Italy looks like a nervous team, just like its coach

Orazio Cauchi
Staff Writer
2023-08-28 09:06

Italy was defeated by Dominican Republic in the second game of their FIBA World Cup group. The team coached by Gianmarco Pozzecco looked uninspired but, most importantly, tense and nervous, just like its coach, who got ejected once again, failing to help his team handle the pressure of the game.

Credit: FIBA
Credit FIBA

After the first game of the World Cup against Angola, in which Italy won 81-67 but struggled heavily, head coach Gianmarco Pozzecco said that the difficulties his team had faced in the game were mostly his fault. 

"I have to apologize to my players," the Italian NT head coach stated in the post-game press conference. "I was under stress, and I didn't support them enough, I was negative, and I want to apologize to them. In two days, in my opinion, we'll have a different approach, me in the first place". 

But during the game against the Dominican Republic, it didn't look like Italy learned the lesson. After a strong start with a 12-0 run in the first few minutes of the first quarter, Italy only scored five points in the rest of the quarter, again showing their difficulties from the perimeter. 

But aside from X's and O's, Italy again became a nervous and tense team, feeling the pressure of such an important competition as the World Cup. The bench received three technical fouls, and Pozzecco was ejected before halftime. 

Sure, someone might say that the referees clearly missed some calls here and there and were a bit too fiscal in some circumstances, but Italy didn't lose against the Dominican Republic because of the referees. 

Italy lost the game simply because they didn't play well and couldn't cope with the pressure. The issue, though, starts from the bench and spreads to the court. 

Less than 48 hours after his words, Pozzecco proved that he was simply unable to change. He again projected tension and nervousness since the beginning of the game, which quickly spread to the players. 

Nicolo Melli and Achille Polonara complained to the referees for most of the game. Melli was fouled out, and Polonara got into several words-fight with Towns and other Dominican players. 

Simone Fontecchio, the main offensive weapon of the team, the juggernaut who helped the Azzurri reach the quarter-finals of the Olympics and EuroBasket struggles to find his groove.

He's shooting only 14% from three-point in the tournament, and in the game against Dominican Republic, he shot only 26% from the field. 

Simone Fontecchio
Simone Fontecchio
Credit FIBA

But the difficulties on the court are a consequence of the tension from the bench. Pozzecco is well-loved and respected by all the players on the team. He was such an exciting player to watch back in the day, and he has an infectious personality, players love to have him around. 

But this is not the first time that his character gets in the way. He handles every single game in a way that is not healthy, neither for him nor the team. 

He apologized after the first game, and less than two days later, he made the same identical mistake, simply because that's who he is, and over the course of the years, we've seen that he's unable to live the game in a different way. 

When you're the head coach, the way you behave represents your team, and your attitude sets the tone.

As of right now, Pozzecco has been unable to set the right situation for his player and struggles to read the temperature of the room. 

A national team head coach simply can't behave this way every single time the team faces a difficult moment. This is what separates Pozzecco from the top coaches on the continent. His heart is in the right place, but his attitude gets constantly in the way. 

Bad or questionable calls from the referees happen all the time at any level, it's just the way the game is. You have to balance your emotions and talk to the referees in a way that is not hostile. 

There are plenty of coaches, even among the top ones, that complain a lot with the referees during the game. Still, you don't see them getting expelled in the most crucial moments of the game because they have the ability to understand that is not what the team needs at that particular time. 

Pozzecco cannot do that, and whether he'll overcome this limit is a fair question. 

Italy is a team with its own limits. This version of the Azzurri's roster is not particularly deep, and they clearly lack size and length close to the basket. 

But during the preparation for the World Cup, they had shown great ball movement and the ability to take energy from their defense to generate offense. 

Those elements, though, have been missing in these first two games of the competition. Italy does not move the ball enough, and defensively, they've been making mistakes we didn't see from them in other major tournaments. 

Gianmarco Pozzecco
Gianmarco Pozzecco
Credit FIBA

Of course, this team relies a lot on outside shooting since they don't have a real presence on the inside, and shots from 3-point are simply not falling for the Azzurri in this World Cup.

They shot only 16% from deep against Angola and finished with 24% against the Dominican Republic. 

After an overall solid first half, they got simply obliterated by Karl-Anthony Towns in the third quarter, allowing the Dominican Republic to score 31 points. The defensive execution, especially in that third quarter, was simply not at the level it was supposed to be. 

Italy tried to stunt often defensively, but those stunts were poorly timed and led to many open shots for the Dominican Republic, especially for Andres Feliz, who killed the Azzurri with seven 7-pointers. 

In the final quarter, when the team was already down in double-digits, coach Casalone, Pozzecco's lead assistant, tried to use some zone defense to improve the situation.

It helped, and Italy cut the lead to only four points in the end, but it was too little too late for the Azzurri. 

Offensively, Italy doesn't really have a main option who can create off the dribble so everything becomes more complicated.

If Italy doesn't put enough pressure on the defensive end, then it is forced to play against a set defense with limited rhythm and relying only on outside shooting, which has been pretty much non-existent so far, considering Italy's numbers.

Starting from the next game against the Philippines, which will be crucial to advance to the next round, Italy will need more defensive intensity and more pressure on the ball to have more fastbreak opportunities. If this team doesn't run, it won't go very far. 

But first and foremost, this team needs to play loose, it has to regain the serenity and a bit of recklessness that it seems to have lost since the beginning of this World Cup.

To do this, there is a need for change to come first of all from the bench, especially from Pozzecco. 

The coach of the Azzurri must try to release all the tension shown at the start of the tournament, which also leaves negative after-effects on the team.

But the clock is ticking, and there will not be many more opportunities. Because now, this team has its back against the wall and can only go as far as its coach can lead it. 


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