Gearing Up for the 2010 FIBA World Championships: Group B

Russell Westbrook, his awesome 'do, and Kevin Durant will be playing for Team USA in the FIBA World Championships. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Yes, I know that the FIBA Tournament has already started. But, I also do know that I made these rankings before the tournament began, and neglected to fill in the details. Then, I procrastinated....and here we are. I have no way of proving to you that I made the rankings beforehand, so you'll just have to believe me.

Anyway, here's the group that most of you will be caring about....Group B!

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#6. Tunisia

FIBA World Ranking: 42nd

Qualified Via: Placing 3rd at the FIBA African Championships

Performance at the 2006 Worlds: Did Not Qualify

Performance at the 2008 Olympics: Did Not Qualify

Thunder Connection? 

NBA Players? None.

The Shakedown: This team got into the World Championships by the skin of their teeth. And it wasn't by facing top teams in Europe. Instead, it was by facing sub-par competition on Africa. But, like Jordan, I know next to nothing about this team. Their roster consists almost entirely of domestic players (two play in Morocco and Egypt). And they got destroyed by Finland, which is an atrocious European team that has never even appeared in the World championships. Most importantly, this team has no highlights online, other than the official FIBA highlights. I even searched in Arabic, and no dice. If nobody cares about them enough to load one measly highlight video, do you really think they have a shot?

Video: Official FIBA Presentation

Non-NBA Players to Watch For: Amine Rzig, considered to be the best forward in Africa by some, who currently plays in Egypt. Marouan Kechrid, a decent playmaking and scoring PG. Radhouane Slimane, another high-scoring forward with questions about his commitment.

Threat to Team USA?: They'll threaten to make good poster material as team USA dunks over them.

Hopes of a Gold Medal: Snowball's chance in hell.

Below: The Top 5!

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#5. Iran

FIBA World Ranking: 21st

Qualified Via: Placing 1st at the FIBA Asian Championships

Performance at the 2006 Worlds: Did Not Qualify

Performance at the 2008 Olympics: Placed 6th (Last) in Group A

Thunder Connection? 

NBA Players? Hamed Haddadi, an average center for the Grizzlies.

The Shakedown: This team rolled through FIBA Asia, going undefeated in the tournament and handily defeating a Yaoless China. They are a very inside-oriented team that likes to take advantage of the fact that they actually have some big men and thus are considerably taller than most of their opponents. Their guards like to take it down low as well. But, when they have to face teams with legitimate big men, especially ones who can shoot well, they'll have problems.

Video: FIBA Asia 09: Group E vs. The Philippines (Shoddy Quality), Final vs. ChinaOfficial FIBA Presentation

Non-NBA Players to Watch For: Oshin Sahakian, a double-double machine who is Haddadi's partner in the post. Hamed Afagh, the sole sharpshooter on the team. Mahdi Kamrani, a PG who likes to take it to the hoop while looking like a complete badass.

Threat to Team USA?: Hamed Haddadi might provide some problems inside, but Team USA's all-around talent is more than enough to make up for that.

Hopes of a Gold Medal: The same hope that the Knicks have of winning a title with just Amare Stoudemire. That is to say: not good.

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#4. Croatia

FIBA World Ranking: 21st

Qualified Via: Placing 6th at the FIBA Europe Championships

Performance at the 2006 Worlds: Did Not Qualify

Performance at the 2008 Olympics: Placed 3rd in Group A, Lost to Spain in Quarter-Finals 

Thunder Connection? None really, but Roko Ukic has played in the Ford Center.

NBA Players? None.

The Shakedown: Croatia isn't the perfect image of a European team, but they do resemble one in some respects. They don't have a good big man without the presence of Kosta Perovic, forcing them to rely on their guards for scoring. However, some of their guards are actually quite fond of driving the ball, giving them a diverse offensive attack that can be deadly against some types of teams. But, if you want to know why Croatia is going to lose, all you have to do is look at their defense. Historically, some of Croatias best players to play in the NBA have been Toni Kukoc, Vlade Divac, Drazen Petrovic, Dino Radja, and Gordan Giricek. None of those names exactly ring defensive prowess.

Non-NBA Players to Watch For: Roko Ukic, a former Raptor and Buck who was a great all-around PG in the NBA. Zoran Planinic, a quick guard and a former Net. Marko Popovic, yet another guard who can pile on the points. Bojan Bogdanovic, a Peja Stojakovic type Small Forward who shoots lots of threes. 

Threat to Team USA?: Not at all. This team is almost entirely devoid of useful big men, leaving the paint wide open for Team USA.

Hopes of a Gold Medal: I could see them making a lucky run for a medal, but they'd have to be just that: lucky. There's no way they can contend with the better teams.

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#3. Slovenia

FIBA World Ranking: 20th

Qualified Via: Placing 4th at the FIBA Europe Championships

Performance at the 2006 Worlds: Placed 3rd in Group D, Lost to Turkey in the Round of 16.

Performance at the 2008 Olympics: Did Not Qualify.

Thunder Connection? Bostjan Nachbar played for the Hornets while they were in Oklahoma City.

NBA Players? Goran Dragic, a well-rounded point guard on the Bobcats who was known for craftily backing up Steve Nash on the Suns. Primoz Brezec, a 7'2" NBA Journeyman who is currently with the Bucks and is known for his ability to get double-doubles while not blocking enough shots.

