31 August, 2017
17 September
9 Dario Saric (CRO), 44 Bojan Bogdanovic (CRO)
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Who will win FIBA EuroBasket 2017? The experts break it down

MUNICH (FIBA EuroBasket 2017) - After months of waiting, FIBA EuroBasket 2017 is finally on our doorstep. Here, the experts break down what they believe will unfold in the coming three days of action.

We have asked the man who will be calling all the plays from Istanbul for livebasketball.tv, all-tournament long, Jeff Taylor; plus the four minds behind the live updates that you will be receiving on fiba.basketball/eurobasket - Igor Curkovic, Simas Baranauskas, David Hein and Tristan Lavalette - to break down the big talking points coming into the tournament.

Smart Money:
Having witnessed Pau Gasol's heroics in 2015, it would be hard to bet against the reigning champs. He's even got his "little" brother to back him up this time around. France have been impressive in preparation games, Serbia still have a lot of firepower, one of those two should be a lock for the podium places. Maybe even both.  

JT: Need we even ask? Spain. Three titles since 2009, including 2015 when Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, Juan Carlos Navarro, Serge Ibaka and Jose Calderon were absent. 

TL: Sorry to be boring but it has to be favorites Spain, who boast experience, pedigree and star power. They are clearly the team to beat and the safest bet in the tournament. Adding to this, Pau Gasol is likely playing his final FIBA EuroBasket and will be seeking to bow out in style. After a frenetic off-season, where he got traded in the NBA, star playmaker Ricky Rubio will be determined to show off his sublime talents and is set for a big tournament. It all means that it is foolish to bet against Spain. 

SB: If we've learned anything in European basketball over the last decade or so, it is that betting against Spain is never a good idea. Having celebrated gold in three of the last four editions of the tournament, the Gasol brothers alone should be reason enough to put them in pole position, even with depleted depth.

DH: With three titles in the last four FIBA EuroBaskets and a strong group of talent and battle-hardened proven winners, it's hard not to pick Spain to win it all again - and probably a little irresponsible unless you are dealing with someone else's money. If Milos Teodosic were playing, then maybe the comfort level of putting money down on Serbia would be higher. Even France would be a solid bet. But if it's your money, it really should go on Spain. 

Dark Horse:

IC: Not sure we should consider Latvia or Croatia as Murgese and Ariegeois. Just take a look at Latvia's starting five club careers, and Croatia's run last summer with wins over Greece and Italy in Turin; then over France in a friendly; then over Spain and Lithuania in Rio. That's why I'm going with Georgia! Shengelia & Co. got wins over Latvia, Lithuania, Greece and Serbia this summer, keep an eye out for them. (Oh, yeah, Murgese and Ariegeois are dark horse breeds. I've Googled them.)

JT: Latvia. They have guards, an experienced coach and a potential FIBA EuroBasket MVP in Kristaps Porzingis. 

TL: Again let's play it safe - Latvia is the team that should create a stir. They are a well-rounded group and, of course, possess Kristaps Porzingis, arguably the best player at FIBA EuroBasket. In Porzingis, Latvia have a superstar that will cause nightmares for opponents. If he plays to his potential, Latvia could well be eyeing off a podium finish. 

SB: Latvia have all the necessary components to make a run for the podium in Istanbul, save for the experience and know-how in the medal round. Do not get sucked into thinking it is all about Kristaps Porzingis; the talent on this team goes well beyond the budding NBA superstar. Is it even fair to call them a dark horse anymore?

DH: Sure, there are Croatia with the amazing Dario Saric, who is worth the price of admission for any game, and Lithuania, who finished second in 2013 and 2015. Heck, you could even go with the up-and-coming Latvia with the Unicorn Kristaps Porzingis or Turkey, who only do well at home (see second-placed finishes at FIBA EuroBasket 2001 and FIBA Basketball World Cup 2010). But, let's go with Italy. Ettore Messina is a mastermind on the sidelines and Marco Belineli is still an NBA star while Luigi Datome and Nicolo Melli were magical this season in Europe. Sure, no Danilo Gallinari hurts and having five (!) players making their major tournament debuts sounds scary. But the average age of debutants Awudu Abass, Paul Biligha, US-born Christian Burns, Argentina-born Ariel Filloy and Davide Pascolo is nearly 28 years. 


IC: Kresimir Cosic and Pau Gasol are the only two players with two FIBA EuroBasket MVP awards to their names. Just to keep the memory of Kreso alive - Pau, please don't win it third time, please? Maybe let Marc do the heavy-lifting this time? Sergio Rodriguez, help me out here. Top-scorer of the tournament could be a man called Bogdanovic. Bojan or Bogdan, both are capable of having huge numbers.

JT: It's tempting to go with a Dario Saric or Bojan Bogdanovic, the inspirational figures in Croatia's FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament triumph in Turin last year. But I have a nagging concern about the unpredictability of Croatia's national team. They're terrific when you least expect it, and below-par when you predict great things. At the business end of tournaments you can always expect Spain to do well and no player is more crucial in that regard than 2006 FIBA Basketball World Cup MVP, FIBA EuroBaskets 2009 and 2015 MVP Pau Gasol. So I'll go with the veteran.

