Friday, July 8, 2011

FIBA U19 2011 World Championship -- A Pause Before the Medal Rounds (part 2)

Sorting Out Group F Action
Having exacted revenge for their 33 point drubbing at the hands of Lithuania in a pre-tournament exhibition game, Team USA seemed to sleep walk through three periods of play versus Croatia to close out Group F play. Supporters might rationalize the loss as a meaningless game at the end of the preliminary phase, after all, the USA won the F1 seed the day before, a side benefit of their win over Lithuania. Were the Americans showing their vulnerability, simply exhaling or perhaps exacting a bit more revenge on the Lithuanians complements of FIBA's ranking system? Beating Team USA moved Croatia into a tie with Lithuania for the F2 seed. The Croatians held the tie-breaker, due to their 13 point win, 88-75, over Lithuania on June 30. Serbia earned the last seed in Group F with a decisive 21 point win over Canada. The Group F standings when the buzzer on the USA-Croatia signaled the end of group play...

Group F

What the Possession-Based Metrics Tell Us
The four teams that will advance out of Group F are listed above as "F1" through "F4". The ranking of the six teams that advanced out of Group C & D play to Group F wer well defined (see "...Eighth Final Round Preview") -- unlike the Group E pool, it was clear that several teams performed well in Group C (or D) play (USA, Lithuania, Serbia), while others struggled even with some modest success (Egypt). Many of the same characteristics exhibited in initial group play continued through the Group F cross over games. And again, note the ranking of Croatia and Lithuania (and Serbia). Croatia appears to have benefited from timely wins (versus Lithuania and USA), but not been especially dominant across the board in their play in Group C and Group F. The USA and Lithuania continue to dominate group play, piling up large efficiency margins, comparable to Australia's over in Group E. Though Group F has it's own imbalance, it is less pronounced than Group E's, and there was no single dominant Group F team at the end of Eighth Final Round play. Though like Group E, there seems to be a gap between the teams at the top (USA/Lithuania at >+0.20) and those at the bottom (Egypt/Canada at <-0.10).

How Good is the USA? Lithuania? Croatia?
I compared only the games the four Group F teams played with each other. Granted six games is a small sample, but the games were played over a relatively short period of time, played on (generally...) neutral courts and in a round robin fashion -- every team played every other team in the sample. I came up with these results...

Group E Quarter Final Teams

The competitive gap among the four teams advancing out of Group F is much smaller than the one separating the teams out of Group E. Note the efficiency margin separating Croatia and Serbia (about 0.10) is less than half the margin separating Australia and Poland (0.24), and less than the margin separating Poland from the bottom two advancing teams out of Group E (0.11). I realized Team USA's three games within the mini-conference were all decided by two points, I did not realize the other three teams had somewhat similar results against each other (Croatia's win over Lithuana the exception). I had suggested earlier that Team USA and Team Lithuania may well play a rubber game to decide the match (up). If the four Group F teams are better than their Group E counterparts, that may well come to pass.

Quarter Final Games of Interest
All of them actually, the schedule...

Opponents (seed)Start
Group EGroup ETime (EDST)
Poland (E2)Lithuania (F3)7:30am
Russia (E4)USA (F1)9:45am
Australia (E1)Serbia (F4)noon
Argentina (E3)Croatia (F2)2:15pm

If the draw was indeed random, then the distribution should have placed (at least) one quality team on each side of the bracket. The barometer game will be the first of the round -- Poland-Lithuania. The Lithuanians have been able to pack the Latvian arenas in Liepaja and Riga with fans as loud as they are partisan. The Poles, however, ought to be able to bring a few fans for this game too, one of two other Eastern European countries still competing close enough to bring enough fans to neutralize the Lithuanian fan-base. Though backup Doyydas Redikas, starting in place of regular Vytenis Cizauska acquitted himself in both the USA and Egyptian games, getting a fully recovered (rolled ankle in the Serbia game July 5) Cizauska back will insure the Lithuanian team is at full strength. A big win by Poland would signal a long day for Group F teams. A big American win in the USA-Russia game (9:45am EDST) will prove little. Comparing Oliver's four factors for each team, the Russians can score, but have problems defending opponents' field goal attempts. And they foul way too often. The American team should be able to hold the Russian conversion rate down, negating Russia's strongest asset. A quick and aggressive-to-the-basket American team should have Team Russia back on their heels early. Though the Americans foul often, almost as much as the Russians, the Russians do not play aggressively enough to capitalize on that vulnerability.

Like the Russian-American game, the Australia-Serbia game will only be significant if it is close (or if it goes badly against the Aussies). The Croatia-Argentina game should go to the Croatians. The Argentine offense is limited, against the better teams in Group E they failed to convert field goals consistently, nor rebound enough to get themselves second chance opportunities. The Croatians concentrate on the defensive boards, so the Argentines will get few second chances. Croatia converts field goals proficiently and values the ball. Argentina does defend the three point line well, so if the Croatians go inside (they tend to favor the three point attempt), they should score often enough to put this one out of reach early. A Lithuanian loss early however, will focus my attention on this game to get a better sense of how weak the "F side" of the bracket actually was.

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