Two-time defending champion Spain, host nation Slovenia and 22 other teams are currently vying for international basketball supremacy at the 2013 FIBA EuroBasket tournament.
Just over a year removed from the 2012 London Olympic games, it's no surprise that some of the biggest names from the NBA have chosen to stay home and rest for the upcoming season. That being said, it's not as if the talent gathered in Slovenia should be written off.
Chris Sheridan of SheridanHoops.com confirmed as much with this Twitter post:
Wednesday marked the opening day of EuroBasket 2013. Though the action is already underway, a total of 90 games are on the docket for the duration of the tournament. If you missed anything on Day 1, there's more than ample time to get your international hoops fix.
Heck, we've already had a pretty substantial upset, as noted by The NBA on ESPN:
Gearing up for what should be an exciting, European-flavored event while the FIBA Americas tournament moves forward on the other side of the ocean, here's a complete preview—and slight recap—to prepare you for what's ahead.
What: FIBA EuroBasket 2013
When: Sept. 4-Sept. 22, 2013
Where: Slovenia (five different venues)
Live Stream: ESPN3/WatchESPN
Schedule, Day 1 Results
Day 1 Results
Great Britain 75, Israel 71
Latvia 86, Bosnia and Herzegovina 75
Georgia 84, Poland 67
Finland 61, Turkey 55
Ukraine 58, Belgium 57
Montenegro 81, F.Y.R. of Macedonia 80
Spain 68, Croatia 40
Greece 79, Sweden 51
Germany 80, France 74
Serbia 63, Lithuania 56
Slovenia 62, Czech Republic 60
Italy 76, Russia 69
*For complete times and matchup breakdowns, visit EuroBasket.org.
Eurobasket 2013 Primer
Team to Watch: France
Unfortunately, France's start to EuroBasket 2013 didn't go as planned.
The Dirk Nowitzki-less Germany team took down a heavily-favored France squad in their Group A game on Wednesday, using 19 points from Robin Benzing and two late three-pointers from Lucca Staiger to hold off Tony Parker and Co.
Despite the setback, France did shoot over 63 percent from the field. With group action continuing through Monday, the three San Antonio Spurs (Parker, Nando de Colo and Boris Diaw) and Nicolas Batum have plenty of time to turn things around.
Although France's talent level is arguably on the same threshold as that of Spain, Greece, Lithuania, Turkey and any other contender who might emerge, there are questions about how the loss of Joakim Noah's defensive presence and leadership values will affect the runner-up team from 2011.
It affected them on Wednesday, but the hope is that the team's leadership—and late-game toughness—starts to click as the tournament moves forward.
NBA Star to Watch: Jonas Valanciunas, Lithuania
Andrea Bargnani is no longer in Toronto, meaning Valanciunas is in a position where stardom could be in his near future. Surrounded by Rudy Gay, Kyle Lowry and a host of young talent, the Raptors star post man will have expectations unlike ever before.
As Canada.com's Kevin Bryant aptly noted on Twitter, the accolades are starting to pile up for the 21-year-old former lottery pick:
We'll get a glimpse at his progress as the tournament moves forward.
But how much of a glimpse will we receive? According to Sean Deveney of Sporting News, there's a good chance Lithuania coach Kestutis Kemzura will play Valanciunas sparingly:
Valanciunas, who averaged 8.9 points and 6.0 rebounds on nearly 56 percent shooting from the field during his rookie season last year, should increase his averages across the board as Toronto hands him the keys to its low-post offense.
If Lithuania wants to make a deep run at EuroBasket 2013, it will have to do the same.
Championship Prediction: Spain over Greece
Top to bottom, Spain has the most talented team in the tournament.
Even without Pau Gasol, the Spaniards boast a team that could pass for an NBA roster on any given night. Ricky Rubio, Jose Calderon, Sergio Rodriguez, Rudy Fernandez and Marc Gasol have all seen significant NBA time, while Victor Claver is on the verge of carving out a role in Portland.
As noted by the EuroBasket Twitter account, Spain was the only team to go unbeaten in the qualifying rounds:
Looking for a three-peat at this tournament, Spain should cruise through its group stage. The same goes for Greece, who has the roster talent to make a deep run, both in Slovenia and around the globe, over the next few years.
Leading the charge for Greece will be Vassilis Spanoulis, the five-time All-Euroleague performer who was just named MVP of the league after his latest campaign for Olympiacos. Flanked by potential NBA roster candidates Georgios Printezis and Kostas Papanikolaou, Greece has put together a desirable EuroBasket squad.
The two countries both recorded comfortable 28-point wins on Wednesday. Group C shouldn't pose a major problem to Spain, while Greece will have to bring out the big guns to outlast its Group D counterparts.
Both will make the tournament final, but the experience and cohesiveness of Spain will win out.
Follow B/R's Ethan Grant on Twitter.