One question for each nation heading into the February window
MUNICH (Germany) - Two games in, four still to play in the First Round of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 European Qualifiers with an important window coming up.
The outlook could look very different following the conclusion of the intriguing double-headers as we delve into the unknown.
Here's a run through the 32 teams with one question that looms:
Can Belgium back up their win over Serbia?
Two wins from two was the perfect start for Belgium, but their four-point success over Serbia in Mons would have done wonders for their confidence moving forward. The task now is to back that performance up and they will be all too aware of the threat that Latvia pose. They have the comforts of the Mons Arena again up first before a trip to Riga.
How will Serbia respond to suffering defeat in the first window?
Serbia are not strangers to defeats in the Qualifiers (cc: that shock upset against Switzerland back in 2020) so they won't be in panic mode after a loss against Belgium in the first window. But, a response is needed. They will be expected to pick up two wins against Slovakia so the intrigue will be on how they perform and put the opening window behind them.
Will Rihards Lomazs stay red-hot for Latvia?
33 points. Six threes. Lomazs scorching night almost carried Latvia to a win in Belgrade on the opening night of the Qualifiers. And then, a further 28 points with six more three-pointers followed as Latvia picked up their first win against Slovakia. The 25-year-old carries plenty of momentum into the second window and his scoring output could prove crucial in their encounters with Belgium.
Is the writing already on the wall for Slovakia?
An 0-2 start is far from ideal for any side, but when you then face the prospect of a double-header with Serbia, it becomes increasingly daunting. Slovakia did suffer a heavy loss at home to Belgium, but came back well on their travels as they hung tough with Latvia before coming up short. They will know this is as good a time as any to beat Serbia and they will hope to still be in the mix come the third and final window.
Can Belarus get it done away from Minsk?
One win at home, one loss on the road. The same can be said for all four sides in this wide-open group and Belarus will look to make their mark on their travels in their potentially crucial double-header with Great Britain. They host the first encounter having opened with an impressive win over Turkey in Minsk - Maksim Salash and Artsiom Parakhouski both starred - and whatever happens, the reverse fixture will be huge.
Does Shane Larkin hold the key to success for Turkey?
It was an abject performance from Turkey as they suffered a surprise 14-point loss away in Belarus on the opening night. However, back came Shane Larkin into the fold and they looked better in brushing aside Great Britain with the guard contributing 22 points and 8 assists in the 17-point win. With an exciting double-header with Greece to come, Larkin could be the difference-maker once more.
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Are Greece in danger after a shaky start?
Greece spurned a 15-point lead in their opening game as they were beaten by Great Britain, but did manage to bounce back with a win on home soil against Belarus. However, with all four teams at 1-1, the group is wide open and Greece now have two games against Turkey with improvement needed if they are to avoid the prospect of a must-win final window. Two defeats would put them in danger, but on the flip side two wins could be huge in their short-and-long term goals.
Can GB add to their recent success in Newcastle?
Luke Nelson inspired a win over Germany in the FIBA EuroBasket 2022 Qualifiers, while Teddy Okereafor sparked a comeback win over Greece in November's window. Two major scalps for GB and both were played in the city of Newcastle. The venue plays host to Belarus on Gameday 4 with another win possibly pushing GB closer to the Second Round.
Will Slovenia be able to keep delivering in the clutch moments?
Two wins for the reigning European champions, but an overall points differential of plus seven shows that they were pushed all the way. Slovenia battled to a two-point triumph against Croatia in Zagreb in their opener as Jakob Cebasek came up with a crucial four-point play with 48 seconds left on the clock. Against Sweden, it was Klemen Prepelic's second-half burst to finish with 30 points to secure a five-point win. An already battle-tested side will hope for less drama this time around.
Will the return of Jonas Jerebko inspire Sweden against Croatia?
Jonas Jerebko declared his intention to suit up again for the national team and has been included in the initial roster ahead of the February window. The former NBA forward has been out of action for the past year, but carries a big reputation and could provide a boost that Sweden needs as they come up against Croatia for a second successive Qualifiers campaign.
