As the FIBA World Cup prepares to start this weekend many people know most of what there is to know about Team USA. Despite being without Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Chris Paul and more the Americans will be favorites thanks to their depth of NBA stars led by Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose and our own superstar big man Anthony Davis. But what about the rest of the teams in the competition? Over the next few days we will have breakdowns of each group in the tournament to help fans prepare for the massive amount of fun basketball coming in the next few weeks from teams besides just the US.
In Group C though everything starts and ends with the Americans who will be heavy favorites in almost every game they play in Spain in the coming weeks and probably won’t get even challenged until the semifinals at the earliest. That doesn’t mean there isn’t competitive games to be played in Group C though, as the rest of the group seems wide open and which other three teams move on could come down to the final few games of group play.
The Favorite: United States
This one is the easiest pick of the entire tournament. Team USA is going to breeze through what has turned out to be an interesting, if weak, group. That is probably a good thing for the Americans though as it gives them some time to try out different lineups with eyes on Spain in the finals and also allows them to give Derrick Rose a day or two off as he works his way back into game shape following his most recent knee injury last year. Group play should provide us with some fun highlights as well, so that is always fun.
The Contenders: None
No other team is talented enough to win this group so it didn’t make sense to try to pretend someone was.
The Five Teams Playing for Three Spots: Dominican Republic, Turkey, New Zealand, Ukraine, Finland
This is where group play will be interesting though as injuries and surprisingly bad play have left the three remaining spots from Group C in the final 16 teams completely wide open.
The Dominican Republic is without their best player in Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford but they have played well at times against lesser competition in recent friendlies. Francisco Garcia is the Dominican’s only NBA player but he is surrounded by an experienced group so expect them to be in every non-US game they play in.
Turkey meanwhile should be an easy choice to finish second in the group thanks to experience and massive size, led by the Pelicans new center Omer Asik. But Turkey has struggled mightily in friendlies leading up to the World Cup, as they lost six of the seven games they played including all three at home. If they can figure out what went wrong in time for the start of group play and get back to normal the Turks should move on, but until they prove things on the court it seems more likely that they are fighting for the fourth spot.
Like the Dominican Republic, New Zealand is without their best player, Oklahoma City Thunder big man Steven Adams. But the team found away around that to top Croatia in their final friendly and if Turkey hasn’t figured things out or the Dominican Republic goes cold for a bit there is a real chance New Zealand squeezes their way into the fourth spot in the Group.
The Ukraine are my favorite for second in the group at the moment behind the combination of head coach Mike Fratello and point guard Pooh Jeter. Ukraine also has three players 6’11” or taller giving them a huge advantage inside on most teams they will play. Jeter meanwhile may be the best non-USA player in the group not name Omer Asik and he should have a few big games. Ukraine also enters group play with a bit of confidence after failing to Spain by just eight points in a recent friendly.
Finland meanwhile probably should have been left out of the games for Canada but advertising money from Rovio (the company that produces Angry Birds) got them in as a Wild Card. There is some talent on the Finland squad including NBA player Erik Murphy and point guard Petteri Koponen. While they didn’t have a great set of friendlies, Finland was surprisingly competitive at the last Eurobasket so seeing them steal a game or two and be in position to move on is possible.
The NBA Ties:
United States: The entire roster.
Dominican Republic: Garcia
New Zealand: None
Ukraine: Jeter, Slava Kravtsov