2014 FIBA World Cup: Group D is still anyone's ball game
After two days of intense 2014 FIBA World Cup action in Spain, Group D remains wide open as all teams enjoy a rest day before embarking on three further games in as many days. Unsurprisingly, Slovenia and Lithuania have set the pace having not dropped a match. Australia is hot on their heels, while Angola would now fancy themselves to see Round 16 action with Mexico and Korea yet to add to the win column.
The biggest contest thus far was on day one when Australia met Slovenia, running into a red-hot Goran Dragic who managed to get the better of the Boomers who again failed to hit the ground running in the opening match of a major tournament. Australia didn't have to wait long however, they placed the group on notice less than 24 hours later as they buried Korea by 34 points and looked to build momentum sooner rather than later, aspirations to medal at the forefront of their minds.
On the back of a silver medal at last year's Eurobasket, Lithuania entered the tournament with an outstanding form line, dropping only two of 14 preparation matches. However losing key point guard Mantas Kalnietis in the week leading up to the tournament was seen by many as a huge blow and severely denting their aspirations of earning a medal. Don't count the Lithuanians out though; they are seasoned veterans, their bench runs deep and are yet again backed by a large contingent of fans who have made the trek from the Baltics to Gran Canaria.
While Sarunas Vasiliauskas stepped into the point guard role in Kalnietis' absence, Lithuania went to what they know best in their opener against Mexico; big men Jonas Valanciunis, Donatas Motiejunas and Jonas Maciulis leading the way as the players to score in double figures in an 87-74 victory. For the Mexicans who are enjoying their first taste of World Cup action since 1974, guard Francisco Cruz went for 21 points while NBA experienced players Jorge Guiterrez (13 points) and Gustavo Ayon (12 points) also contributed.
Lithuania next met Angola, and while the scoring was evenly spread across the roster, Valanciunis (11 points, 13 rebounds) and Montiejunas (12 points) were again at the forefront of their strategy. It is these players who will be the biggest threat to Australia as the two teams meet in their next match, one that is likely to go a long way in deciding the final placings in this group.
The Boomers will have to once again lean on in-form center Aron Baynes (averaging 17 points and 8.5 rebounds) and look to David Andersen and Cameron Bairstow to hold their own against Lithuania's seasoned big men. One area Australia may look to exploit Lithuania is from outside where they currently lead the tournament in 3-point percentage at 51.9%, however it must be said they have also launched the fewest from beyond the arc (14/27) while Lithuania are a more than respectable 18/40 from downtown which makes them deadly from both inside and out.
Lithuania got the better of the Boomers last month in a friendly in Klaipeda in what has shaped as a solid rivalry between the two nations over the past two decades. The Boomers were early in their preparations in that match in Klaipeda and now look to have settled on their rotations that look vastly different to what Coach Andrej Lemanis perhaps envisioned at the start of their preparations. Highly touted Utah Jazz guard Dante Exum has vacated his starting spot, perhaps permanently for the tournament. Ryan Broekhoff has stepped up into the starting line-up with his sizzling-hot shooting, while Nathan Jawai has struggled to find his touch through the nine game preparations schedule and remains as one of the last players off the bench, opening the door for the likes of forward Brock Motum to shine.
Slovenia of course are the other team who will have more than a say in how Group D pans out; they have the luxury of having already knocked off Australia in group play while also accounting for Mexico in their ensuing encounter. Slovenia's ball movement has been nothing short of impressive thus far resulting in becoming the fourth highest scoring team in the tournament with 89.5 points per game. In game one it was the Goran Dragic show and netting 21 points. However he was to be outdone by his brother Zoran against Mexico, dropping 22 points in 22 minutes and going a perfect 8/8 from the field in the process.
Slovenia will look to remain unbeaten through their next matches against Korea and Angola before taking on Lithuania in what could potentially be the play-off for Group D honours. Lithuania and Slovenia met twice in their World Cup preparations, each winning on their home floor with Lithuania the victors in Kaunas and then Slovenia too strong in Ljubljana. Slovenia will have to ensure they are in top form as Lithuania have a tendency to build as major tournaments progress and peak at the most opportune times, while Australia have their own lofty expectations to live up to, ensuring an intriguing final three days of Group D play awaits us.
The further intrigue and perhaps chess-like aspect of this World Cup is the scenario whereby finishing 2nd in Group D means you are more likely to meet Team USA as early as the quarter finals, while a 1st or 3rd place finish would see a chance meeting with the Americans until the semi finals. This of course only remains relevant if all goes to plan and Team USA top their group.
It is for this reason as the group stage progresses to start looking at what may lay ahead; for Group D teams it will be Team USA and the other top teams from Group C. Unsurprisingly, Team USA are 2-0 after overcoming a strong challenge from Turkey in their second match. Based on their strong showing against the USA (they led the Americans during the third quarter), and coming from behind to defeat New Zealand, Turkey look to be the front-runners to take the runner-up spot. However with Ukraine, Dominican Republic and Finland all at 1-1 and with a good New Zealand team at 0-2, most of Group D will more than likely have little idea who they will be facing in the sudden death round of 16 until the buzzer has sounded in Bilbao where Group C is based.
Watch the Boomers take on Lithuania live on Wednesday, 3 September from 1:25am AEST. Watch live on ABC2 or via FIBA's livebasketball.tv.
Heads Up: #TeamPnR's Craig Rayner, Travis Reid and Damian Arsenis will be covering all the Australian Boomers games on Twitter via @OzBallPnR - use hashtag #GoBoomers
Highlights from Day 2 - The Close Ones
Argentina lost to Croatia 85-90 (Group B)
Croatia were able to withstand a 30 point and 9 rebound outburst from the ageless Luis Scola to improve their record to 2-0. Bojan Bogdanovic delivered 16 points and 7 rebounds, while 2014 NBA Draftee Dario Saric also chimed in with 16 points with 9 rebounds and Krunoslav Simon who chimed in with a team-high 18 points.
Serbia lost to France 73-74 (Group A)
France bounced back after their opening loss to Brazil in the "Group of Death" aka Group A to edge ahead of Serbia in yet another thriller, thanks to some cool heads at the end. Joffrey Lauvergne led four French players in double-digit scoring with 19 points and 6 rebounds, gaining great support from Antoine Diot (15 points). Serbia were well served by Miroslav Raduljica with a game-high 21 points with 7 rebounds, while Bogdan Bogdanovic contributed 12 points. Both teams now boast a 1-1 record, with Brazil and Spain undefeated in Group A.
Senegal defeated Puerto Rico 82-75 (Group B)
Thanks to an 18 point and 13 rebound double-double from Georgi Dieng and 20 points from Mouhammad Faye, Senegal overcame a 9 point first quarter deficit to earn their first win on the world stage since 1998. Renaldo Balkman led Puerto Rico with 21 points and 7 rebounds but it was not enough to prevent his team from remaining winless ahead of their next game against Greece.
Tonight's Key Games
Group B: Senegal vs Croatia (Seville) Group A: Brazil vs Spain (Granada) (Rest day for Groups C & D)
Group D Teams
Australia lost to Slovenia 80-90 Australia defeated Korea 89-55 Lithuania (Preview) - 3 September 2014, 1:26am AEST Mexico (Preview) - 3 September 2014, 9:26pm AEST Angola (Preview) - 4 September 2014, 9:26pm AEST