For about a week now, we've watched Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Nenad Krstic, and Tibor Pleiss play for their respective home countries, and so far, little has been accomplished. 24 Teams have been whittled down to a whopping 16, and no real contenders have been knocked out. When can we start to see the real action? When the real NBA and International stars are fighting to stay alive, rather than simply falling down a place in the standings? It all starts now, my friend.
But, before we get to the tournament, analysis of the potential matchups, and predictions of what is to come, lets take a final look back at the countries that just couldn't make it.
6th Place: Jordan
Memorial: They came out with a bang, pushing international basketball contender Australia to the final seconds, only to come up short. Unfortunately for them, things only got worse from there. They lost to Angola by 14, and every game after that was a blowout. Rasheim Wright and Zaid Abbas had respectable tournaments, scoring roughly 15 PPG each.
5th Place: Germany
Record: 2-3 (Wins Against Jordan, Serbia)
Memorial: This team didn't have high hopes entering the tournament, as Dirk Nowitski elected not to play, and, as a result of that, Chris Kaman also elected not to play. But, they did exceed expectations. They pushed Argentina to the final minutes of the 4th, defeated Krstic and Teodosicless Serbia in double overtime, and defeated Jordan. But if you want to look at one reason for Germany failing to reach the tournament, then look no further than their loss to Angola. A team of stiffs just can't cut it against a team that can run circles around you. Nevertheless, the future looks bright, as the country looks able to stand on their own two feet without Dirk, and looks to join the ranks of traditional European basketball powers. And who knows? Tibor Pleiss could very well be the next Dirk. He had the third most points on the team, and he shot over 90% from the line. And he's only 20!
Below: More Memorials to the Eliminated, Previews of the Upcoming Games.
6th Place: Tunisia
Memorial: Possibly the weakest team in the tournament. They got 3rd in FIBA Africa, and never was a threat to any team. I'm sure the players had the time of their lives though, and they were beating Team USA 4-0 at one point!
5th Place: Iran
Record: 1-4 (Win against Tunisia)
Memorial: when you're put in a group against Team USA, the best team from South America (Brazil), and two traditional European Basketball Powerhouses (Slovenia and Croatia), no one will give you much of a chance. And, admittedly, they never really had a chance. They did do a good job of pushing Slovenia to the wire, even though it was a meaningless game. They'll have a good chance to win in the future though, as Hamed Haddadi develops his game and basketball becomes more prevalent in Iran.
6th Place: Cote d'Ivoire
Record: 1-4 (Win against Puerto Rico)
Memorial: This team could have advanced, had they produced a better goal average. And considering the route they took to get here, which involved a remarkable FIBA Africa run after years of mediocrity....in Africa, this should be considered a huge accomplishment for the team. They were never a threat against some of the powerhouses, but they played competitive games against China and Russia, and defeated perennial choker Puerto Rico. I doubt we'll see the Ivory Coast in the FIBA Worlds again any time soon, but this time should be cherished by them nonetheless.
5th Place: Puerto Rico
Record: 1-4 (Win against China)
Memorial: Never have I seen a more undeserving elimination. Puerto Rico was right with the other team in the fourth quarter in every single game they played. They were a shot away from defeating Turkey and Greece, and they were a few shots away from defeating Russia and Cote d'Ivoire. But at the end of the day, they always seemed to come up short. Why? Well, there's a variety of reasons I could give. They had no go to guy on offense. They committed too many turnovers. They couldn't hit threes consistently. Their big men fouled out too much. Their bench wasn't deep enough. But, in the end, it boils down to one reason: They were chokers. And chokers never win. Nevertheless, I'll definitely miss watching this team play, and Lithuania is very lucky that they will be playing China instead of this team.
6th Place: Canada
Memorial: Now, you might be thinking, "Canada was in this tournament?". It's true. "Then where's Steve Nash?" Chilling at his house, probably. Same thing for Samuel Dalembert. Canada got in via the United States automatically qualifying via their 2008 Olympic Gold Medal. And, while not a pushover, they don't have a lot of high profile players. Most of them are average Euroleague stars, and they could never quite decide who they wanted to play, giving everyone minutes. But, aside from these quirks, Canada had an alright tournament. They challenged Lithuania and France, but when it came down to it, they couldn't beat the lesser teams that would have helped them to advance (Lebanon and New Zealand). As a result, they'll sit out of the tournament, and probably out of future FIBA World Tournaments.
