MUNICH (Germany) – With the start of the New Year the countdown to FIBA EuroBasket 2022 steps up a notch with the excitement growing with every passing day.
We’ve turned once again to our panel of FIBA writers of Jeff Taylor, Igor Curkovic and Bradley Gains to give us their early takes on what to expect when the competition rolls around in September.
Who’s your pick to win it all? Talk us through the podium.
JT: I’m not going to bet against France after watching them come so close to capturing the Olympic gold medal in Tokyo. If the hunger, focus and same squad is there, they should get it done. After that, I’m expecting a Luka-led Slovenia to finish second and, get this, a new-look Spain to finish third! They impressed me in the November window.
IC: I’m still feeling like the 2020s are going to be France’s decade. The fact that they will have to face Slovenia, Lithuania and hosts Germany in Group B sounds good, because after that kind of a group stage, the first steps in the Knockout Phase could feel like a walk in the park. I wanted to agree with Jeff on Slovenia being on the podium, too, but I got the sense that Lithuania will be out to get one back on Slovenia, with the memories of the Kaunas FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament still alive. So let’s give Lithuania that higher seed, better draw in the Round of 16 and the rest of the way. So, it’s France, Lithuania and… Serbia. Because they should dominate their group, and they should have that extra edge to their game for the same reasons as Lithuania, the memories of hosting the FIBA OQT and not advancing.
BG: France to win. Their strength in depth is incredible and there has been talk of emulating Spain and creating a European dynasty. That has to start somewhere in terms of a title after podium finishes at the World Cup and the Olympics, and EuroBasket 2022 could be the perfect platform. And, how about a repeat showdown from their Tokyo thriller with Slovenia – the defending champions. There are a few teams in contention for the podium, and I’ll give the edge to Serbia. Definitely ready for Spain to win it all again, though.
Dirk, AK47, Pau, La Bomba, TP, Pau again, the Dragon… Continue the sequence and tell us who will be the next EuroBasket MVP…
JT: If France have the best team, as I think they should, then surely it has to be their tower of power, Rudy Gobert.
IC: If I’m going with Lithuania making a deep run, they are going to have to have massive contributions by their men in the middle with Domantas Sabonis and Jonas Valanciunas. Hold up, let me flip the coin, heads Jonas, tails Domantas… It’s up… It’s down… It’s bouncing… Heads! Jonas Valanciunas will be the MVP of the event.
BG: Going by the pick to win it, then the likes of Evan Fournier or Rudy Gobert will definitely be in contention as they will play vital roles. With that said, I’m going for the best player in the tournament: Luka Doncic. I don’t necessarily like that approach, but the numbers might be too difficult to ignore. The last time a player won MVP without winning the title? Dirk Nowitzki in 2005.
Who is your dark horse candidate to spring some surprises come September?
JT: I’m not sure it should be a surprise with the fire and passion this team shows but I think Bosnia and Herzegovina can beat most teams on their day. One certainty is that coach Vedran Bosnic will have them breathing fire and ready to rumble.
IC: Since they were both in the Quarter-Finals of the Olympics, not sure Italy or Germany are considered dark horses. Since they were in the Quarter-Finals of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 and reached the Olympics last summer, not sure Czech Republic are considered dark horses. I’ll go with Georgia. Georgia at home should be fun.
BG: Turkey. A string of disappointments on the European stage with just a single Quarter-Final appearance since finishing as runners-up in 2001. Don’t forget they should have beat the United States at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 and have more talent at their disposal now with the emergence of teen sensation Alperen Sengun and with Shane Larkin settled into the backcourt. It shouldn’t be a surprise, but if they can click, they could go deep.
Which player is going under the radar, but is guaranteed to drop some jaws at EuroBasket?
JT: Write this down: If Jeremy Sochan plays for Poland, he’ll turn heads! He’s currently with the Baylor Bears. Also, it’s time for both David “Lights Out!” Jelinek and Tomas “I’m getting to the rim no matter what” Kyzlink to show everyone in Bohemia they were the real deal in the November window of the FIBA Basketball World Cup European Qualifiers when they played for the Czech Republic.
IC: Nico Mannion. He’s had his troubles with illness and back injury this season, but by the time the Final Round arrives, he’ll be back to his very best, trust me. Nico is a beast.
BG: The Qualifiers have seen several young players step up to the plate and perform on the international stage. None more so in recent times than Deni Avdija. The Under-20 star made a bright start for Israel in a handful of appearances, but has not worn the national team journey for a little while having broken through in the NBA. This would represent a first major tournament at senior level and what better opportunity to take on Europe’s best.
We know, it’s VERY early… but you’re allowed to sound the alarm bell for one of the teams. Which team is in danger of being disappointed?
JT: Everybody! The margins are so slim for a lot of teams. Remember how Germany almost beat Spain as a host in 2015 and as a consequence didn’t get out of the Group Phase, and then Spain, who would have been eliminated with a defeat in that game, ended up winning the title? I’ll go with Georgia on this one, which isn’t going out on a limb since in the FIBA World Rankings they are No. 38 and 18 other European teams are above them. As a host, they could end up riding that support out of the Group Phase yet home fans could also add unwanted pressure. So, I worry for Georgia. For the record, though, I WANT THEM TO ADVANCE!
IC: You’re right, it’s VERY early. And I’m not going to say Croatia because I’m not really neutral when it comes to my homeland. So, let’s go with Germany. Just because of them being in the same group with France, Slovenia and Lithuania, which could put them in fourth place, which could set them up against Spain in the Round of 16. Ouch.
BG: Lithuania. That’s not to say I think they will be poor, but they are in a very tough group as has been mentioned. They were amongst the second-seeded teams when the draw was conducted and had the huge blow of missing out on the Olympics last summer. That could provide extra motivation or be the early warning signs for more disappointment and if they do finish behind France/Slovenia then a tough path awaits in the knockouts.