It’s time to make a (not-so) bold prediction about the 2014 FIBA World Cup: the United States WILL NOT repeat as gold medalists. In fact, the smart money at this stage is to leave America out of medal contention entirely.
Gone are the days when the United States’ national team was a shoe-in to win any global basketball competition. In fact, with a lot of their big name stars either out (Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant most notably) or injured (Paul George) it looks like their might be a change in the guard once the FIBA World Cup starts.
The “Dream Team” era of the 1990s (when Americans regularly beat up on opponents by double-digits) resulted in improvements in training, farm systems, and international competition around the world. It’s ironic, but American dominance in basketball at the end of the 20th century has created a FIBA field that’s more talented and better-trained than ever.
Previous USA Performances at the FIBA World Cup
America has won the gold medal just three times since the 1959 World Cup, taking the top prize in 1986, 1994, and in the most-recent competition in 2010. The US team has finished outside of the top three six times in the previous sixteen FIBA World Cup events. In fact, if you’re betting on the basketball World Cup this year just do yourself a favor and go against your gut for once and forget Team USA (I know, it’s tragic for me to say it in print myself…) making a big run in this year’s FIBA championships.
Statistically-speaking, America has missed out on a medal about 1/3 of the time. That’s a surprising statistic for most USA basketball fans, and a sobering one for bettors inclined to think of America as basketball’s dominant force. They’ve had some up and down years, with their most memorable of course being the 90’s Olympic “Dream Teams” that featured the likes of Jordan, Bird and Magic – one in which beat down their opponents by an average of 40+ points a game! those times have come and gone and there are some great teams to watch out for in this year’s FIBA World Cup.
Five FIBA Teams to Watch
A recent (and much-publicized) injury to F/G Paul George, combined with the exits of superstars Blake Griffin and Kevin Love from the team, weakens American’s chances of bringing home another FIBA World Cup title. The loss of so many big pieces from Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s squad is an early indication that the US is unlikely to win the Cup outright this time around.
Who will fill the vacuum left by a weakened USA team? These three teams are among the early favorites to earn a gold, silver, or bronze medal at this year’s FIBA Cup. Here is my small breakdown for each:
The one-two punch of brothers Pau and Marc Gasol gives Spain the world’s toughest interchangeable big-man duo. Add Serge Ibaka to the mix (another big man that can easily switch positions with the brothers’ Gasol) and you’ve got the makings of an international champion.
The likely starting backcourt for Team Spain is nothing to ignore, either. Role-players like Ricky Rubio, Juan-Carlos Navarro, and Jose Calderon are underrated in terms of their ability to score against even the toughest defenders. This is probably the #1 threat to the United States hands down, so if you’re feeling frisky you can bet on Spain.
Yes, Argentina’s lineup is getting old. Yes, ESPN’s reports are true that have Manu Ginobili has elected to sit out due either to injury or pressure from his NBA bosses. And it’s true that Argentina hasn’t won a medal in the World Cup since 2002 when they took silver. All that aside, the team is ranked 3rd in the world by the Federation.
Center Luis Scola is the most familiar name on the Argentine roster to Americans, and in international play he is as much a force to be reckoned with as on the NBA court. Rosters aside, the Argentine national team also has one of the easiest paths to the Finals, including early games against Puerto Rico and the Phillipines.
The knock on Brazil in this year’s FIBA tournament is their relatively low international rank. According to the Federation, Brazil is the 10th best team globally, a ranking which is as soft as they come.
The Brazilian’s big men are particularly tough, which could come in handy against teams with a weak backcourt (the US is a good example). Centers Andersen Varejao and Tiago Splitter will no doubt give other teams’ guards nightmares. This emerging powerhouse hasn’t won a medal at the Cup since 1978; with the American team suffering from roster changes right and left, 2014 could be the year Brazil makes noise on the international stage.
Who Could Play Cinderella?
Though the three teams discussed above are expected to dominate the competition, aging rosters and injuries mean the World Cup is always vulnerable to a long-shot team making a long run towards the gold medal. Here are the two underdog teams most likely to make a run at this year’s World Cup.
Bettors looking for a longshot could do no better than Lithuania’s national team. Lithuania boasts plenty of NBA talent – Houston’s Donatas Motiejunas and Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas aren’t exactly household names, but they are big and athletic. Don’t forget that Lithuania finished second in last year’s Eurobasket tournament against some of the biggest names in the 2014 FIBA Cup.
After failing to qualify for the 2012 Olympics, the Greek national team is set to have a surprisingly-good FIBA tourney. The loss of national superstar Kosta Koufos hurts their chances, but not for lack of size. Losing a big man like Koufos would hurt any team, but with an average height of 6’8’’, smaller teams that depend on speed could be totally unprepared for the Greek onslaught.
The Greek starting lineup will likely feature guard Nick Calathes and wing-expert Kostas Papanikolaou. Both are veterans of the international basketball game, and newcomer to FIBA Giannis Antetokounmpo could push Greece into a FIBA medal for the first time since 2006. Don’t count out Greece in the 2014 World Cup – they combine size, experience, and youth all at once.