After playing his part in the European Qualifiers for the 2023 FIBA World Cup, Goga Bitadze has another chance to showcase his talent and represent his country this week, as Georgia is one of four countries to host the group phase of FIBA EuroBasket 2022.
Prior to the August window of qualifying, Bitadze didn’t appear in any of the friendlies for Georgia ahead of Europe’s big event, but he averaged 13.5 points, seven rebounds, two assists, and a block while helping his country take the next steps in pursuit of a historic maiden appearance at the World Cup next summer.
In what is a tight turnaround due to brutal scheduling, Georgia split games against Italy and the Netherlands in the second round of qualifying over the weekend, dropping them to fourth-place (3-3) in Group L, before opening play in EuroBasket Group A on Thursday. If that seems confusing, just remember that continental tournaments like EuroBasket no longer decide spots in the World Cup. Instead, there are two remaining windows to be played in November and February. At the end of those four additional games per team, three teams from each group will qualify for the World Cup.
Here’s where Georgia currently stands in that process:
Group L - Second Round of FIBA World Cup Qualifying
- Spain, 5-1
- Italy, 5-1
- Iceland, 4-2
- Georgia, 3-3
- Ukraine, 1-5
- Netherlands, 0-6
As for EuroBasket, Georgia will be in competition with Spain, Turkey, Montenegro, Belgium and Bulgaria in Group A, with the games in Tbilisi tipping off on Thursday, September 1.
Here’s the schedule:
- September 1: Belgium vs. Georgia, 1:00 PM EST
- September 3: Georgia vs. Spain, 3:00 PM EST
- September 4: Turkey vs. Georgia, 4:00 PM EST
- September 6: Georgia vs. Bulgaria, 1:00 PM EST
- September 7: Georgia vs. Montenegro, 1:00 PM EST
Spain, as the reigning world champions, will be without the Gasol brothers in the middle, which means Alperen Sengun is the player to watch as far as assessing what progress Bitadze has made since last season, particularly as he prepares to enter the final year of his rookie contract with the Pacers.
In what is arguably his most distinguishing trait by comparison to the other bigs on Indiana’s roster, the fourth-year center once again demonstrated his improved processing and manipulation as a short-roll playmaker during Georgia’s win over the Netherlands.
That said, for an Indiana team that has seen a recent upgrade in athleticism while also moving increasingly toward switching over the back end of last season, Goga’s biggest hurdle for playing time will be demonstrating how he can impact the game on defense when he isn’t just standing in a spot and winding up. Georgia’s captain and starting forward, Toko Shengelia, sustained a shoulder injury during World Cup Qualifying that will hold him out of EuroBasket, so the potential is there for more to be required from the center rotation (and potential tandem) of Bitadze and Giorgi Shermadini of the Spanish ACB.
In order to qualify for the knockout stages for the first time ever, Georgia will have to finish among the top-four teams in Group A, with the crowd in Tbilisi potentially acting as sixth man. All games are available for streaming on ESPN+.