EuroBasket 2011 Preview: Russia, Slovenia Lead Group D Into Battle

At EuroBasket 2011, Group D certainly lacks the glamour of Group A, the star power of Group B and the mystery of Group C. We pretty much know how Group D will go, and fireworks may not be a part of the equation. But it's still basketball! And three teams here will still move on to the second group stage, where things will get mighty interesting.

RUSSIA

FIBA Rank: No. 11
EuroBasket 2009: Seventh
FIBA Worlds 2010: Seventh

After winning Europe in 2007, Russia fell back in the Olympics (ninth), Euro '09 and the '10 Worlds. But there are two separate issues at play: no, Russia is not as good as Europe's best right now, not without Andrei Kirilenko and J.R. Holden. But Russia is still better suited to win than most if not all of Group D. Russia arguably has the easiest draw in the tournament; consider that the second group stage will pair off the top three from Groups C and D -- Russia won't face one of the tournament's top four teams until the quarterfinals.

SLOVENIA

FIBA Rank: No. 17
EuroBasket 2009: Fourth
FIBA Worlds 2010: Eighth

Slovenia has started to come around: for a small nation, eighth place in the 24-team World Championships is no small matter. Goran Dragic is the current star at point guard, with Beno Udrih having left the team in 2008 and Jaka Lakovic approaching the end of his career. Erazem Lorbek is the team's engine, though, and he could be the difference-maker against Timofey Mozgov and Russia as well as the Greeks and Croats in the second group stage. If Slovenia make additional progress and medal in Lithuania, it'll be becase of Dragic and Lorbek.

Now here's the rest of the group. Keep in mind that one of these teams will be advancing to the second group stage.

UKRAINE

FIBA Rank: No. 45
EuroBasket 2009: DNP
FIBA Worlds 2010: DNP

Ukraine finished 3-5 in Euro qualifiers last summer, but got into the tournament through the graces of FIBA. You know Kyrylo Fesenko and Oleksiy Pecherov. That's what Ukraine brings to the table.

BULGARIA

FIBA Rank: No. 44
EuroBasket 2009: 13th
FIBA Worlds 2010: DNP

Bulgaria didn't win a single game at Euro '09. Of course, neither did Great Britain or Israel, and no one complains about their inclusion in the tournament. The difference is that Britain and Israel played quite well in qualifiers last summer, while Bulgaria was mediocre in a medicore group (Belgium and Georgia were the headliners; more on them shortly). Like Ukraine and others, Bulgaria got in because FIBA wanted to expand the tournament and simply took a number of the next-in-rank competitors. 

BELGIUM

FIBA Rank: --
EuroBasket 2009: DNP
FIBA Worlds 2010: DNP

Belgium beat up on the dregs of Europe's top division in qualifying last year, with Axel Hervelle (best name ever) leading the way. Belgium wouldn't dream of making it to the second group stage were they in any other group. But the Belgians have already showed they can beat up on Georgia and Bulgaria ... they just need to add Ukraine to the list.

GEORGIA

FIBA Rank: --
EuroBasket 2009: DNP
FIBA Worlds 2010: DNP

Oddly enough, Georgia might have the best NBA player in the group in Zaza Pachulia (he's likely behind Dragic, though). He has a partner of note up front in Viktor Sanikidze, who plays professionally in Italy. Pay close attention and you might see Nikoloz Tskitishvili!

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