And then there were eight…
The FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament is now down to 8 teams as we enter the Quarter Finals in the tourney where we will find out who takes out the final 3 places in the London 2012 Olympics. Gone from the Olympic equation are Jordan, Venezuela, Korea & New Zealand. New Zealand & Venezuela have to be particularly disappointed after bowing out on points differentials pushing Angola & Nigeria respectively through to the Elite Eight in Caracas.
The stage is set for 4 thrilling games where all teams realise that they are potentially only 2 wins away from London.
Greece v Nigeria
Greece have arguably been the most dominating team of the tournament so far & their chemistry’s been great in both of their games. Everything’s been clicking for them & they should feel confident going into this match up. New York Knicks draft pick Kostas Papanikolaou has been huge for the Greeks after putting in a game high 19 points in the teams 107-63 win over Jordan & then piling in some big threes on his way to 9 points in a game high 34mins in the Greeks 98-84 statement of a win over Puerto Rico. Papanikolaou’s shooting over 60% from the field for the tournament & in addition to the great floor leadership being shown by Vassilis Spanoulis, the Hellas boys are looking untouchable.
Nigeria on the other hand, had a close 2pt loss to Venezuela in their opening encounter, down by 9 with 2mins remaining, Al-Farouq Aminu & Ekene Ibekwe spurred the Nigerians on to bring them back into the game. They then upset the group favourites Lithuania 86-80, where Aminu led the charge, throwing down some monster dunks & frustrated the Lithuanians on defence to ensure that their Olympic dream can survive another game. However, Aminu & Co will be up against it if they are to beat this Greek side. They will have to find a way to shut down both Papanikolau & Spanoulis who have clearly been the key to the Greek offense.
Greece should go through, but don’t rule out Nigeria playing the game of their lives to cause another upset.
Russia v Angola
If there’s a team that can make an argument against Greece being the most dominating team of the tournament so far, it’s the Russians. Andrei Kirilenko’s been averaging 16pts & 9.5rbs through the group stages & is clearly the hottest player in the tournament. Angolan stalwart & leader Eduardo Mingas has been the only decent scoring option for the Africans. Unfortunately, they’ve run into a red-hot team at the wrong time & Angola will miss their first Olympics since 1988.
If all goes to plan, this should lead to a European powerhouse matchup in the semi finals against Greece& Russia to see who will be the 10th team to Qualify for London. Furthermore, this will be a mouthwatering encounter for hoops-fans especially after the Euroleague Final duel between Papanikolaou & Kirilenko where the young Greek star was able to shut down the reigning Euroleague MVP to lead his Olympiacos side to victory over CSKA Moscow.
Lithuania v Puerto Rico
Losing to Nigeria won’t fase the Lithuanians as some would say they sat back in that game because they had already qualified for the Quarter Finals after a dominating performance over Venezuela. The Puerto Ricans have been playing big inside with 7ft3in Center Peter John Ramos being the staple of their offense. The Puerto Ricans will need more production out of their big three of JJ Barea, Carlos Arroyo & Renaldo Balkman if they are going to compete with the Lithuanians.
For Lithuania, Linas Kleiza has been the main scoring option out there but expect a well rested Jonas Valanciunas to see the ball in his hands more. Not only because of his array of great inside moves, but to also tire down Ramos & effectively stop Puerto Rico from doing what has made them so successful in this tournament.
Lithuania should take this one out also, but if Puerto Rico can utilise their scoring options wisely & try to not go through Ramos as their main go-to-guy, this could be closer than expected.
Macedonia v Dominican Republic
The final Quarter Final match up sees the two most exiting teams in the tournament go head-to-head. Bo McCalebb’s Macedonia take on the in-form & effective Al Horford’s Dominicans.Macedonia were the darlings of the dance in Eurobasket 2011 to qualify for this, off the back of a great tournament by McCalebb, who is possibly the best Point Guard not currently on an NBA roster. After a hiccup against a weaker Angola 88-84, they had to go all-guns blazing against New Zealand to make a statement in this tournament. McCalebb’s averaging 22ppg in the tournament & there hasn’t been anyone who’s faced him who has been effective in stopping the talented point guard. He’s been backed up well by his running partner Pero Antic who’s averaging a solid 17pts & 8rbs.
For the Dominican Republic, it’s all been about Al Horford on the offensive end & his front court member Jack Martinez who pulled down a Kevin Love-esque 25rbs against the Koreans. Martinez & Horford are the perfect partnership to throw at Pero Antic & also stop McCalebb from getting to the hole as easily as he does.
I actually am going for the upset in this one, I believe that the John Calipari coached Dominican Republic will surprise Macedonia in this contest and move onto the semi-finals. Although, that’s what Macedonia want people to think, when the chips are down, that’s when you get the best basketball out of Bo McCalebb.