The Shakedown: This team plays a lot like Croatia does, except for the fact that they actually have an inside presence.

Non-NBA Players to Watch For: Bostjan Nachbar, a mid-range shooting forward who currently plays with Efes Pilsen. Jaka Lakovic, a high-scoring NBA-Caliber guard who does well in clutch situations. Uros Slokar, a big man who can score but will have trouble rebounding against Primoz Brezec.

Threat to Team USA?: About the same chance the Timberwolves have to beat the Heat. That is to say, this could be a competitive game at some points, and on the right day, an upset could happen. But it's still highly unlikely. And yes, this is the country that wore Charlie Brown shirts while playing the USA in the World Cup.

Hopes of a Gold Medal: They have the talent to get there, but they would have to click on all cylinders for them to win it. An off-night for one guy could spell doom for this team, especially with a thin roster. A fun outside pick at a medal, but I don't see them past the Quarter-Finals.

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#2. Brazil

FIBA World Ranking: 14th

Qualified Via: Placing 1st at the FIBA Americas Championships

Performance at the 2006 Worlds: Placed 5th in Group C.

Performance at the 2008 Olympics: Did Not Qualify.

Thunder Connection? Marcus Vinicius played sparingly for the Hornets in their second season in Oklahoma City.

NBA Players? Anderson Varejao, a high-energy forward for the LeBron-era Cavaliers. Leandro Barbosa, a high scoring guard for the Phoenix Suns. Tiago Splitter, a forward in the Luis Scola mold who is soon to join the Spurs, but was formerly of Spain's Tau Ceramica.

The Shakedown: Here's where we get to the serious medal contenders in this group. Team Brazil is very experienced and talented, two things that seem to be extremely rare to have at the same time in this tournament. This, combined with a tougher non-European style and killer shooting outside makes for a very competitive team. They don't have a very good track record, but they did manage to win the FIBA Americas Championship, so they're coming in hot, and they didn't lose any talent like other teams did.

Non-NBA Players to Watch For: Marcus Vinicius, a former Hornet who can shoot and rebound well.Marcelinho Machado, a 34 year old sharpshooter who is a decent rebounder, which is a rare commodity for his type of player. Joao Paulo Batista, who is about as good of a backup center as you'll get in international competition.

Threat to Team USA?: Highly Dangerous. this is a team with a solid rotation and a great presence inside.

Hopes of a Gold Medal: They have a solid shot at a Gold Medal. The best way for them to win this tournament would be by finishing second in their group, forcing Team USA and Spain (who will likely win their groups) to duke it out in the Semi-Finals. They'll still have their share of challenges against Greece, Puerto Rico, and even a depleted Argentina, but they're my favourite pick to make it to the final out of that side of the bracket.

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#1. Team USA

FIBA World Ranking: 2nd.

Qualified Via: Winning the 2008 Olympics.

Performance at the 2006 Worlds: Placed 1st in Group D, Defeated Australia in the Round of 16, Germany in the Quarter-Finals, Lost to Greece in the Semi-Finals, and Defeated Argentina in the 3rd Place Game. 

Performance at the 2008 Olympics: Placed 1st in Group B, Defeated Australia in the Quarter-Finals, Argentina in the Semi-Finals, and Spain in the Final.

Thunder Connection? Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are arguably the two best players on the team.

NBA Players? Every single player on the team is on an NBA roster.

The Shakedown: It's Team USA, what can I say? You've seen the warm-up games, and you watch these guys every day. Sure, I could break down the roster for you and give you some strengths and weaknesses, but you know all of that already. Suffice to say, this team is really good and really deep.

Non-NBA Players to Watch For: Nobody.

Threat to Team USA?: I know it seems silly to keep this in, but a good question to ask is whether Team USA is a threat to themselves. And the answer is a simple no. This team in 2008 and 2006 was filled with Superstars who had to put their egos aside to pull together and win. Here, you have a couple of young stars like Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose, but, let's face it, the rest of the team is made up of good role-players. But, that's a good thing, as it will help Team USA function as a competitive team and not an All-Star Team.

Hopes of a Gold Medal: Excellent. Even though Spain will undoubtedly provide some challenge, Team USA, after their Gold Medal in Beijing, are still the favourites to win it all in Turkey.

Group Overview:

This is a highly talented group....from 1 to 4. They do have two legitimate medal shots, and in my opinion, they're the Group that is the most likely to win a championship as a whole. But, even though this group is talented, they won't be very fun to watch until the tournament. The pecking order here is pretty set, with Team USA being the cream of the crop, Brazil being very good, Slovenia and Croatia being solid, Iran being twangy and Tunisia being worthless. There's not much potential for position jockeying (except between Slovenia and Croatia), making for a very boring Group Stage. So, if I had to pick who to watch in the Group Stage, I'd pass on this group (except for the USA-Spain game) and have more fun watching Group A, C, or D. That being said, keep your eyes on these guys in the Knockout Stage.

Who do you think will come out of Group B? Vote in the poll, post a comment!

Note: Some teams don't have video highlights, and for that, I apologize. I've been having internet issues lately, and I'm having trouble loading videos. If you need to see video of a certain country, just type "Blah country Basketball" on YouTube, and you should find what you're looking for. If that doesn't work, try putting the same thing in the countries native language via Google Translator.

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