TL: It's fair to assume a Spanish player, most likely one of the Gasols, will win this award if Spain do indeed go all the way. Pau Gasol, winner of two EuroBasket MVPs, is the popular pick and it would be a fairytale finish for him if this indeed is his final EuroBasket. However, Kristaps Porzingis could very well dominate the tournament. With Giannis Antetokounmpo out of the tournament, Porzingis is arguably the most vaunted player in the competition and will be motivated to perform well after a turbulent off-season filled with trade rumors and supposed bickering with the New York Knicks, his NBA team. A fired up Porzingis spells trouble for opponents and could see him lead Latvia to glory. If that eventuates, then he almost certainly wins the MVP. 

SB: Having picked Spain to lift the EuroBasket title, it only makes sense to go all-in with a Spanish player as well, with Dirk Nowitzki and Sarunas Marciulionis standing out as the only two non-champion MVPs since 1983. The realistic options here are more or less limited to the Gasol brothers and I have a strong feeling the stage is set for the 37-year-old Pau to pass the torch on to his younger sibling Marc, who might have become completely unstoppable with the addition of a consistent outside shot. 

DH: Well, if you have Spain winning their fourth FIBA EuroBasket title, then you need a Spaniard as MVP. Dirk Nowitzki from runners-up Germany in 2005 is the only MVP from a non-champion since 1995. Given that this is still Pau Gasol's team, let's make the 37-year-old Pau Gasol the first-ever back-to-back MVP and the first player with three FIBA EuroBasket MVP trophies.

If you watch one Group Phase match-up...

IC: Any Group A game, wouldn't be surprised if three teams shared a 3-2 record at the end of Group Phase in Helsinki. Also, Serbia and Turkey will be fun in Istanbul, Croatia and Spain in a Rio Olympics re-match in Cluj-Napoca, and Georgia versus Lithuania - memories of that 2015 Round of 16 thriller are still fresh.  

JT: For pure atmosphere and a fast, modern game, one involving Finland's rising star Lauri Markkanen, I think the clash between the Susijengi and Iceland is going to be fun. The crowd in Helsinki will be into this and so will both teams. It will be electric.

TL: Group A looks the most fun and even, so you probably can't go wrong with any of these games although it's hard to go past the hosts. In front of a raucous crowd, Finland will be energized and their games will be great viewing. If you had to pick one game, Finland versus Slovenia looms as an intriguing battle filled with star talent. 

SB: As an impatient person, I just can't wait for the ball to get rolling in the opening game of the tournament between Slovenia and Poland to get a glimpse of the teenage sensation Luka Doncic sharing the court with a dream running mate in Goran Dragic against the hard-nosed Poles, who often get unfairly overlooked and will have things to improve in Helsinki.

DH: Greece vs France in Helsinki would have been fun if the Greek Freak Giannis Antetokoumpo were playing. And the Spain vs Croatia match-up in Cluj-Napoca should be a good one - though perhaps both teams might hide a few tricks for a possible match-up later. There is also Lithuania against Israel and the home Tel Aviv crowd; and Serbia battling Turkey, with their faithful behind them in Istanbul. But let's pick Finland vs Slovenia to see how the fantastic Finnish fans show their love of basketball while also getting wowed by Slovenia’s magical teenager Luka Doncic.

Thanks for coming, but not this time:

IC: Mi dispiace, Italia. I have always enjoyed Italian basketball, but without Danilo Gallinari - the man who averaged 17.9 points per game in 2015 - I'm afraid Italy will not be around on the final day of competition.  

JT: France are missing Rudy Gobert and Nicolas Batum, and this is the first tournament without Tony Parker, Mickael Gelabale and Florent Pietrus. Les Bleus could, as they did in 2014, still have a strong tournament but I can't see them reaching the podium this time.

TL: Greece was set to be a dark horse team but that went out the window with the withdrawal of Giannis Antetokounmpo, who basketball legend Kobe Bryant has challenged to win the NBA MVP for the upcoming season. Without the 'Greek Freak', it's hard to see Greece having enough firepower to challenge the best teams but their innate doggedness and feistiness should ensure they remain competitive. 

SB: I had high hopes for the Ettore Messina-coached Italian side, but it is hard to envision a happy ending for the Azzurri in Istanbul after the Knockout Phase of the competition came slightly too early for Danilo Gallinari. The rigid hand of Messina should prevent the ship from capsizing; they could even impress in Tel Aviv, but the ammunition at their disposal is unlikely to take them past the Quarter-Final stage.

DH: Greece could have been so fascinating with the Greek Freak Giannis Antetokounmpo leading a group that is ready to lead Hellas into the next generation of national team acclaim. Ioannis Bourousis, Nick Calathes, Georgios Printezis and Kostas Sloukas still make up a great core and the Greeks should have enough firepower to reach the Knockout Phase, but there was so much more potential there with their NBA superstar.