FIBA World Cup 2014: Breaking Down Team USA's Toughest Challengers

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FIBA World Cup 2014: Breaking Down Team USA's Toughest Challengers
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As typical for any international basketball tournament, the United States enters the 2014 FIBA World Cup as the favorites. Armed with a deep roster loaded with NBA superstars, Team USA looks poised to successfully defend its title, but the path to first place isn't a cakewalk.

It's not the only nation featuring NBA stalwarts, so conquering the world on the hardwood is far from a certainty. LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul will not suit up in Spain, which instead prompted Mike Krzyzewski to load up on young, budding phenoms. 

Rudy Gay is the team's grizzled veteran at the ripe old age of 28. ESPN Stats & Info offers a quick and easy look at the full roster.

If it's not careful, the U.S. could succumb to an upset at the FIBA World Cup, a two-week tournament which begins this Saturday. Here's a look at the team's most dangerous adversaries.

 

Spain

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Always of paramount concern to the U.S., Spain's boisterous size makes it a treacherous foe that can create matchup problems in a head-to-head clash.

The 2006 FIBA champions nearly snatched the gold from Team USA at the 2012 Summer Olympics, ultimately falling by seven points in the gold-medal game. The Gasol brothers, Marc and Pau, headline a roster that will keep the Americans on their toes. 

While Pau's smooth offensive game translates readily to the international game, Marc's pristine passing and smothering defense make him an indispensable asset. Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka give the hosting nation two of the NBA's top defensive big men, which would force the U.S. to win from behind the arc if the two juggernauts meet.

They're the reason Team USA felt compelled to keep Andre Drummond, Kenneth Faried and Mason Plumlee in the fold. Spain can overpower most opponents down low, and the U.S. dedicated its roster construction to becoming the exception.

The key to Spain's success, however, is Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio. The Spanish sensation is an incredible passer and pickpocket, but he shot a dreadful 38.1 percent last year. In a situation where he's not compelled to lead the scoring brigade, the 23-year-old should shine.

 

Brazil

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Also capable of imposing its will down low, Brazil boasts several NBA big men who can make some noise as well. While Spain is perceived as the top challenger, ESPN's Amin Elhassan believes the Americans shouldn't overlook Brazil.

Not nearly as star-studded as Spain, Brazil brings Nene Hilario, Anderson Varejao and Tiago Splitter to the table. They enforce a rough, physical style that will batter opponents attacking the paint.

They also have offensive spark plug Leandro Barbosa, who has shifted through four different NBA teams in as many seasons. The offensive-minded guard could make it five, as he'll look to parlay a successful FIBA outing into a new contract.

Although he told Real GM's Shams Charania that he doesn't want to become concerned with free agency during the tournament, he also admitted that a strong outing would expand his value.

I don’t know what owners think about the World Cup, but hopefully I do a great job over there and a team sees. I feel healthy and my body is feeling healthy. If I have free agency in my mind, I won’t be able to be myself on the court. Hopefully, I sign a contract and I’ll be happy.

If Barbosa catches fire from behind the arc, Brazil is a dangerous contender to inflict some damage on the international stage.

 

France

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Continuing the theme of ESPN analysts insisting Spain not receive all the attention, Mark Jones implored everyone to give France some consideration.

The French are, however, saddled in a tier below U.S. and Spain, especially since star Tony Parker is sitting out. Per the San Antonio Express-News' Dan McCarney, the San Antonio Spurs guard explained the difficulty of not playing for France after once again absorbing a prolonged postseason.

Obviously it’s always tough to see my teammates start without me. It feels like my second family is playing right now. But I have to be smart. I think it’s the right decision for me, for the Spurs if I want to play a long career. I want to play two more summers (with France) and then I’ll be done.

I think for all those years, being with San Antonio, (Spurs coach Gregg Popovich) has always been great with me and the national team. I felt like this was a summer I can give back to the Spurs.

On the bright side, NBA and national teammate Boris Diaw will play after displaying his immense value during the postseason. Few big men share his passing acumen, a gift the French must channel like Popovich to leave Spain with a gold medal.

Nicolas Batum, who averaged 13.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game for the Portland Trailblazers, must also take on an enhanced offensive role to replicate France's 2013 EuroBasket success.

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