Can glory in Espoo spur Finland further forward?
After losing to Sweden by 10 in their opener, Finland bounced back in the best possible manner as they defeated Croatia in front of their home fans in Espoo. The first win ticked off and a platform to build upon going into their next contests with Slovenia with the first of which back at the Espoo Metro Arena.
Will Croatia enjoy another double over Sweden?
Croatia have their backs against the wall in the group after suffering two defeats in November. It wasn't all doom-and-gloom as they pushed Slovenia all the way, but there are no moral victories when it comes to chasing a place at the next World Cup. They next come up against Sweden having enjoyed recent success against the opposition with two wins during the FIBA EuroBasket 2022 Qualifiers and another double would be monumental.
Can Israel go unbeaten through the group?
Israel are the early frontrunners in the group after a 2-0 start in November. During the FIBA EuroBasket 2022 Qualifiers, they were one of two sides to win five games over the course of the campaign and are on course for a similarly strong showing. Israel kept both Poland and Estonia to under 70 points and their defense could be the key in their battles with Germany.
Is this Estonia's time to shine?
Estonia will have FIBA EuroBasket 2022 to look forward to and are already showing they mean business in pursuit of a spot at the World Cup in the meantime. A three-point win in Nurnberg over Germany provided the perfect platform to get themselves in the mix of a challenging group. Poland will be equally as tough, but Estonia are riding the crest of a wave with some top young talent and will be confident of capitalizing on their opponents' transition.
Have Germany turned a corner after a Qualifiers slide?
After six defeats on the bounce, Germany secured an important win in Poland to ignite their current campaign. The FIBA EuroBasket 2022 co-hosts finished with a 1-5 record in those Qualifiers and slipped up at home to Estonia in their opener. But a timely win offers some momentum to take into a February double-header with the unbeaten group leaders, Israel.
Can Poland find their feet under Igor Milicic?
Changes in direction and new eras can often be gradual processes, but Poland will be hoping they won't need too much time to get themselves going after two defeats in November. A combined margin of defeats of just 11 points suggests they are not too far away and they will be targeting their two games against Estonia to get back on track.
Who will be next to step up for France?
France arguably have the deepest pool of talent in Europe, right now, and that's a big factor in why they are being tipped for further success on the international stage. They add further experience to their roster with the returns of Mathias Lessort and Axel Toupane as Portugal await. It was Louis Labeyrie who was the star of the first window and with such fierce competition for places in future squads, these games present a golden opportunity to step up and be counted.
Is this the key window for Montenegro?
A win against Portugal and loss to France from November could well follow the same pattern in July, so this double-header has important ramifications; not just for the First Round, but potentially the Second Round, too. Montenegro only lost to France by six points and will consider themselves favorites with their ties with Hungary, but it shouldn't be straightforward.
Is this the key window for Hungary?
It's the same scenario for Hungary. On paper, their closest matchup is upcoming although they were far from convincing in beating Portugal in contrast to Montenegro as well as their respective showings against France. If Hungary fail to pick up a win then they could be heading into July with a decisive showdown with Portugal, so this window is key.
Is there any chance Portugal can pull off a massive upset?
There are different levels of upsets within the Qualifiers and if Portugal were able to win of their two encounters with France, then that would be elevated to historic levels. They won't be eased in as they travel to Dijon for the first game before getting to host the Olympic runners-up in Matosinhos in what promises to be a big occasion for the country. They were competitive against Hungary, but this is quite a few steps up and a great learning curve for a developing nation.
Can Lithuania fend off their closest challengers twice in four days?
Who can forget Lithuania's dramatic qualification for EuroBasket last year? One way that certainly helps getting involved in another nerve-racking scenario is making a 2-0 start, and that's just what they did in November. Now, they face a double-header with Bosnia and Herzegovina in a battle of the unbeaten sides where two wins could already wrap up a spot in the next phase.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Will Bosnia and Herzegovina be able to maintain their high-scoring offense?
