By David Hein
Defending champions Russia can finish second in the EuroBasket 2009 Qualifying Round Group E or even be eliminated depending on what happens in their showdown with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the other results of the group.
There is still plenty to play for in Bydgoszcz with F.Y.R. of MAcedonia also having excellent chances of advancing to the Quarter-Finals, and making history, with a victory.
|Kelly McCarty has been a key cog in the Russian machine.|
David Blatt's Russians would finish second in the group with a victory over their opponents and a loss by Greece against France later Tuesday.
However, Russia would be out of the tournament with a loss against F.Y.R.O.M. and a Germany win over Croatia. Russia can afford a loss to F.Y.R.O.M. by five points and still advance if Croatia beat Germany.
If F.Y.R.O.M. lose though they will be packing their bags with Russia advancing along with the Croatia-Germany winner.
Russia have steadily improved game after game and Blatt knows his young team must remain focused on an opponent not at the same level of Croatia and Greece, Russia's last two victims.
Jovica Arsic's team from the Balkan meanwhile will likely come into the game with no pressure, knowing they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. If they can hit some shots early and get some confidence, anything is possible.
Head-to-head: Russia have beaten F.Y.R.O.M. in both previous match-ups - at the 1999 EuroBasket.
Last time out: Russia handed Greece their first loss of the tournament with a 68-65 victory. F.Y.R. of Macedonia got past Germany 86-75.
Key Match-up: Russian defense vs. F.Y.R.O.M. long range shooters. Coach Jovica Arsic has a number of players who can launch the long ball - from a number of positions. So that means Russia's entire defense will need to watch for their men to attempt three-pointers. If F.Y.R.O.M. can hit some treys early and get in a rhythm it should be a tight battle.
X-Factor: F.Y.R. of Macedonia big man Predrag Samardziski. Russian center Timofey Mozgov has turned into one of the top big men in Group E after a poor start. Samardziski may be called upon more to help slow down the fellow 23-year-old and 2.15m Mozgov.
Key Stat: 29.2 and 29.8. The Russian defense has held opponents to just 29.2 percent on three-pointers while F.Y.R.O.M. have made just 29.8 of their trey attempts.
Sounding Off: "One of the things that we have done is get better. We are an inexperienced team. This kind of tournament requires you to grow. But we do not have the right to start about something grandiose. We are still a long way from that." -Russia Coach David Blatt