5th Place: Lebanon
Record: 1-4 (Win Against Canada)
I don't know a lot about this team. But aside from their day one win against Canada, they spent most of their time getting points poured on them by superior teams. When Jackson Vroman (A former OKC Hornet, no less) is your best player, you can't expect much, though. The veteran Fadi El Khatib had a good tournament too though, which is surprising considering that he plays domestically in Lebanon. In the end, they beat Canada, so at least they have something to write home about.
But, it's all said and done for those teams. Lets go on and preview the actual matchups that we will start seeing later today. I'll start at the top of the bracket, and end at the bottom. For a full bracket, click here. For a full schedule, click here.
Round of 16:
1. Serbia (Group A) vs. 4. Croatia (Group B)
Serbia Defeated Angola, Jordan, Australia, and Argentina, Lost to Germany.
Croatia Defeated Tunisia and Iran, Lost to Team USA, Slovenia, and Brazil.
Analysis: Croatia may not have an impressive record, but they're a tough team to draw at 4. They are usually very competitive in European competition, and they have an impressive array of guards, including two former NBA players (Planinic and Ukic). But when you really get down to it, this team has no big men who can score, while Serbia has Dusko Savanovic, Kosta Perovic, and Nenad Krstic. They also have a lot of other names ending in C. And on the perimeter, Milos Teodosic should be able to keep up with the madness of Roko Ukic. So, while this game will be competitive for a while, I can easily see Serbia pulling ahead at the half.
2. Spain (Group D) vs. 3. Greece (Group C)
Spain defeated New Zealand, Lebanon, and Canada, lost to France and Lithuania.
Greece defeated China, Puerto Rico, and Cote d'Ivoire, lost to Turkey and Russia.
Analysis: Some people had this matchup as a Final. And now, it's going to happen in the Round of 16. I guess that's why we play the game of basketball, eh? This will probably be the best matchup in the Round of 16, and the winner could go on to the final. But, if you look at what's gone on recently, both of these teams have been disappointments. Spain could have been a 4 seed had their goal differential been different, and they lost to teams that most consider vastly inferior. Meanwhile, Greece had a tough time in it's wins against China and Puerto Rico (due to the suspensions of Schortsanitis and Fotsis), and then, after the suspensions were over, dropped the ball against Turkey and Russia. So, while these teams are both very dangerous, it's hard to estimate whether either of them will be able to go the distance and win the Championship. In my opinion, though, Spain is the superior team, both now and traditionally. They have a better presence inside, so they don't live and die on the three like Greece has to sometimes. They also lost their games to France and Lithuania at the last minute, due to bad game management. Meanwhile, Greece lost their games to Turkey and Russia before then, usually due to a fatal flaw. And if Spain is able to catch Greece during one of their shooting droughts, it could mean a win for them. So I'm going with Spain for the win here, though this really is anyone's game.
1. Turkey (Group C) vs. 4. France (Group D)
Turkey Defeated Cote d'Ivoire, Russia, Greece, Puerto Rico, and China. No losses.
France Defeated Spain, Lebanon, and Canada, Lost to Lithuania and New Zealand.
Analysis: If Croatia is a tough team to draw as a 4 seed, then France is an even tougher draw. Though they've been less than impressive in some matchups, they had an impressive win against Spain. But this French team will live and die by whether players like Mickael Gelabale and Nicholas Batum can get their offensive game going. If not, expect lots of dribbling around and hardly any open shots. Meanwhile, Turkey has looked absolutely dominant so far, winning each game convincingly except for the one against Puerto Rico. And Puerto Rico is no longer in this tournament. With the home crowd and everything else going for them, including veteran players who know how to play under pressure, there's no doubt in my mind that Turkey will win this game.
2. Slovenia (Group B) vs. 3. Australia (Group A)
Slovenia defeated Tunisia, Croatia, Brazil, and Iran, lost to Team USA.
