All right, now everything about the 2010 FIBA World Championship is coming into focus!
For example, now we know how good the relatively unknown Lithuanian squad will be – because they beat Slovenia after having to come back and go overtime against the Czech Republic. Um, and Argentina showed they’re awesome by … blowing a 20-point lead at half on their home court. Uh, well, one thing we can all agree on, at least: Team France is damn near sunk before this thing starts after another litany of no-shows.
These ratings are sure to be shaken up after many of these teams will be participating in tournament play or one-off exhibition games against fellow Worlds competitors this weekend. Up until Saturday night, however, BallinEurope sees the power flowing in the following 16 directions…
1. (↔) Spain. After Spain destroyed a Canadian development team in the “Las Palmas Tournament” this week, they got to face off against a Cote d’Ivoire team that had lost to that same sub-Team Canada. Team Spain came out Wednesday to face the African Worlds contender with a lineup of Ricky Rubio, Juan Carlos Navarro, Rudy Fernandez, Felipe Reyes and Marc Gasol (yikes) for an easily ascertainable result: a relaxed 85-70 win in what coach Sergio Scariolo diplomatically called “a useful match.”
2. (↔) USA. And let BiE tell ya, they’re clinging onto this no. 2 spot by their fingertips, particularly after Team Greece destroyed Cyprus 76-41 in a warmup game that was barely that. Less than a week after JaVale McGee was cut from the squad in favor of running with Lamar Odom as the third center, he’s back. Yes, world, that’s what Team USA is bringing in the middle: McGee and Kevin Love – ain’t exactly Robinson/Ewing, is it? Perhaps the dread epithet “No Brook Lopez, no gold” will be fitting after all.
3. (↔) Greece. Do you suppose that if Greece takes the bronze medal in this tournament that Sofoklis Schortsanitis, Nikos Zisis and Ioannis Bourousis will decide to reproduce the fun by reuniting in Tel Aviv in 2014?
4. (↑) Serbia. Yeah, BiE’s definitely warming to these guys after seeing the slimmed-down roster finalized this week: Milos Teodosic, Stefan Markovic, Milenko Tepic, Aleksandar Rasic, Dragan Milosavljevic, Ivan Paunic, Marko Keselj, Nemanja Bjelica, Milan Macvan, Dusko Savanovic, Novica Velickovic, Nenad Krstic, Kosta Perovic, and Miroslav Raduljica. That’s actually one tight dozen, plus a remarkably injury-resilient, injury-free bunch. Team Serbia’s actually getting media brownie points for chemistry, too … suddenly, the single-most important game on day one has become Serbia vs. Argentina.
5. (↑) Argentina. The bad news: Juan Pablo Figueroa is out with an injury. The okay news: Andres Nocioni’s recovery is full speed ahead. The good news: Argentina played with cohesiveness and competence – while Luis Scola looked great – to beat Team Puerto Rico in taking the “Super 4” Americas tournament.
6. (↓) Brazil. BiE still believes that Team Brazil will be the sensation of the 2010 FIBA Worlds, but Splitter, Huertas and the boys have been under wraps essentially since Tiago joined the team: Brazil even sent a second team to the Super 4 in lieu of warming up the tournament roster. They drop on this table for style points only.
7. (↑) Turkey. The Istanbul Cup begins this weekend and BiE’s thinking that one tough roster on paper can only get stronger as they come together while experiencing Turkish support. (Not to mention getting to flex muscles against tourney mates Iran, New Zealand and especially Serbia.)
8. (↓) Russia. Like Team Brazil, Team Russia has kept its activities mostly under wraps, with the sole exhibition game the immolation of Latvia on July 30th. This weekend’s Cyprus-based tournament against Germany, Croatia and Greece will reveal much about these three teams.
9. (↑) Lithuania. BiE’s also slowly beginning to believe in the Lithuanians, who first team is now 3-0 in warmup games after surviving the Czech Republic (93-84 in OT) and Slovenia (86-84) this week. Today, Team Lithuania gets to play Spain in Vitoria (lucky them) in clearly their most serious test to date, followed by a grueling pre-tournament schedule including matches against Turkey, Croatia, Germany, Spain again and the US. If Kestutis Kemzura’s isn’t battle-ready by Worlds tipoff time, they’ll never be.
10. (↑) Croatia. For Croatia right now, it’s all about injuries. Since this week the news was that Zoran Planinic had returned to the squad from his knee injury and that Ante Tomic would soon be joining up as well, Croatia moves up before their tournament this weekend.
11. (↓) Slovenia. BiE’s gonna go back to underestimating Slovenia – for their own sakes. Actually, this can be justified with the loss to Lithuania this week. The talent is there, the question remains only whether the Slovenians can bring enough of it to compete in Turkey.
12. (↑) Germany. The roster is now down to 13: Demond Greene, Steffen Hamann, Heiko Schaffartzik, Per Gunther, Lucca Staiger, Philipp Schwethelm, Konrad Wysocki, Robin Benzing, Elias Harris, Jan-Hendrik Jagla, Tim Ohlbrecht, Yassin Idbihi, Tibor Pleiss, and Christopher McNaughton. The “Love Cyprus” tournament goes down this weekend and Germany is surely anxious to see how this relatively inexperienced team can do against the fearsome likes of Croatia, Russia and Greece.
13. (↑) Australia. Surprise! Aleks Maric, he of Partizan-going-to-Panathinaikos, just four days after it seemed unlikely he’d be playing at all announced he’ll be strapping on the sneakers for Oz after all. Andrew Who? But seriously, here’s to hoping that someday we’ll get a Maric-Bogut twin towers scheme going on.
14. (↓) France. A verrrrry difficult week for Les Blues and particularly Vincent Collet who on consecutive days had to tell media that Joakim Noah would in fact not be playing for Team France in the tournament and then that Rodrigue Beaubois had gone down with a foot injury that will keep him out of Turkey. Said Collet: “I have not yet decided on a replacement.”
15. (↑) Puerto Rico. So Puerto Rico lost in the “Super 4” final. This ever-plucky squad fought back from a 20-point deficit at halftime against a much more talented Argentina squad to force an overtime game on Argentine soil. Not bad at all, really.
16. (↑) Lebanon. Actual basketball aside, Team Lebanon’s fandom has been dominating Facebook and FIBA websites this week, so that’s gotta say something. Plus, perhaps the team’s single most experienced international player, Fadi El Khatib, has rejoined the club before the upcoming 10-team FIBA Asia Stankovic Cup. Everybody loves an underdog!