|25 July 2013|
|Domagoj Bosnjak knows what it means to experience heartbreak in Latvia - when Croatia take on Russia on Friday he will be wiser for having experienced these emotions earlier in the tournament |
fibaeurope.com provides a run down of Friday's semi-finals at the U18 European Championship in Riga, Latvia.
Russia vs. Croatia
Russia emerged top of Group E after an inspiring late run fuelled by Alexander Martynov to get up over France on Wednesday, and avoid taking a fourth-place ranking into the quarter-finals.
Russia are led by the one-two combination of Martynov and Viacheslav Fedorchenko and although the duo have been nothing short of fantastic leading the team into the quarter-final stage, they alone will not be enough to secure a win against Croatia.
Coach Alexandr Afanasyev had been looking for additional offensive support and finally found some late in the Second Round in the form of Ivan Viktorov, who averaged 12.5 points in Russia's previous two games, but do Russia have enough without a strong front court?
Croatia are not overly big, but are bring a couple of stars of their own - the inside-outside combination of small forward Tomislav Gabric and Bruno Zganec.
Both averaging 14 points-per-game, Zganec is rebounding at an elite rate while Gabric's slashing game has caused problems for opposition defences. Throw in another sharp shooting small forward in Domagoj Bosnjak and Croatia's high-scoring offence (77 points-per-game) has the firepower to do significant damage.
The key: If Croatia can quell both Martynov and Fedorchenko, a hard task but one that can be done, they are a real chance of the upset.
Turkey vs. Serbia
The Turkish managed to get through the first two rounds to claim top seeding for the quarter-finals, but the performances of standout Kenan Sipahi aptly reflected Turkey's up and down group stages.
Sipahi has amazing size and natural talent to make him a threat even on off nights, but a nagging leg injury meant he did not live up to his full potential with just one true standout performance coming against Croatia.
Serbia were the Second Round's surprise team. After dropping close games against France and Lithuania in the First Round, Serbia began clicking and racked up three convincing wins in impressive fashion.
A team in the truest sense of the word, Serbia features a deep roster without a polarising star. They play a team brand of basketball and hurt opponents from the outside in - each member of the backcourt can shoot, the team averages 34% from three, and the big men take and make opportunities at the ring.
The key: Serbia go hard from start to finish. If Turkey come out napping, a hugely underrated Serbia can have this in the bag by halftime.
|Domantas Sabonis can look after one of Latvia's bigs...but who will watch the second?|
Lithuania vs. Latvia
The host nation have benefitted from the stellar play of the tournament's biggest frontcourt combination, but will face a tough assignment attempting to quell Lithuania's hot outside shooting.
Anzejs Pasecniks and Kristaps Porzingis - averaging a combined 25 points, 20 rebounds and nearly six blocked shots per game - present a real defensive challenge for the Domantas Sabonis' led Lithuanian front court. Sabonis has averaged some gaudy numbers (14 points, 13 rebounds), but like his front court mates, is still searching for consistency.
The Latvian backcourt will have their own worries attempting to defend Lithuania's sweet shooting perimeter cast. Despite being small in stature, the likes of Ricardas Verbickas, Haroldas Saprykinas and Augustas Suliauskas can shoot the leather off the ball and cannot be given any space to operate.
The key: Latvia need to simply close out the three-point line. The Lithuanian backcourt struggles off the dribble and will have an inefficient night if the bigs use their length to protect the paint.
France vs. Spain
France looked like a tournament favourite in the opening round, but their final two Second Round appearances may be a prelude to a quarter-final upset.
The French roster is filled with talent and elite athleticism, but for every highlight worthy dunk and blocked shot the First Round provided, they committed as many turnovers and head scratching mistakes.
Coach Tahar Assed-Liegeon may have to lean on the poise of wing Damien Inglis, especially if things start to go wrong early, and this dismal outside shooting team needs a locked in night at the three-point line from point guards Etienne Ory and Charly Pontens.
Spain were not exactly consistent after cruising through the First Round - leading scorers Agusti Sans and Alberto Abalde combined for five single-digit outings as Spain lost to a streaky England and required late surges to get past Croatia and Turkey.
The Spanish will be hoping for greater production from Ilimane Diop, who underperformed despite averaging almost 10 points and six rebounds while shooting 60% from the field.
The key: France will produce a number of highlights but are prone to committing silly turnovers and getting into foul trouble. Work at forcing both of those and Spain are in with a chance.