Australia defeated Jordan, Germany, and Angola, lost to Argentina and Serbia.
Analysis: Australia surprised some with their third place finish, especially after this was considered to be a down year after the withdrawal of Andrew Bogut and Nathan Jawai from the team. But Patty Mills of the Trail Blazers has done a good job of leading the team, while Joe Ingles and Alexander Maric of the Euroleague have done a good job getting rebounds, and scoring. David Andersen has held down the paint. But this team will be facing Slovenia, who have Slokar and Brezec, both of whom defend well for Slovenia in the post, and they have Lakovic and Dragic, both of whom are equal to Patty Mills in scoring capabilities. But it's hard to predict a victor here, since both teams are very similar in style and type of players. But I just have to go with Slovenia here. Australia has come up short every time they've face legitimate big men, as they were pounded by Serbia, could only compete with Argentina when they shut down Luis Scola, and almost lost to Jordan who has Zaid Abbas. And since Serbia has a good rotation of players who play well in the paint, they should win this game. It will be competitive, though.
1. Team USA (Group B) vs. 4. Angola (Group A)
Team USA defeated Croatia, Slovenia, Brazil, Iran, and Tunisia. No losses.
Angola Defeated Jordan and Germany, lost to Serbia, Argentina, and Australia.
Analysis: Angola should be proud to be the only team from the Continent of Africa to be in the Knockout Stage for the 2nd Time, especially with only players from their domestic league. In fact, no other country in the tournament can say they got to where they are with only players from their domestic league, besides the United States. But, unfortunately, they drew the toughest possible matchup after their final loss to Australia....the giant that is known as Team USA. Now, I'm a bit of an Angola fan, so I'd be lying to you if I said that there wasn't some part of me that thinks that Angola can move the mountain and upset Team USA. But, in reality, it's no contest. Team USA just has too much talent, and everybody on Angola is 6'8" or shorter, which will mean lots of dunkfests from the taller team USA players. Not to mention that Angola can't get a rebound to save their life. However this game turns out, I'll be happy.....but I think that the coach of Angola's pep talk to his team before they faced Team USA in the 2008 Olympics says it all. "I want you guys to lose by less than 40 points."
2. Russia (Group C) vs. 3. New Zealand (Group D)
Russia Defeated Puerto Rico, Cote d'Ivoire, China, and Greece, lost to Turkey.
New Zealand Defeated Lebanon, Canada, and France, lost to Lithuania and Spain.
Analysis: For me, this match is the tournament's biggest enigma. Russia has had an unexpected run, defeating Puerto Rico and Greece in the final seconds. Meanwhile, New Zealand, who I had declared pretty much dead after day 2, won three straight games against somewhat legitimate opponents. All of this despite having no players that play outside of Australia or New Zealand. But, statistically, their success can be contributed to Kirk Penney. He has averaged an amazing 25.4 PPG, on a team that only averages 85 PPG. He was a part of the Tall Blacks 2002 Run to the Semi-Finals. Russia's team, meanwhile, has a much more diverse scoring base, with Sasha Kaun, Timofey Mozgov, and Sergey Monya all averaging roughly 14 PPG. My guess as to Russia's success would be their their diverse scoring, something that none of the teams that they defeated have been able to accomplish. And while it would be nice to think New Zealand has a run in them, history will tell you otherwise. They got absolutely crushed when facing Lithuania and Spain, both teams with more diverse scoring attacks. And since that's exactly what Russia has, I see Russia comfortably advancing out of this game.
1. Lithuania (Group D) vs. 4. China (Group C)
Lithuania Defeated New Zealand, Canada, Spain, France, and Lebanon. No losses.
China Defeated Cote d'Ivoire, lost to Greece, Puerto Rico, Russia, and Turkey.
