FIBA Basketball: Field of 24 Preview

| by Hoops Karma

The Rockets' Luis Scola leads a powerful Argentina squad into the World Championship this weekend.I’ve already previewed Team USA’s progress this summer as they prepare to open the 2010 FIBA World Championships in Turkey. Now it’s time to take a look at the rest of the field of 24.

The teams are divided into four groups of six, with each group playing a round-robin format. The group stage games will take place at four regional sites from August 28 through September 2. The top four teams in each group advance to the knockout rounds that start September 4 in Istanbul, culminating in the championship game on September 12. Though Worlds is generally a very competitive tournament, for various reasons a lot of the game’s biggest stars are taking the summer off. Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, Manu Ginobili, Andrew Bogut, Nene, Andre Kirilenko and Tony Parker are the notable internationals sitting this one out. For the U.S., the entire gold-medal-winning squad from two years ago is gone, but they still have a roster full of young NBA talent.

There is no clear favorite as the tournament opens, with Spain, Greece and the United States all generating buzz as the top teams to watch. Here’s a group-by-group breakdown of the tournament, highlighting the teams and players to watch over the next two weeks.

Group A

Teams: Germany, Angola, Argentina, Australia, Jordan, Serbia

Regional site: Kayseri

Best game: Serbia-Argentina, Sept. 2 @ noon

Teams to advance: Argentina, Australia, Serbia, Germany

Argentina, the bronze medalists in ’08 and Olympic champs in ’04, should be the top team, but will be pushed by a strong Serbian team that finished as runners-up at Eurobasket last year. Argentina is led by the Rockets’ Luis Scola and also features Fabricio Oberto of the Wizards and Carlos Delfino of the Bucks. Not having Andres Nocioni or Manu Ginobili hurts, but the Argentines have enough depth to navigate every other team in this group, save perhaps Serbia. Both Nenad Krstic of the Thunder (3 games) and Milos Teodosic (2 games) will sit out for the Serbs after an ugly brawl against Greece. Fortunately, neither will miss the two toughest games, as Serbia finishes with Australia and Argentina. With a strong frontcourt and the playmaking of Teodosic, Serbia will be dangerous and are a threat to win the group. Germany isn’t that good without Nowitzki or Chris Kaman (who is from Michigan but acquired German citizenship in 2008 because his great-grandparents were German), but they’re good enough to get by basketball minnows Angola and Jordan. Australia, led by Patty Mills, who played on the Blazers last year, will be fun to watch and are an upset threat in the knockout round.

Group B

Teams: USA, Brazil, Tunisia, Iran, Croatia, Slovenia

Regional site: Istanbul

Best game: USA-Brazil, Aug. 30 @ 2:30 PM

Teams to advance: USA, Brazil, Iran, Slovenia

The US should be the class of the group, but Brazil, with Anderson Varejao and Tiago Splitter, should make some noise and will be interesting to watch when they square off with the US on August 30. Brazil won the FIBA Americas championship last summer (the US did not send a team) and also feature Leandro Barbosa, who will be dangerous if he can get to the rim consistently. Slovenia has Goran Dragic, though Sasha Vujacic will sit out (perhaps for the best after their feud in this year’s playoffs). They have some nice guards, but so do the US, and Team USA’s frontcourt is a lot better. Croatia is rebuilding and will battle an upstart Iran team for the fourth spot. Iran is coming off its second consecutive FIBA Asia championship. Tunisia, and African basketball in general, are not very good, and they will serve as the punching bag of Group B.

Here is Team USA’s schedule:

  • 8/28 vs. Croatia, Noon
  • 8/29 vs. Slovenia, 9:30 AM
  • 8/30 vs. Brazil, 2:30 PM
  • 9/1 vs. Iran, Noon
  • 9/2 vs. Tunisia, 9:30 AM

Turkey's Hedo Turkoglu will probably receive the biggest cheers at the tournament.

Group C

Teams: China, Ivory Coast, Greece, Russia, Puerto Rico, Turkey

Regional site: Ankara

Best game: Turkey-Greece, Aug. 31 @ 2 PM

Teams to advance: Greece, Russia, Turkey, Puerto Rico

As the hosts, Turkey expects to advance, and behind players such as Hedo Turkoglu of the Suns and Ersan Ilyasova of the Bucks, they should do just that. Greece is the more experienced, internationally-savvy team and will likely win the group, but their showdown with Turkey could be the must-watch game of the first round considering the quality of the teams and their geographic proximity. The Greek pro league is among the best in Europe, and almost the entire Greek roster plays there, including seven from Panathinaikos, who have won eight consecutive Greek championships and two of the past four Euroleague titles. Russia’s top player will be 6-feet-7 combo guard Anton Ponkrashov (yes, he can play the point), who will create matchup problems for opponents. China is on the decline and without Yao Ming, I hardly expect Yi Jianlian to lead them to glory. Puerto Rico brings nice NBA experience in Jose Juan Barea, Carlos Arroyo, and Renaldo Balkman and should make it out of the group, but anything beyond that is a bonus. The Ivory Coast hasn’t played in this tournament since 1986 and are simply happy to be here.

Group D

Teams: Spain, France, Canada, Lithuania, New Zealand, Lebanon

Regional site: Izmir

Best game: Spain-Lithuania, Aug. 31 @ 2 PM

Teams to advance: Spain, France, Canada, Lithuania

2010 has been Spain’s year in sports so far. Rafael Nadal won the French Open and Wimbledon and inherited the world number one mantle from Roger Federer. Pau Gasol won his second consecutive NBA championship, and was the Lakers’ best player in the Finals. And of course, the Spanish soccer team won their first ever World Cup title in South Africa. Can their basketball counterparts complete a golden year for Spain? As defending champs and Olympic silver medalists in 2008, the Spanish basketballers have as good a chance as any to win the tournament. They already knew that Pau Gasol would be sitting this one out, but losing starting point guard Jose Calderon the week before the tournament hurts a lot. Ricky Rubio and Marc Gasol are still there though, along with a host of the crew that won the Eurobasket title last year. This is the weakest of the four groups, and Spain won’t have any trouble advancing. Canada isn’t very good, but Lebanon and New Zealand are awful, so look for the Joel Anthony/Andy Rautins-led squad to advance by default (no Steve Nash - he hasn’t played for Canada since 2004). France has some players such as Alexis Ajinca and Nicolas Batum who are considered raw by NBA standards, but who will have to play big roles without Tony Parker or even Mickael Pietrus. They also have Boris Diaw, but considering how fat and out-of-shape he looked against the U.S. in New York, there’s no reason to expect much from him. Most of Lithuania’s NBA talent is not in Turkey, but they have a strong basketball tradition and are still solid enough to give the big dogs a run for their money. With only one player taller than 6-feet-9, New Zealand has neither the size nor skill to be competitive in this group.