The biggest international basketball competition in Europe started yesterday and will run through September 17. Group C, which includes Bojan Bogdanovic and Croatia along with the Czech Republic, Hungary, Montenegro, Spain, and host Romania, opens play today.
Croatia has received mention as a potential dark horse in the tournament, but outpacing last summer’s feats — including an impressive upset over Spain on the opening day of pool play as well as a surprise berth in the quarterfinal round of the Olympics — could be tough sledding.
The Croats went an impressive 4-1 in warm-up play, including wins over Lithuania’s more physically imposing roster (82-80) and France (92-87) in a three-team tournament in Orleans. However, while Spain is adding back Marc Gasol, Bogdanovic is one of only six players returning from Croatia’s 2016 national team roster.
In addition to the three seven-footers who pulled out (Ante Zizic, Ivica Zubac, and Miro Bilan), Mario Hezonja opted to skip EuroBasket in order to focus on the crucial upcoming third year of his rookie contract following an underwhelming season with the Orlando Magic.
With that degree of turnover, Croatia will necessarily have to lean even more heavily upon the 28-year-old veteran for leadership and scoring for a chance at the medal stand, which should provide an early sneak peak of the sharpshooter’s ability to shoulder a larger burden before he debuts for the Pacers.
"The ball will be in the hands of (Dario) Saric and Bogdanovic; we started with a somewhat different concept compared to other teams," said the team’s head coach Aleksander Petrovic, following one of Croatia’s exhibition victories.
FIBA’s experts gave Bogdanovic as well as his teammate and fellow NBA player Dario Saric (76ers) mild consideration as long-shot MVP candidates. The former led all scorers in Rio with 25.3 points per game.
All of the action, including this morning’s opener against Hungary along with next week’s heavy hitter rematch with Spain, will be available for streaming on WatchESPN with a cable or satellite subscription.
Here’s a rundown of the full schedule:
- Friday, September 1: Hungary vs. Croatia (8:00 AM)
- Saturday, September 2: Romania vs. Croatia (1:30 PM)
- Monday, September 4: Croatia vs. Montenegro (10:45 AM)
- Tuesday, September 5: Spain vs. Croatia (10:45 AM)
- Thursday, September 7: Croatia vs. Czech Republic (7:30 AM)
Assuming Croatia is one of the top four finishers in pool-play, they will crossover with Group D (Great Britain, Russia, Serbia, Latvia, Turkey, and Belgium) in the round of 16. If Spain wins Group C, then Croatia (C2) could see Jonas Valanciunas and Lithuania (B1) in the quarterfinals before meeting Kristaps Porzingis and Latvia (D1) in the semis, since Serbia has been heavily hit by injuries.
Both opponents have the potential to expose Croatia’s lack of front court depth thereby putting more pressure on the firepower of Bogdanovic and Saric, should they meet.