Semi-Finals: What Can Statistics Tell Us

01 August 2009

Turkey will take on Serbia before Lithuania go up against hosts France in Saturday's semi-finals at the U18 European Championship Men 2009 in Metz, France.

The first semi-final will see a much-awaited match-up between Enes Kanter and Dejan Musli. Arguably two of the best centres in this competition, they will need to be at the top of their game with a place in the final at stake.

Kanter had a mammoth game with 21 points, 18 rebounds, four blocks and three assists as Turkey beat Spain 76-62 in Friday's quarter final. Musli's stats line wasn't too bad either with 19 points, 12 rebounds, two blocks and two assists in Serbia's 82-74 defeat of Italy.

12. Augustas Peciukevicius (Lithuania)
Augustas Peciukevicius leads in assists a very balanced Lithuanian team
These two teams play very similar styles, centred around Kanter and Musli respectively. Both have led their teams in scoring, rebounding and block shots: the 17-year-old Turk has averaged 14.3 points and a tournament best 14.9 rebounds to go along with 1.4 blocks while the Serb went for 15.0 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and, impressively, leads the team with 2.4 assists per contest.

Turkey are the higher-scoring team of the two (75.3 points per game compared to 73.6) but Serbia hold their opponents to just 64.4 point, with the former allowing 67.7.

The Serbs are the tournament's best shooting team from two-point range with 53.4 percent accuracy and fourth in three-point shooting at 32.2%. They are just ninth in free-throw shooting at 62.2%, but Turkey are worse than them, ranked 13th, with just 60.9%.

Mustafa Derin's side though has a massive advantage in offensive rebounding (15.4 against 10.9) but things even themselves out as Serbia lead all teams with 32.7 defensive rebounds, some 5.4 more than their opponents on Saturday.

Turnovers and blocks are also key categories. Vladimir Jovanovic's side are the best shot-blocking team (6.0 per game, compared to just 3.3 for Turkey) but also give the ball away the most, turning it over 19.3 times on average, compared to just 16.6 for Turkey.

Turkey and Serbia have faced each other in a warm-up in Slovenia in preparation for this tournament and the Serbs won by two. Another close game should be in store on Saturday.

Meanwhile, hosts France will have a tough task in trying to derail Lithuania, who have won all seven of their games so far in the tournament and are favourites to win it all.

However, Marius Linartas' men have been shaky in two of their last three games, needing strong final quarters to get past Latvia on Tuesday and against Croatia in their quarter-final, leaving them vulnerable - if only slightly.

Experience is on Lithuania's side as they have four players (Augustas Peciukevicius, Gilvydas Biruta, Mantas Kadzevicius and Giedrius Staniulis) who were on the team that finished second in this tournament last year while a further three (Jonas Valanciunas, Vytenis Cyzauskas and Evaldas Aniulis) are from the U16 side that won the U16 competition 12 months ago.

The Lithuanians rank as the best or near the top in most statistical categories. They are the highest-scoring team (85.4 points), shoot the second-highest field goal percentage (45.6%), including a tournament best 35.8% from three-point range. And they do a good job of distributing the ball, averaging 15.7 assists, to trail just Spain in that category.

They have proved they also take care of things defensively, allowing the second fewest points at 63.3 and doing the best job of all on the boards (48.9 rebounds).

France rank inside the top eight of most scoring and shooting categories but are at a disadvantage in rebounding, ranked 13th with 37.1 boards per contest. But they take good care of the ball, turning it over on average just 14.1, with Croatia the only team to do better.

Lithuania needed a 25-8 fourth quarter scoring advantage to shake off Croatia on Friday. They made just 19 for 66 over the course of the first three periods for a 49-47 lead. But once they started knocking down shots, they were hard to stop.

If they are to have a chance against the Lithuanians, the hosts will need to play as the confident team that executed well for two and a half quarters to go up 52-31 against Russia on Friday, rather than the group of individuals who, immediately after taking their biggest lead, then saw it vanish as they gave up 16 points in a row and failed to score themselves for more than six minutes.

France looked very tentative over the course of the final 15 minutes of play and were lucky that Russia, after their brave comeback to cut the deficit to five on numerous occasions, just wore down.

Jokingly, head coach Philippe Ory said he doesn't believe that problem to manifest itself again against Lithuania as no team has been able to take a 20-point lead against them and is unlikely to.

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