Keeping Up with the 2010 FIBA World Championships: Group C

Okay, I know that technically we're two days in. But since I don't want a half-written article to go to waste, I'm releasing my preview of Group C. Also included will be how the team has done so far, and how they compare to my prediction. The preview is also a useful tool for getting to know any team that you might not be familiar with. So, without further ado, here's my preview of Group C:

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#6. Cote d'Ivoire (The Ivory Coast)

FIBA World Ranking: 40th

Qualified Via: Placing 2nd at the FIBA African Championships

Performance at the 2006 Worlds: Did Not Qualify

Performance at the 2008 Olympics: Did Not Qualify

Thunder Connection? There are no NBA players from this country, so finding a connection here is near impossible.

NBA Players? None.

The Shakedown: These guys haven't been very successful in FIBA Africa since the 80s, so it was a huge surprise to see them in the silver medal game. They didn't get there by a sudden influx of talent or anything like that. Rather, they got in via good coaching and a solid gameplan, using a fast paced and inside-focused game offensively, and a tough, quick, and hard nosed game defensively. This success can be attributed to Swiss coach Randoald Dessarzin, who started coaching the team last year. Still, their hopes are slim to none when one thinks of their potential success in the FIBA World Championship. They got a tough Group draw, as Group C is probably the most talented from 1 to 5, and their roster consists of college players and players on second-rate European teams. They'll be fun to watch for about 5 minutes, but it would take a true miracle to see this team succeed here.

Video: FIBA Africa Final vs. AngolaOfficial FIBA Team Profile

Non-NBA Players to Watch For: Mouloukou Diabate, a high-scoring guard who recently has tried to emphasize his passing game. Guy Edi, a shooting guard from Midlands College. Charles Abouo, a high scoring and athletic forward who sparingly plays for Brigham Young. Mohamed Kone, a solid double-double man who plays in Turkey. Pape-Phillipe Amagou, the best scorer on the team who is fond of shooting it from beyond the arc.

Current Record: 0-2

Shakedown Update: The original shakedown was basically correct. While it's nice to think that good coaching and teamwork can get you anywhere, it really can't. This team got totally crushed by Turkey in the opening game, and was handily defeated by China yesterday. With upcoming games against Russia, Greece, and Puerto Rico, thoughts of a win are doubtful, unless Puerto Rico totally collapses between now and their matchup with Cote 'd Ivoire. 

Hopes of a Gold Medal: Worst hopes in the entire tournament, I'd say.

Below: The Top 5!

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#5. China

FIBA World Ranking: 9th

Qualified Via: Placing 2nd at the FIBA Asian Championships

Performance at the 2006 Worlds: Placed 4th in Group D, lost in the Round of 16 to Greece.

Performance at the 2008 Olympics: Placed 4th in Group B, lost in the Round of 16 to Lithuania.

Thunder Connection? Wang Zhi Zhi played for the Mavericks while many Oklahomans were fans of them before the Hornets/Thunder came along.

NBA Players? Yi Jianlian, an athletic 7 footer for the New Jersey Nets.

The Shakedown: China is generally known as the land of budding basketball interest, and a land that the NBA is keeping a close eye on, for marketing purposes. But, despite their recent interest and the presence of Yao Ming, China still has a lot of catching up to do on the world stage. Don't get me wrong, they have and have had some talent, and have had success in the past. But their team is still facing the same tragic flaw it's had for the past 4 years. It's full of slow-footed big men, and a bunch of shorter guys who run around and shoot bad threes. This will work against lesser opponents, but when they have to face a team that can utilize their big men on the perimeter, it turns into trouble. And while they usually can rely on Yao Ming to just beast in those types of situations, Yao Ming won't be playing for them in this World Championship. This leaves the team with little chance for advancing. But, admittedly, China does have a strange basketball style that is worth seeing at least once in your life....if only because there's nothing else like it.

Video: Official FIBA Team Profile

Non-NBA Players to Watch For: Wang Zhi Zhi, a former Maverick who is slow footed, even for a big man, but has the ability to score both inside and outside. Wang Shipeng, a star player and scorer for the Guangdong Southern Tigers, perennial champions in China's CBA. Sun Yue, a former Laker draft pick who was once deemed the Chinese Kobe but now plays in the modern day ABA. Wei Liu, a capable combo guard who shoots a lot.

