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The Experts: We got it wrong
MUNICH (FIBA EuroBasket 2021 Pre-Qualifiers) - Clearly, some of the experts were suffering from sun stroke, when writing their predictions for this window, will they eat humble pie now?
Prior to witnessing a drama-filled upset-abundant Window, the experts predicted the games to be dominated by teams joining the competition from the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers. Well, that is not exactly how things panned out...
Simas Baranauskas, Igor Curkovic and Jared Grellet now reflect on the September action.
MKD - the people helping the experts save face
Yep, I got a few things wrong. But! I did call this!
SB: Belgium allowed me to save face a little bit by squeaking out a close one against Portugal, albeit with more drama than I anticipated. Looking for more positives, Great Britain were my pick to win Group D and they are still undefeated. (Editor: It helps they have not played yet...)
JG: I said The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia would be the most likely of the Pre-Qualifiers first round teams to continue in this competition, and I am sticking with that statement. I also said my heart was with Denmark...now I am daring to dream.
IC: MKD all the way, called them to make the tournament in 2021, to mark the 10th anniversary of their FIBA EuroBasket 2011 upset. Also, I said I'm looking at Gabriel Lundberg to make a name for himself, and now I just feel happy every time he goes for 20-point games, like I'm the one doing it, not him.
Portugal are popping the biggest surprises so far
It would have been a surprise to not have any upsets. But some of those upsets were a surprise. Which one did you least see coming?
SB: If I had to pick one game, it would be Portugal sneaking one past everyone's Nordic darlings Iceland. But the fact that six of the seven games finished with margins of four points or less was the biggest surprise of the window, having envisioned the likes of Austria or Belgium easing past their opponents.
JG: Portugal almost coming back from 17 points adrift to almost upset Belgium, THEN on Sunday defeating Iceland! When I looked at Group C, I had it pinned as a two-horse race between Belgium and Iceland. They both played FIBA EuroBasket 2017 and were perhaps aggrieved to be in the same group. Now, Portugal have blown things right open.
IC: Denmark over Sweden WITHOUT Shavon Shields. That was an extraordinary win for the Danes, just to keep the excitement for basketball alive in the country. It has been an amazing year for basketball in Denmark, but still, I really thought Sweden would finish them off for Sunday's lunch. Guess they weren't hungry enough.
"Coach, we are going to the Qualifiers, right?"
Looking at the standings now - who is taking the top spot in each Group?
SB: Still sticking to my guns with Sweden in Group A, providing they show up full strength for the remaining games. In Group B, I have forsaken Romania to jump on MKD's bandwagon, Belgium are still my pick in Group C and, as mentioned above, I couldn't be happier with selecting Great Britain to finish atop Group D.
JG: Denmark have won twice...but by tiny margins. And they can not spring any surprises in the next window. as mentioned, I am daring to dream, but somehow, it still looks like Belarus will pull out on top in Group A. Group B? MKD. Can this even be up for discussion? Despite Portugal putting a spanner in the works in Group C, I still see Belgium coming up trumps. Finally, Group D. Previously, I said Austria, but after their shaky performance on Thursday, I think there is an opening for Great Britain to triumph in this group.
IC: Changing my Iceland pick to Belgium, just because I saw Hans Vanwijn's potential and Dario Gjergja's team-first coaching approach. They should've defeated Portugal by a greater margin, but it's never easy to perform well under the new coach, especially with no time for preparation camps. Changing to Denmark over Sweden, too. Sticking with MKD and GB in the other two groups.
Basketball is alive and well across the continent
Just how good is the standard of European national team basketball right now?
SB: To use an old cliché, everyone can play basketball nowadays. After proving themselves to be competitive against Europe's elite in the previous three windows, the teams arriving from the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers didn't dominate the field against the rest of the field by any stretch of imagination. The other teams from the FIBA EuroBasket 2021 Pre-Qualifiers would be proud of MKD, Denmark, Portugal and Cyprus.
JG: Has it ever been better? Right now in the Qualifiers, we are talking about (in theory) the 25th to 36th best European teams and the quality - from the top teams to 36th - is not dropping off. There is no easy beat in this competition. Across the four games on Thursday, the average winning margin was 2.75!! On Sunday, the biggest win came in a game what many would consider an upset. Basketball runs deep on the old continent.
IC: I watch 20 basketball games per week when the season starts. Usually, it's all 16 Basketball Champions League games, plus all Portland Trail Blazers games, and then some others just for fun in the FIBA Europe Cup, EuroLeague Women or domestic leagues. That Belarus v Denmark double overtime classic was right up there, so much stuff for people to enjoy in there. I certainly did, so much so that I am willing to spend my birthday with the FIBA EuroBasket 2021 Pre-Qualifiers over the next window! Give something back to me, players. Make it a birthday to remember!