By Yarone Arbel
Serbia want to show they are still a basketball power that can contribute to the fight for gold in EuroBasket.
And what's a better way to prove your worth than to win a game against the defending champions Greeece?
Ironically they'll try to do it with their youth against the experience one of the title-holders.
Almost every player on the Greek roster carries experience from big games with the national team, his club or both, while Serbia speak openly about their lack of experience.
Last Time Out: Greece fought hard to open this tournament with a 76-66 win over Israel. They needed to get hot from three-point range in the second half to hold off their opponents after Israel put up a very tough fight for 37 minutes. Serbia trailed from the start in their 73-65 loss to Russia but came back from a double-digit deficit twice, which showed a lot of character, but not a winning mentality.
Head-to-Head: Three weeks ago, Serbia and Greece met in a friendly game. The final score was 93-62 for Serbia and it echoed across all of Europe. Friendly or not, Greece want to get revenge for that result, while Serbia want to prove it wasn't a fluke.
Key Match-up: As expected Milan Gurovic was Serbia's top scorer in their opener with 24 points, but it was more than just points on the board. He was always a vital part of any attempted run Serbia made to try and get back in the game and, when he was off the court, Russia extended their lead. Gurovix though didn't shoot very well from the field (seven of 16) or even the free throw line (seven of 12), didn't get a single assist and failed to contribute much in any other field other than scoring. Serbia will rely on his scoring once again but could do with him shooting better and helping out in other categories.
|Gurovic's scoring ability is key against champions Greece|
Without him, the team will have an almost impossible task in trying to beat Greece and here's where Dimitrios Diamantidis steps in again as the best defender in Europe, going on one of the best scorers in Europe. Gurovic easily won the top scorer title in the ULEB Cup and Adriatic league last season. Keep an eye also on the defensive-minded Michalis Pelekanos - making his EuroBasket debut - who will come off the bench and try to contain or at least slow down Gurovic. Last season he was the runner-up in the Greek league in the steals category.
Statistics: Serbia shot only 32.5% for two-point range and 58.1% from the free-throw line against Russia. If they wish to even dare think about winning against the defensively much tougher Greece, they'll have to shoot much better. The title holders managed to beat Israel only thanks to a incredible three-point barrage in the second half. Two years ago, when they won gold, they made on average 25.4% of their attempts from long range. At last year's World championship in Japan, they were slightly better at 32.9%. Against Israel yesterday, they made 10 shots from beyond the arc on a very respectable 43.5%. It's likely Greece won't shoot like that again until the end of the tournament. Against Serbia, they'll need to find a different way to win.
X-Factor: Serbia is probably the tallest team in EuroBasket and they need to show that and use that height advantage properly if they want to win. Darko Milicic can't afford another bad night like he had against Russia, but that's a key, not an X-Factor. Zoran Erceg contributed only three points and two rebounds in his EuroBasket debut, but tonight must give more than that. If he hits his shots from outside - something he improved on a lot during the last season with FMP - Darko will have much more space in the paint against the tough Greek defense. The latter are usually a high field goal percentage team and so every shot that misses the target need to be grabbed by the Serbians to prevent a potentially good second chance opportunity for their opponents. Erceg will have to improve that aspect as well. The same goes for the young Dragan Labovic, who can contribute in a similar way, but played only four minutes last night.
What It Means: Greece want to win this game to book a place in the next round before having even played Russia tomorrow so that they can turn their focus on the fight for first place. A loss could complicate things and send Greece to play the last game with a chance of getting knocket out. Serbia's defeat to Russia lost them some credibility and they will want to gain that respect back. Nothing can do that better than a win over the champs, but first of all Serbia just want to survive. They'll probably need to beat Israel on the last day anyhow to qualify, but going into that game with a 0-2 record could make it more complicated.