European hoops competition gets tougher
by Jeff Zillgitt, USA TODAY Sports
The final day of group play at Eurobasket 2013 in Slovenia encapsulated the intensity and competitiveness of the event.
With quarterfinals spots and seeding on the line, Greece forced overtime against Croatia with a three-pointer, gave up a three-pointer leading to a second overtime and eventually lost 92-88 on Monday. The game was not the only thing it lost. Greece failed to advance to the quarterfinals when a win would have put them in position to advance.
In the next game, Italy erased a 66-55 deficit against Spain midway through the fourth quarter, sent the game in overtime with a buzzer-beater and won 86-81. Italy grabbed the third seed in its group and pushed Spain to the fourth seed.
Bids for the 2014 World Cup in Spain isn’t the only prize. National pride is at stake, too.
Eurobasket, the entertaining and competitive championship played every two years (going to every four after the 2017 event), is considered the toughest international basketball event to win – tougher than the Olympics and World Cup, formerly the world championship, because the competition is stronger in Europe and not diluted with weaker basketball-playing nations who received automatic bids to the Olympics and worlds.
“I don’t think there’s any question that the most competitive balance among all the FIBA continental championships takes place in Europe because in a given tournament there can be, if not 10 or 12 teams that can win the gold, easily 12 teams that can medal,” said ESPN announcer and international basketball expert Fran Fraschilla.
Russia, the 2012 London Olympics bronze medalist, didn’t even reach the second round of group play at Eurobasket 2013 in Slovenia. Only won once in five games after entering the event in turmoil – its coach quit about a month before the tournament.
Turkey, the runner-up to the USA in the 2010 world championships, was also 1-4 and did not advance to the second round. Macedonia, which finished fourth at Eurobasket 2011, also failed to reach the second round.
Greece, ranked fourth in the world and which finished sixth at Eurobasket 2011, is done after losing a double-overtime thriller against Croatia in the final … [For more on European basketball competition continues to get tougher, click here.]