Group D: Can Serbia maintain the top spot in Istanbul against newly-powerful challengers?
ISTANBUL (FIBA EuroBasket 2017) - Serbia, Latvia and Russia are all dreaming about the medals in Istanbul, with the main FIBA EuroBasket 2017 hosts Turkey banking on their impressive home record to get the job done in Group D, also featuring Belgium and Great Britain.
It's not far-stretched to call this the 'Group of Death', with injuries to Serbian stars and the missing NBA players for Turkey leveling the playing field and giving the rest of the teams hope to cling onto.
Preparation game results: 3 wins, 6 losses
2015 placing: 13th place
Major talking point: Lightning-quick guard Manu Lecomte, one of the top European players in the NCAA, is going to be making his senior national team debut in Istanbul; be prepared to be razzle-dazzled.
Injury update: Matt Lojeski, Hans Vanwijn, Retin Obasohan
Key player: Sam Van Rossom
The bottom line: Axel Hervelle, Sam Van Rossom and Jonathan Tabu aren't getting any younger and this could be their last EuroBasket run with the next tournament coming up in only four years. The absence of Matt Lojeski makes the task of surviving the Group Phase more difficult, but coach Eddy Casteels, by his own admission, is ready to climb his Everest with this group of players. If the Belgian Lions make it out of Group D, that will be an excellent achievement.
Preparation game results: 3 wins, 4 losses
2015 placing: Did not qualify
Major talking point: Myles Hesson did not complete his recovery in time to help the national team and his replacement Carl Wheatle got injured in the penultimate friendly game against Hungary, leaving coach Joe Prunty with limited options at the small forward position.
Injury update: Myles Hesson, Carl Wheatle (Ben Gordon, unavailable)
Key player: Daniel Clark
The bottom line: In spite of heading to Istanbul as the underdogs of Group D, Great Britain have shown in their test games that they match up fairly evenly with the mid-tier teams of European basketball. The only problem is that Serbia, Russia, Latvia and Turkey may be a level or two above mid-tier competition. Nevertheless, players like Daniel Clark, Andrew Lawrence and an interesting up-and-comer in Luke Nelson should keep Great Britain competitive.
Preparation game results: 5 wins, 2 losses
2015 placing: 8th place
Major talking point: After spending the last couple of years dreaming about their could haves and would haves, Latvia finally have both of their NBA stars available, with New York Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis and San Antonio Spurs forward Davis Bertans ready to roll… and pop.
Injury update: Ojars Silins, Janis Berzins, Davis Lejasmeiers, Klavs Cavars (Anzejs Pasecniks, unavailable)
Key player: Kristaps Porzingis
The bottom line: There may not be a more exciting team to watch in FIBA EuroBasket than the one coached by long-time Latvia playcaller Ainars Bagatskis, who has an eye-popping display of talent at his disposal. A starting five of Janis Strelnieks, Dairis Bertans, Janis Timma, Davis Bertans and the unicorn of basketball Kristaps Porzingis, with some veterans off the bench, could go a long way, potentially all the way into the Medal Round.
Preparation game results: 5 wins, 4 losses
2015 placing: 17th place
Major talking point: Aleksey Shved is back for Russia after a four-year break and ready to steal your heart with his tantalizing talent again, as he tries to guide the team back to respectability after two disastrous campaigns in 2013 and 2015.
Injury update: Sergey Karasev
Key player: Aleksey Shved
The bottom line: Russia has, seemingly, regained their footing for FIBA EuroBasket 2017 after dropping the ball and failing to advance from the Group Phase of the competition in Slovenia and France. The incoming head coach Sergey Bazervich and returning stars Aleksey Shved and Timofey Mozgov join Andrey Vorontevich, Vitaly Fridzon and Dimitrii Kulagin to form an interesting core that has potential to go far in the tournament.
Preparation game results: 7 wins, 1 loss
2015 placing: 4th place
Major talking point: Having finished runners-up in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2014 and claimed silver at the 2016 Olympics, Serbia have not enjoyed similar luck on the continental stage, with their last EuroBasket medal coming back in 2009.
Injury update: Milos Teodosic, Nemanja Bjelica, Marko Simonovic, Miroslav Raduljica (Nikola Jokic, unavailable)
Key player: Bogdan Bogdanovic
The bottom line: Heavily hit by injuries, coach Sasha Djordjevic has handed the keys of the team completely to Bogdan Bogdanovic. If their friendly game record is anything to go by, this has been working just fine for Serbia. The 25-year-old Sacramento Kings newcomer, as well as the inside presence of Boban Marjanovic and Ognjen Kuzmic will be the team's strengths in Istanbul, with their goal, in spite of the absences, remaining a podium finish. Now, they just need to keep their fingers crossed Nemanja Nedovic and Nikola Kalinic don't fall out of the rotation either.
Preparation game result: 5 wins, 2 losses
2015 placing: 14th place
Major talking point: Turkey have enjoyed most of their international basketball success on their home solid and the Ufuk Sarica-coached 12 Giant Men will put that theorem to test, hoping to follow up second-place finishes at FIBA EuroBasket 2001 and FIBA Basketball World Cup 2010.
Injury update: Ersan Ilyasova, Omer Asik (Enes Kanter, unavailable)
Key player: Cedi Osman
The bottom line: Turkey's stocks for FIBA EuroBasket 2017 took a hit with Ersan Ilyasova and Omer Asik declared out, but there is much more talent on this team than meets the eye. The high-flying Cedi Osman and Furkan Korkmaz will provide the home crowd with the highlights, while veterans Sinan Guler and Semih Erden provide a steady base to work from. If Ali Muhammed, aka Bobby Dixon, can overcome his injury worries and is ready to go, Ufuk Sarica's team could turn some heads in the Final Phase.