Right. It’s time for the final edition – pending Nenad Krstic’s prospective suspension by FIBA – of BallinEurope’s 2010 FIBA World Championship power rankings. Now that Team USA has had it out with Spain and Greece, we can see the picture a little more clearly heading into the tournament tipping off Saturday. There’s a clear upper tier of USA, Spain, Greece and Argentina who can start thinking “podium” now; Serbia might also be included, again pending the Krstic decision.
But while the cream again rises to the top, question marks, dark horses and possible upsets well remain. Who doesn’t like how Germany’s rounding into shape? Or the Whole-Greater-Than-Sum-Of-Parts aspect to Team Lithuania? Or (for those paying attention) the possibilities of Lebanon…?
Without further ado, here’s BiE’s measurement of the trends going into the weekend. Enjoy (well, except for you Canada fans)!
1. (↑) USA. U-S-A! U-S-A! But seriously, the Red-White-and-Blues’ fans have got to be loving the performance of their guys last night against Greece, dominating all facets of the game – especially in the halfcourt, where BiE reckoned they’d be especially vulnerable. Good win for the U.S. Even if Hellas was coming without Ioannis Bourousis and Sofoklis Schortsanitis. Even if Kostas Tsartsaris exposed Lamar Odom and the rest as inadequate to play underneath against the bigger teams. Even if BiE still believes Spain will give them game in the semi-finals … is there a position 1½?
2. (↓) Spain. Showing themselves to be exactly two points worse than Team USA (as it stands) drops Team Espana to no. 2 for the first time in the ‘Rankings.
3. (↔) Greece. Yes, BiE knows Team Greece wasn’t any near full strength against Team USA, but still, should the Hellenes have been blown out *that* badly? And isn’t anyone concerned about the last-minute injury report on Sofoklis?
4. (↔) Argentina. No Manu, no problem for these guys, who spent the week going 3-0 in the Efes Pilsen World Cup and capped the tourney by defeating Turkey, ostensibly a top six or seven team in the FIBA Worlds, 93-89 in overtime.
In the warmups, Carlos Delfino has established himself as the alpha dog in lieu of Ginobili, contributing a huge 30 points in the OT win against Turkey. Luis Scola has been awesome as well and will be a threat to go double-double against nearly any team Argentina faces in this thing. Argentina establishes itself as the fourth team in the upper tier and could really be considered an odds-on favorite to meet Spain/USA in the championship. Ready for these guys, Greece…?
5. (↔) Serbia. Now that the warmup games are done, Team Serbia can really start worrying – no, not about the competition in Turkey necessarily, but rather in the letter of the law.
Whereas directly following the Greece-Serbia brawl, former FIBA Europe head George Vassilakopoulos was positively blasé about any players receiving suspensions during 2010 FIBA World Championship games, chair-hurling Nenad Krstic has puzzlingly announced publicly that he’s concerned about the possibility of penalties. The best news for Serbia on Krstic thus far is FIBA’s inaction: Despite announcing they’d decide on suspensions for any players by Wednesday, no word came from the organization yesterday.
Meanwhile, coach Dusan Ivkovic has trimmed the roster to 13 (12 if you’re not including Krstic): Krstic, Milenko Tepic, Nemanja Bjelica, Novica Velickovic, Kosta Perovic, Milos Teodosic, Ivan Paunic, Stefan Markovic, Dusko Savanovic, Miroslav Raduljica, Marko Keselj, Milan Macvan and Aleksandar Rasic.
6. (↔) How can Team Lithuania have announced the cut of 2008 stud Mindaugas Lukauskis, yet its fans still remain high on this team’s chances? (BiE means aside from the fact that they’re Lithuanians.) Well, take a look at the squad: Martynas Gecevicius, Martynas Pocius, Simas Jasaitis, Mantas Kalnietis, Tomas Delininkaitis, Renaldas Seibutis, Jonas Maciulis, Linas Kleiza, Paulius Jankunas, Tadas Klimavicius, Robertas Javtokas and Martynas Andriuskevicius.
