EuroBasket 2021 Pre-Qualifers: Some dark horses, some clear favorites and one 'Group of Death'
MUNICH (Germany) - Twelve teams left, only four will advance to FIBA EuroBasket 2021 Qualifiers. While most of us will enjoy summer joys, swimming, hiking or however you spend your summer, those 12 teams will bath mostly in sweat, sometimes tears. But with no pain, there is no gain, and gain in this case is pretty great.
Four best teams from each of the four groups of FIBA EuroBasket 2021 Pre-Qualifiers Third Round will advance to the next round and win themselves a chance to compete with the best. While some of the teams enjoyed competing on the highest stage in recent memory, for others even the chance to prolong their hopes of going there is a prize big enough.
GROUP E: ALBANIA, BELARUS, DENMARK
Albania lost all for games in First Round of FIBA EuroBasket 2021 Pre-Qualifiers, including both games against Denmark. Belarus and Denmark were in the same group in Second Round and they split wins between themselves. Interestingly enough, both teams got the win in their opponent's arena.
Albania should be the outsider here, but don't forget the very first game is in Tirana in Saturday. A potential win in front of a partisan crowds could lift Albania to a perfect start and could throw this group into turmoil.
Team to beat: Belarus is a mix of experienced veteran players and promising 'studs'. One of the main advantages is that most of their players make for a living playing for the same team (Tsmoki Minsk), and that usually helps in preparations. Missing their assist leader from previous round, Devon Saddler. will be felt, but the addition of Maalik Wayns should be just enough to compensate.
Star player: Belarus big man Artsiom Parakhouski and Danish scoring machine Gabriel Lundberg are already at the top level of European basketball. Parakhouski and Lundberg give their teams stability and little bit of everything. When Belarus and Denmark collide in Minsk on August 7, that match up will be a treat of this round.
Top prospect: Shooting guard from Tsmoki Minsk Andrei Strabrouski could be revelation of these entire Pre-Qualifiers. Young Strabrouski is already a starting player of his Tsmoki team and he showed a lots of confidence in sparing matches against Ukraine.
GROUP H: SLOVAKIA, CYPRUS, ROMANIA
Participating in the FIBA EuroBasket 2017 is a huge experience for country such as Romania, even if they lost all five of their games. Romania used that experience as a fuel in FIBA World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers to gain some historic wins, such as that one in Zadar from last year, one from which Croatians are still licking wounds.
Cyprus growing interest in basketball is something to look on and Slovakia hired established coach Zan Tabak showed their ambition and wish to show the world that finishing in the last place in First Round was just a fluke.
Team to beat: Ivan Rudez, older brother of Croatian small forward Damjan Rudez, established a strong Croatian influence in Slovakian basketball and former NBA champ Zan Tabak is just continuation. Seriousness in approaching to this Pre-Qualifiers is seen in a fact that Slovakia begun preparations more than one month before first game.
Star players: August 10 clash in Ploesti between Romania and Slovakia will be also shooting fireworks between Giordan Watson on one side and Andre Jones on other side. Although both of them fill their stat sheets in every column, seems that Jones is way more important to his team than his fellow countryman to other side.
Top prospect: Mario Ihring from Inter Bratislava showed promise even in the First Round scoring 10 points against North Macedonia. But in the last preparation games this summer, in a 74-70 victory vs Denmark, his 21 points is proof that Ihring is a pretty important in Tabak's vision for the upcoming games.
GROUP G: LUXEMBOURG, KOSOVO, GREAT BRITAIN
As all new countries Kosovo is also "infected" with great enthusiasm. All Kosovo's home games in the Second Round were played in front a full house and there is no reason to believe Third Round will be any different.
Great Britain is powerhouse in this group and Kosovo and Luxembourg teams know that. So the first game of this group, this Saturday in Luxembourg, will be extremely important. Winner of that game promotes themselves in a main contender for GB. The loser will probably have a pedestrian walk through Pre-Qualifiers.
Team to beat: Super-athletic and relatively experienced, Great Britain team is considered as almost absolute favorite to win this group. Britons will play their first game in August 7, so they 'took their time' in preparation. We'll see if that will be a double-edged sword but they have enough talent to treat themselves with such luxury.
Star players: Kosovar Dardan Berisha scored enough points to be the scoring leader of the entire Pre-Qualifiers. His usage rate in Damir Mulaomerovic's team is almost unprecedented. And field goal attempts (22 per game) is just one of the proofs. If Berisha catches fire, everything is possible. Same is if he has a cold day.
Top prospect: Josh Steel from Spanish second division team Lleida should have much more in-play freedom than in the Second Round. Steel is faced with great competition inside his own team, but he has been a regular member of all GB teams in past, so, although young, his experience is important for this team.
GROUP H: SWITZERLAND, PORTUGAL, ICELAND
Probably the toughest, and if not the toughest, Group H is the most even one, because all three teams enter the competition with almost the same odds. The difference between those teams is that Iceland and Portugal have something that Swiss lack. Switzerland have never competed in a EuroBasket in the modern era, while Portugal and Iceland enjoyed competing in big scene twice for both teams.
Iceland and Portugal know each other very well, they were in the same group in the previous round, while Switzerland finished their campaign back in the First Round.
Team to beat: Probably the biggest addition for all teams is Clint Capela deciding to help his country of birth. Houston Rockets' big man is improving Switzerland's chances of winning the group, although more balanced teams of Iceland and Portugal will have something to say.
Star players: Alba Berlin's Marin Hermansson could be clear star of this group if is not for Capela. One of the best rebounders and blockers, Clint Capela will certainly draw attention both from fans and opponents' defense. The only deficiency is of course the fact that Capela has had just few practices before the first game vs Portugal, but we'll see if sheer force and talent are enough for compensate that.
Top prospect: According to some inside sources, Lions de Geneve center Arnaud Cotture is the most interesting player in this group. In the First Round, Cotture contributed much for his team, but now he will play by Capela's side. Will Cotture feast from that fact, time will tell.