

Action in FIBA Americas and Eurobasket continues Friday.

2014 World Cup of Basketball field

No. Team Qualified
1 Spain Host
2 USA 2012 Olympic champion
3 Iran FIBA Asia champion
4 Philippines FIBA Asia 2nd place
5 Korea FIBA Asia 3rd place
6 Australia FIBA Oceania champion
7 New Zealand FIBA Oceania 2nd place
8 Angola FIBA Africa champion
9 Egypt FIBA Africa 2nd place
10 Senegal FIBA Africa 3rd place
11 FIBA Americas champion
12 FIBA Americas 2nd place
13 FIBA Americas 3rd place
14 FIBA Americas 4th place
15 Eurobasket champion*
16 Eurobasket 2nd place*
17 Eurobasket 3rd place*
18 Eurobasket 4th place*
19 Eurobasket 5th place*
20 Eurobasket 6th place*
21 Wildcard
22 Wildcard
23 Wildcard
24 Wildcard

* If Spain finishes in the top six, the seventh place team will qualify.