BiE was waiting for a result from last night’s Brazil-Argentina game in Spain before preparing this week’s edition of the official BallinEurope 2010 FIBA World Championship Power Rankings.
Now that those numbers are in, the long-awaited list may be unveiled; who’s hot and who’s not? In BiE’s opinion, readings off the lay lines of the ever ether-shifting momentum (plus YouTube videos!) look something like the following.
1. (↔) Spain. It’s been a good news/bad news deal for Spain this week. The bad news is that Team España is finally experiencing a few injury woes, a situation nearly every legitimate qualifier except the USA has faced in July/August: Jorge Garbajosa and Alex Mumbru did not practice yesterday, while Marc Gasol and Rudy Fernandez will sit tonight against Brazil. The good news: the slightly new-look Spain brought in Sergio Llull and returned Juan Carlos Navarro on Sunday against Argentina to take control of the second half and win, 83-76, in Logroño. Nice arsenal Sergio Scariolo has there.
2. (↑) USA. All right, so BiE isn’t *quite* ready to leap up and start chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!” just yet, but maybe Coach K’s run-run-run philosophy can work – at least against lesser-lights like France and China. Maybe former University of New Mexico Lobo Danny Granger can be a go-to guy for the Red-White-and-Blues. Maybe things are as simple as Andre Iguodala’s summation of “We’re the fastest team in the world, so we’ve got to use that to our advantage.” Maybe Lamar Odom can play center against the likes of Spain and Turkey … wait a second, losing some perspective here…
3. (↓) Greece. The injuries to Ioannis Bourousis and Nick Calathes may have been mere niggles, but aren’t Team Hellene supporters a bit nervous about this early sign of potential gentrification? Nah, BiE didn’t think so.
4. (↔) Serbia. Team Serbia made more on-court statements last week in coolly handling the competition in Maribor and have got to be considered the emphatic favorites to take Group A (pending the Argentina game of course), so how cool are they about the 2010 FIBA Worlds? Says Nenad Krstic, “We don’t have any pressure because we already qualified for next year’s EuroBasket in Lithuania. Our goal is [the] Olympic Games in 2012.”
5. (↑) Argentina. Last night in Spain, the short-handed Argentina stormed out in front of their South American rivals to win the first half, 35-25, and eventually the game by a score of 77-73. Who needs depth when you can get such scary lines out of Carlos Delfino (23 points), Luis Scola (12 points, 11 rebounds), and Pablo Prigioni (17 points, 7 assists)? Manu Ginobili or no, injuries aside, Argentina might contend after all.
6. (↓) Brazil, on the other hand, is starting to resemble a bit of a paper tiger out there. Maybe the decisive loss can be blamed on sluggishness after touring America and the blowout loss to Team Puerto Rico in the ‘States on the bizarre environment, etc., but geez. BiE wants to like this team, but they’ve got to show up sometime. Today, they’ve got Spain; afterward, it’s onto France for a should-sweep tournament with Les Bleus, Australia and the Virgin Islands (sans, presumably, Tim Duncan).
7. (↑) How about that Lithuania? Like the US and unlike France, Lithuania is truly making the best out of what might be considered a second-best roster for the country – except nobody told these guys they weren’t supposed to contend. Linas Kleiza and the boys did just enough to sweep all three games in the Beko Super Cup in Germany, essentially a four-team tournament among what BiE considers the second-tier teams of the FIBA Worlds: Lithuania, Croatia, Turkey and Germany.
Lithuania looked impressive ahead of the FIBA World Championship as they swept to the title at the BEKO Supercup in Bamberg. Lithuania beat Croatia 93-82 in Sunday’s final following a 78-67 win over hosts Germany and an 80-77 overtime victory over Turkey in their opening game.
In the final, Croatia could not handle the array of weapons Lithuania threw at them as Linas Kleiza, Mantas Kalnietis, Paulius Jankunas, Tomas Delininkaitis and Martiyna Andriuskevicius all finished in double figures.
Croatia had led by double figures, up 24-14 late in the first quarter and then 33-20 in the second quarter, but a pair of three-pointers from Tadas Klimavicius kick-started the Lithuanian revival. After tying up the score, Lithuania kept hitting threes to take control and Croatia’s shooting cooled off badly as they faded down the stretch.
Kleiza and Delininkaitis led Lithuania with 14 points each, while Andriuskevicius had 11 and Kalneitis and Jankunas collected 10 each. Kresimir Loncar led Croatia with 18 points.
8. (↑) Croatia. BiE now supposes that, in an international tournament with no clear pecking order such as this, the traditional powers will rise to the top. Croatia’s stapled-together, patchwork team has played as a solid unit since starting warmups July. After taking care of Germany (79-67) and Turkey (72-61) in the Beko Super Cup, it’s clear that though the Croats might have trouble with the USAs of the Worlds, they might just play ball with the Brazils and go further than expected.
9. (↑) Puerto Rico. A win in Rucker Park should get any team extra points on any Power Rankings poll. Oh yeah, they also blew out Team China, but who hasn’t in warmups at this point?
10. (↓) Turkey. And Hedo Turkoglu’s posse is only getting ranked this high because they’re still the beneficiaries of lots of benefit of the doubt. BiE’s assuming that, once the 2010 FIBA World Championship starts, home court advantage will mean something to these guys, because the three losses in Bamberg last week were not pretty. Is the oversized Team Turkey one of those looks-great-on-paper squads?
11. (↑) Oh, Canada! Granted, these guys have merely been beating up on overblown squads like China and France but with Canadian media pumping up the “undefeated in warmups” angle, you know Team Canada is stoked right now. As they head to Greece. Enjoy that feeling for now, guys.
12. (↑) Germany played well enough in the Super Cup at 1-2, BiE supposes, and look better than ever to take this young roster through to the knockout stage – all they have to do is squeak past Jordan and Angola, after all.
13. (↑) Congratulations to Fadi El Khatib and Lebanon, which overcame Qatar in overtime, 77-74, in a nail-biter of an FIBA Asia Stankovic Cup championship game. (BiE watched on FIBA TV; who knew Asian ball could be so exciting?) And who would have thought that the opening-day Group D matchup between Canada and Lebanon would be important? End result in the FIBA Worlds aside, the Lebanese can already take pride in this team which got into the tourney by dint of wild card bid.
14. (↓) Slovenia. Sheesh, a loss to New Zealand on your home floor after a couple of their principal big men had fouled out? BiE doesn’t know if Team Slovenia is demoralized by the Maribor upset, but BiE sure is.
15. (↓) France. To think BiE mused on Team France “go[ing] on to face Canada in winnable games on Thursday and Friday.” Of course, now BiE’s committed to the Sunday analysis: “This just ain’t France’s year in international sport, is it? An early bouncing for Les Bleus and 2010 will go down as Bizarro 1998.” And that hasty exit from the Worlds now seems more likely than ever.
16. (↓) Russia. The horror, the horror…