Current Record: 1-1

Shakedown Update: They're 1-1, and both games were close, but don't let that record fool you. In the first game, they narrowly (but rightfully) lost to a undermanned Greek team because it was a 3 Point Shooting contest after the Greeks lost Fotsis and Schortanitis to injury. They then proceeded to beat Cote d' Ivoire by about 10, which is no surprise. So, in order to advance, they'll have to defeat host country Turkey, surging Russia, or talented Puerto Rico. I'd like to say that they could, since I'm a bit of a China fan, but I doubt that it's going to happen, as their best chance to win probably came against Greece.

Hopes of a Gold Medal: Probably the most capable team that won't make the Round of 16, but that's not saying much.

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#4. Russia

FIBA World Ranking: 17th

Qualified Via: Wild Card

Performance at the 2006 Worlds: Did Not Qualify.

Performance at the 2008 Olympics: Placed 5th in Group A.

Thunder Connection? Andrei Kirilenko has played some hard-nosed defense against Kevin Durant in his day.

NBA Players? Timofey Mozgov, a Double-Double machine and defensively apt center who recently signed with the Knicks straight out of the Russian Superleague.

The Shakedown: With no Andrei Kirilenko and J.R. Holden, this is a pretty weak European team. But, they're not completely hopeless. This team will rely on solid post play to win, and that's why I think they'll get 4th place over China. China does have it's share of big men, but they're generally soft and outside-oriented, which should mean easy pickings for the Russian big men. But, considering that this team did so badly in the 2009 European Championships and the 2008 Olympics, I find it hard to see them placing above Host Country Turkey, Greece, or Puerto Rico.

Video: Official FIBA Team Profile

Non-NBA Players to Watch For: Anton Ponkrashov, a consummate point guard out of Spartak St. Petersburg. Victor Khryapa, a former bulls power forward who is a monster in the paint. Sasha Kaun, a beefy center who can score well inside. Sergey Monya, a versatile forward in the Andrei Kirilenko mold.

Current Record: 1-1

Shakedown Update: This team did much better than I thought in beating Puerto Rico, showing that when all of their pieces fit, they can defeat an elite team. But they lost handily the next day to Turkey, and will now have to defeat Greece if they want to get a 2nd place finish. I could see this team overachieving a bit and getting third place, but if they can't get get their work done inside and are destroyed outside by a more versatile team (like what happened against Turkey), they'll fall pretty quickly in the knockout round.

Hopes of a Gold Medal: They think they could get a gold medal, and it is a slight possibility, but I think that they're just too inexperienced.

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#3. Turkey

FIBA World Ranking: 18th

Qualified Via: Being the Host Nation

Performance at the 2006 Worlds: Placed 2nd in Group C, Defeated Slovenia in the Round of 16, Lost to Argentina in the Quarter-Finals, Defeated Lithuania in 5th Place Classification Round, Lost to France in 5th Place Game.

Performance at the 2008 Olympics: Did Not Qualify.

Thunder Connection? Ersan Ilyasova had a horrible game against the Thunder last season in the Ford Center.

NBA Players? Omer Asik, a double-double machine who was recently signed by the Chicago BullsHedo Turkoglu, one of the NBA's elite swingmen who currently is with the Suns. Ersan Ilyasova, a rising star on the Bucks who is a very versatile scorer for a big man. Semih Erden, an average Center recently signed by the Celtics.

The Shakedown: Just because this team is the host nation doesn't mean that they're slouches. This is no South Africa. Turkey has been a legitimate basketball nation for the last decade, and has a fierce rivalry with Greece, who happens to be in the same group. Turkey utilizes a very traditional style for the NBA. They have a lockdown defender, a distributor, forwards that can score and two big men in their rotation that they can put in the middle. This means that they don't have particular advantages against any one team, but it also means that they can compete with anybody in the tournament. They'll miss Mehmet Okur though, who added a good deal of versatility to their offense.

Video: Official FIBA Team Profile

Non-NBA Players to Watch For: Ender Arslan, the general of the team who plays for the prestigious Efes Pilsen. Omer Onan, a lock-down defender at Shooting Guard who can also score well on the fast break.

Current Record: 2-0

Shakedown Update: They've done as expected so far, easily defeating the Ivory Coast and handily defeating Russia. The question now is whether they can compete with Greece and Puerto Rico.

Hopes of a Gold Medal: If there was a year for Turkey to win it, it would be now, with an excellent combination of old and young talent. Still, I don't think that they can compete when it matters, and will probably fall somewhere around the Quarter-Finals due to the inexperience of some players.

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#2. Greece

FIBA World Ranking: 4th

Qualified Via: Placing 3rd in the FIBA Europe Championships

Performance at the 2006 Worlds: Placed 1st in Group C, Defeated China in the Round of 16, France in the Quarter-Finals, the United States in the Semi-Finals, and Lost to Spain in the Final.