And this is a B Team? Anyone looking ahead to Eurobasket 2011 is terrified, as Lithuania reckons to bring everybody who is somebody in Lithuanian basketball to that tournament hosted in the home country. In this tournament, it’ll take a couple of upsets to reach the podium, but these guys have got to be considered contenders.
7. (↑) . Could the extremely young, Nowitzki-less Germany end up the surprise of this entire tournament? “German confidence soars after two wins over Puerto Rico” reads the FIBA news headline after the pair of nice victories this week and rightfully so. Right now, Germany is looking like one of the more impressive “wild card” additions in this tournament (the other wild cards were Russia, Lithuania and Lebanon) as Dirk Bauermann modestly sets his sights: “I maintain that [an appearance] in the second round would be a great success.”
Advancing out of Group A (which also contains Angola, Argentina, Australia, Jordan, and Serbia) now seems likely and what’s more, Germany is going in fearless. “The chemistry is right,” said Tim Ohlbrecht. “I can hardly wait for the game against Argentina.”
8. (↓) Brazil. The tournament hasn’t begun yet and BiE’s already set to label Brazil the biggest disappointment in the 2010 FIBA Worlds. Now that Nene’s out, this team is still seeing fit to lose to the likes of Australia – but hey, at least they got past Cote d’Ivoire, eh?
9. (↑) Turkey. Another friendly tournament – the Efes Pilsen Cup – hosted, another friendly tournament lost. Okay, so Turkey beat up on Lebanon and Canada, but lost to Argentina. These guys are still getting benefit of the doubt, but BiE can’t help thinking the hometown fans are in for some disappointment…
10. (↓) Croatia is performing admirably well given their injuries and no-shows, but the loss to Russia after taking out New Zealand in the Zadar tournament had to be a bit of a slap in the face…
11. (↔) Slovenia. Memi Becirovic has named his final team and it includes eight who played on the shocking fourth-place 2009 Eurobasket team: Goran “The Dragon” Dragic, Uros Slokar, Jaka Lakovic, Sam Udrih, Bostjan Nachbar, Goran Jagodnik, Jaka Klobucar and Primoz Brezec. A nice plus is Sani Becirovic, and the roster is filled out by Hasan Rizvic, Miha Zupan and Gasper Vidmar.
12. (↑) Australia. Hark! What is that approaching from the South Hemisphere? Why, it’s Australia, who, despite the lack of Andrew Bogut, have put together some positively nasty defensive schemes to enjoy back-to-back wins over Brazil and France earlier this week in the Villeurbanne International Tournament. (They also smoked Cote d’Ivoire, 80-59, to cap things off.)
The wins gave Oz an 8-1 record in pre-Worlds friendlies, with the sole loss coming to Slovenia. How important has the game three between Germany and Australia become? And how interesting might that match be, after all?
13. (↑) Russia. Could these guys be back after pummeling fellow FIBA contenders Jordan and New Zealand, while taking care of Croatia in the finals of the Zadar tournament? Clearly, Team Russia will advance out of Group C (which also contains Greece, Puerto Rico, Ivory Coast, China and Turkey), but is a second-place finish back in the picture?
14. (↓) Puerto Rico. Two consecutive losses to Germany? Maybe those walk-offs did hurt after all…
15. (↓) Lebanon. The underdogs are getting props here for their optimism. While beating Canada in the final game of the Efes Pilsen Cup, Lebanon head coach Tab Baldwin seemed to enjoy the seven-point loss to Argentina more: “I am very happy with my team’s performance because Argentina is a very difficult side, number one in the FIBA rankings. Fabricio Oberto and Luis Scola are one of the best interior duos, while Delfino and [Andres] Nocioni are very good on the perimeter. We came close and that leaves us happy.”
Assuming Spain wins and Lithuania finishes second in Group D, the race for third place has suddenly become a dogfight between Canada, France, New Zealand and Lebanon – this enthusiastic fanbase may soon have much much more to cheer about.