2-0 plays 2-0. Bosnia and Herzegovina will now target taking control of the group when they come up against Lithuania. However, it will be a different challenge in maintaining their free-flowing offense having averaged 91.0 points per game so far. Dzanan Musa was influential upon his return to the national team and they will be aware they won't have things all their own way; starting the double-header on home soil to look to seize the initiative.
Is this already make-or-break for Czech Republic?
Czech Republic are already facing an uphill battle to make it back to the World Cup after their exploits in 2019. Two losses against the two leading sides in the group already hinder their chances further down the line and they have to find a way to get on the board in the win column with a pivotal double-header with Bulgaria. The pressure will be on as they head to Botevgrad in the first of the two meetings.
Can Bulgaria back up their FIBA EuroBasket 2022 qualification?
Bulgaria advanced to FIBA EuroBasket 2022 ahead of Latvia and will be keen to back up their efforts in search of a place in the global competition. They have their work cut out in the group and began with losses of 20 and 10 points against Lithuania and Bosnia and Herzegovina. But they will be out to make Czech Republic their next qualifying victims with one win likely needed to stay in the mix ahead of the July window.
Will Spain remain the most efficient team in the Qualifiers?
Spain made light work of their opening two games with convincing victories over North Macedonia and Georgia to set the tone in the group. Their strength in depth shone through with a trio of debutants also making their mark and Spain were the most efficient nation in November with a rating of 232 having also scored more points than any other side with Ukraine next to add to those tallies.
Will the Shermadini-Shengelia tandem be enough to fuel Georgia?
Tornike Shengelia was in inspired form in helping Georgia to an opening win over Ukraine, but missed his side's following loss to Spain. That only highlighted the importance of 'Toko' who forms a dominant frontcourt partnership alongside Giorgi Shermadini with the duo vital to Georgia's success. They did also get valuable contributions from Thaddus McFadden and will look for their stars to come through in the battle with North Macedonia.
Can Ukraine's outside shooting help propel a major surprise?
Ukraine head into their double-header with Spain at 1-1 and facing their ultimate test. They averaged 11.0 three-point makes per game in November with just shy of 60 attempts across the two games. They will need to fire on all cylinders and most likely have to improve on that 37.9 percent accuracy if they are to cause Spain problems.
Can North Macedonia build around Jacob Wiley to turn their fortunes around?
Jacob Wiley has made a big impact for North Macedonia since making a senior debut on the international stage, but the Real Betis center lacked a strong supporting cast during a disappointing first window. Wiley topped his side's scoring and rebounding charts with 11.0 points and 7.0 boards per game with North Macedonia held in the 60s in both games, and will need to increase their output when they take on Georgia.
Can Russia pull away from the group and move to 4-0?
Russia did what they needed to do in the first window with their victory over Italy giving them early control in the group. Two games against the Netherlands follow with a chance to potentially lock up their place in the Second Round with two games to spare. They still have to face Italy on the road, and they won't be looking that far ahead with the Dutch dangerous opposition.
Will Italy's dependable core keep pushing their team forward?
Italy managed to avoid an upset at home to the Netherlands as their reliable stars came through in the big moments in Milan. After losing to Russia, they are already playing catch up in the group and cannot afford to slip up when they meet Iceland. The likes of Stefano Tonut, Amedeo Tessitori and Michele Vitali bring lots of experience that often proves vital in these Qualifiers.
Can Iceland take the next step and cause an upset against Italy?
There's a feel-good factor around Iceland right now with some breakout performers as they relish being back on the main stage after missing out on the FIBA EuroBasket 2022 Qualifiers. Iceland pulled off a two-point win on the road in the Netherlands to get off to a winning start, but did find Russia too strong of a challenge in a 24-point loss. They finally get to play at home with another tough test ahead with two games against Italy.
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Will the Netherlands live to rue the opening window?
Back-to-back two-point defeats left the Netherlands in a precarious position after the November window. Their outlook could have been very different had they converted their opportunities as they now go into an ominous battle with Russia trying to avoid the dreaded 0-4 start. Having pushed Italy close, there are positives to take into this window.