Performance at the 2008 Olympics: Placed 3rd in Group B, Defeated Turkey in the Quarter-Finals, Lost to Spain in the Semi-Finals, Defeated Slovenia in the 3rd Place Game.

Thunder Connection? Peja Stojakovic, who played for the Hornets in their second year in Oklahoma City, acquired dual citizenship with Greece in 1993 when he joined the Greek club PAOK B.C.

NBA Players? None.

The Shakedown: This team is considered to be a top contender for the gold medal (perhaps the most so outside of Spain and the United States), but I'm putting them as second in this group after the suspension of Soforkis Schortsanitis and Antonis Fotsis due to the fight with Serbia shortly before the championships. But, even without them, this team is a force to be reckoned with. Even though they have no NBA players on their roster, some of the players could easily play in the NBA if they wanted to (Bourousis, Zisis, Fotsis). Most of their roster comes from the prestigious and successful Panathinaikos, which helps the Greeks develop a teamwork ethic that no team but Angola surpasses. Their style of play is much like that of the Phoenix Suns of the D'Antoni era. Lots of pick and rolls, dishing it around the perimeter, and occasional dump-offs to their big men inside. Defensively, they rely on drawing a lot of fouls and getting easy steals.

Video: Official FIBA Team Profile

Non-NBA Players to Watch For: Soforkis Schorsanitis, an excellent inside scoring big man. Antonis Fotsis, a versatile scoring big man. Vassilis Spanoulis, a scoring guard who isn't afraid to mix it up inside. Ioannis Bourousis, who will be holding down the paint without Fotsis and Schortanitis. Nikos Zisis, another scoring guard who can rebound and dish decently well. Dimitris Diamantidis, who is responsible for getting most plays going, which, in Greece's case, is receiving a pick from whatever player happens to be handy.

Current Record: 2-0

Shakedown Update: Greece has exceeded expectations and found a way to survive their suspension unscathed, defeating both China and Puerto Rico. The main challenge remaining for them now will be Turkey on Wednesday, especially because of the rivalry factor. Still, now that they have their complete roster, they're probably going to come out of the group on top.

Hopes of a Gold Medal: High. They're always in the thick of global and regional tournaments, and there's no reason to not think that this year might be the year.

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#1. Puerto Rico

FIBA World Ranking: 10th

Qualified Via: Placing 2nd in the FIBA Americas Championship

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

Performance at the 2008 Olympics: Ineligible to Qualify.

Thunder Connection? Jose Juan Barea has caused problems for the Thunder, and so has Puerto Rican Carmelo Anthony.

NBA Players? Jose Juan Barea, a energetic and inside-oriented guard for the Mavericks. Carlos Arroyo, a poor man's Barea who is currently on the Heat roster. Renaldo Balkman, a little-used forward for the Nuggets.

The Shakedown: Puerto Rico is a team that's based around the talent that they have, rather than a system. Basically, Jose Juan Barea and/or Carlos Arroyo dribble the ball around a lot, sometimes score, and sometimes dish it to someone outside or inside for a wide-open three or a tough layup. This works well when it works, but since the offense runs through Barea and Arroyo, if they happen to be off of their game, the entire offense falls apart. Defensively, they're really good inside, but they'll all too often leave a man open on the perimeter.

Video: Official FIBA Team Profile

Non-NBA Players to Watch For: Peter John Ramos, a giant center who gets the tough points and rebounds in the paint. Daniel Santiago, a good backup center who plays very similarly to Ramos. Ricardo Sanchez, a big man who has the range to shoot from 3 point land. Nathan Peavy, a young forward with an awesome beard.

Current Record: 0-2

Shakedown Update: This team has really disappointed in their first two games, losing to what was thought to be a weak Russian team, and losing to a depleted Greek team. They weren't embarrassing losses by any means, but both of them followed the same pattern. Puerto Rico was up for most of the game, and then they dropped the ball at the end because of poor play, foul trouble, and a thin roster. And that's this team's ultimate downfall. They have the talent to play with some of the best in the world, but in the end, they just don't have the depth for it. And that's a real shame, because this team is fun to watch. Puerto Rico will now have to defeat China or Turkey in order to avoid elimination. 

Hopes of a Gold Medal: Mediocre, at best. They don't have the depth to deal with talented teams, and don't play well against a European style.

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

Also, please note that the rankings are as I originally imagined them, not as they are on Day 2.

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