Analysis: If Puerto Rico was the most undeserving loser of this tournament, then China has to be the most undeserving winner. Their point differential was significantly worse than Puerto Rico's, and they played their last game without Yi Jianlian, which lead to an embarrassing walloping by Turkey. But, because of the "goal differential" that FIBA now uses, China advanced courtesy of a buzzer-beating three by Puerto Rico. Had Puerto Rico not hit that three, the Ivory Coast would have advanced. Regardless, if China doesn't have Yi Jianlian, they don't stand a chance. Without him they have the slow-footed Wang Zhi Zhi, a solid guard in Sun Yue, and a bunch of players who miss a lot of shots. With him, they'll stand a chance, because Lithuania is lucky to be where they are. They got in to the tournament courtesy of a wild card berth because they finished last in Group F in the 2009 FIBA European Championship, and they got to the top of this group because of the severe stumbling of Spain and the general weakness of the group. It goes without saying that they're the weakest 1 seed in the bracket. But they should be able to beat China, because of the great play of Linas Kleiza (who leads the team in points and rebounds), combined with the fact that 8 other players on the Lithuanian team have averaged more than 5 PPG and played in every game. Now that's what I call a deep team. China is much thinner, relying on 4 players to do most of the work. With or without Jianlian, it will be a comfortable win for Lithuania, though China has had a solid run with Yi.
2. Argentina (Group A) vs. 3. Brazil (Group B)
Argentina Defeated Germany, Australia, Angola, and Jordan, lost to Serbia.
Brazil Defeated Iran, Tunisia, and Croatia, lost to Team USA and Slovenia.
Argentina is a lot weaker than people think they are. If Luis Scola and Carlos Delfino aren't scoring, then their offense is completely stagnant, especially inside. They also barely beat Germany and Austalia, and Fabricio Oberto has only played one game. They also certainly could use Manu Ginobili, who elected not to play with the team. Brazil is another story entirely. While they did lose to Team USA and Slovenia, they lost both by 2 and 3 Points, respectively and had no trouble with their other opponents. The main reason they lost both of those games was the dominance of the other teams in the paint. But if Tiago Splitter can get his way in the paint, then Brazil should be able to win the game. And I've always considered Splitter to be better than Scola, as evidenced by them both playing for Tau Ceramica and Splitter being the featured player there.
Now, just for fun, I'll predict the rest of the bracket. I won't go too in-depth, since it's gratifying myself more than anything, but I'll give a reason for each prediction.
Quarter-Finals Game 1:
Serbia vs. Spain- Serbia wins. I'd tend to think that Marc Gasol would dominate Serbia in the paint, but Serbia defeated Spain in FIBA Europe last year, and Serbia's ability to draw opposing centers out of the paint should come in handy here. The game is really a tossup though.
Quarter-Finals Game 2:
Turkey vs. Slovenia- Turkey wins. Any game between these two teams is going to be intense, especially with Ilyasova vs. Kleiza being the main feature. But you've got to go with the home crowd support here, along with the presence of Hedo Turkoglu.
Quarter-Finals Game 3:
Team USA vs. Russia- USA wins. In this cold war battle, Russia's slow centers can't keep up with Team USA's fast pace.
Quarter-Finals Game 4:
Lithuania vs. Brazil- Brazil wins. Brazil has the more talented team, and they have go-to guys in the clutch. It will be close, but I just don't see Lithuania being to keep up inside or outside, with Splitter in the paint and Brazils excellent perimeter shooting.
Classification Round (For losers of the Quarter-Finals):
Spain vs. Slovenia- Spain should win this one, even though it's only for 5th place. I mean, they only come up short when it matters, right?
Russia vs. Lithuania- Russia Wins, because they're more diverse scorers and defend the paint well.
5th Place Game:
Spain vs. Russia- Spain wins, due to superior talent.
7th Place Game:
Lithuania vs. Slovenia- Lithuania wins, due to all of their players being able to score.]
Serbia vs. Turkey- Serbia wins. This is due to their better point guard play and their big men being able to shoot.
USA vs. Brazil- Brazil wins. The first game came down to the wire, and I just have a hunch that Team USA won't be able to win a FIBA World Championship this year.
3rd Place Game:
USA vs. Turkey- Turkey wins. They have the home crowd advantage and the ability to play the fast break well.
Serbia vs. Brazil- Brazil wins. Brazil just has too many weapons offensively for Serbia to compete with, and Tiago Splitter should have not trouble with Krstic inside.
What are your predictions for the tournament? Am I off of my rocker? Let us know by voting in the poll and posting a comment!