Currently, the U20 European Championship of Division A is running in Bilbao. Europeanprospects.com is not present in Spain to cover the tournament so we are doing a little overview on what has happened so far.
Spain and France dominate
The hosts and France are currently considered as the main favorites for the tournament as both teams have outrageously dominated their group phase and are still undefeated at the moment of our writing. Spain is of course driven by Nikola Mirotic who is an absolute beast on this level while France is a more balanced team focused on their team defense but it has also some individuals (Evan Fournier, Leo Westermann) able to be a major factor on offense. Russia is still undefeated as well with a team that is without any major prospect on a first look. Pavel Antipov caught our eyes back in 2009 during the U18 European Championship and he gets some good support by the 2m05 tall forward Andrey Zubkov who is a newcomer at this level. Finally, Italy is the last team without a defeat in the second phase. The Azzurri are more than just the Alessandro Gentile show as the roster is pretty balanced around the Euroleague experienced Nicolo Melli, the athletic Riccardo Moraschini and Achille Polonaro and their PG Andrea de Nicolao.
While these four teams look like the potential semi-finalists, you have Montenegro and Germany in the second row as next teams that might reach the Quarter-Finals. The results in the highly disputed preliminary rounds made that some traditional powerhouses like Serbia, Croatia or Lithuania are not in the race anymore and have to fight against relegation. But the emergence of good talent in countries like Sweden or Austria are the main reasons for this situation and can only add some more interest to the competition.
As mentioned already, at least one of these big three countries will play next summer in B Division. With tough losses against Germany or Sweden in the preliminary round, Lithuania and Croatia are most likely disputing the relegation spot with Austria. The team from the Alps put up a big signal when they beat Croatia in the Classification round yesterday to show that they will not give up until the last game of this double round.
Mirotic and the rest
Simon from in-the-game.org has forwarded us his advanced statistics about the tournament for the first 4 games. Without any surprise, it is Nikola Mirotic who is dominating the 28 minutes pace-adjusted Efficiency stats with 34.0 in front of the surprising Bojan Dubljevic (MNG – 25.8) and the limited-minutes center Artem Pustovyi from Ukraine who plays only 15.5 minutes per game but averages 22.7eff pace adjusted.
The best rebounders of the tournament are Furkan Aldemir from Turkey (12.1rpg 28mpa) and Daniel Theis from Germany (11.4rpg 28mpa) where Aldemir has an amazing 6.2 offensive boards. On the defensive end, the New York born former Hofstra and now St. Josephs Sophomore Halil Kanacevic is dominating with 8.1rpg for Montenegro but playing only 12.0 minutes per game.
Romain Hillote is one of the role players that makes the French team so strong as the guard/forward averages an excellent 5.0 assist/turnover ratio so far into the tournament. Another French player that is highly followed in Bilbao is Rudy Gobert who is a major factor on the defensive end with 2.5 blocks and 8.8 rebounds per game pace adjusted.
Spain – Germany tonight
With Spain struggling against Ukraine yesterday evening, a lot of eyes will follow the game between the hosts and Germany tonight. The German team has won against Ukraine in the preliminary round and they have a player in Daniel Theis who should be able to put Mirotic in trouble over some stretches of the game. We asked the future Tulane guard Malte Ziegenahagen about his feelings on the tournament so far and how he sees their upcoming games.
We have this year a very deep roster and a well harmonizing team. We have fun playing together, it is as simple as that. This is our secret, because we fire each other up before every game and show ourselves how much we are concentrated. Additionally, we have a good coaching staff which is preparing us very well for the games. We play with 11 players and can have a large rotation which is certainly an asset.
We knew that we were an underdog coming into the tournament but this role has motivated us. We wanted to show that we have done a great preparation and that we are a good team. We wanted to win the game against Greece in any case as this was a major step in direction of the Quarter-Final. We were concentrated the whole day on this and knew that it was a great opportunity for us. We took it and we are happy to be one step closer to the Final. We have high goals at this European Championship.
Sweden continues to improve
The Swedish U20 National Team has already fulfilled its goal which was to stay in Division A. With more and more talent coming up, it was a major accomplishment for the team around Davidson College player Chris Czerapowicz to win against Croatia in the preliminary round and therefore qualify for the Last 12. Even if the team could not add another victory (two 2pt losses against Montenegro and Russia so far), they showed some major progress and some of the most talented 92 born prospects (Charles Barton Jr, Viktor Gaddefors) can prepare for another year of Division A basketball, knowing that the talented 93 players around Marcus Eriksson will join the roster next summer. Despite the defeat today, Sweden has still the chance to reach the Quarter-Final in the case of a Latvian defeat today against Slovenia. Czerapowicz added some additional comments:
My impression is that anything can happen in the tournament because all teams are so even. I think that every team has a chance to beat anyone, with maybe one or two exceptions. With that being said I think our chances to advance are just as big as any other team, I’m not sure how far we can go, if we play up to are potential we could go far. Right now the focus is on making it to the quarter-final game, and then we’ll see what happens after that.
The Swedish forward is also aware of the importance of the accomplishment to stay in Division A for the whole Swedish Basketball.
I think it is very important to build habits, and thanks to our performance in staying in the A division I think Swedish basketballs goals and demands will be bigger on the upcoming generations. From now on it should become a habit or a goal to compete in the A division and try to make it as far as possible, rather than to try to avoid being knocked out.
Semi-Finals and Final on FIBA TV
The semi-final and the Final of the U20 European Championship can also be followed on FIBA TV next weekend.