With the 2014 FIBA World Cup beginning in earnest on Saturday and continuing with a full schedule again on Sunday, it won't take long to decipher which countries are in the best position to make a deep run.
One team with high expectations for the tournament is Greece, which is currently ranked fifth in the FIBA world rankings, though it has to contend with being in the same group as another powerhouse team from Argentina.
Greece's second test this weekend will come against the Philippines, which could be lumped into the category of teams "just happy to be here." The country has taken steps forward on the court, qualifying for the FIBA World Cup for the first time since 1978, but the path to an appearance in the championship round is arduous.
Even though Greece will be the heavy favorite in this matchup, upsets are nothing new in this event. We've got all your pregame information right here, including where and when to watch the game and a preview.
Where: Palacio Municipal de Deportes San Pablo; Seville, Spain
When: Sunday, August 31
Start Time: 2 p.m. ET
Live Stream: ESPN3.com
Rosters for both teams can be found at FIBA.com
The focus of this game, as will be the case as long as he's around, is on Giannis Antetokounmpo. The 6'11" Milwaukee Bucks small forward, though he really plays all over the floor, is still growing into his potential after averaging 6.8 points and 4.4 rebounds per game last season in the NBA.
The teenage sensation wasn't at his best against Senegal on Saturday, but he still finished with 11 points despite taking just two shots. He got to the free-throw line eight times and made seven attempts.
ESPN insider Fran Fraschilla (insider subscription required) listed the 19-year-old as one of his 25 must-see players in this event, citing his youth and the ability to perform on this stage as "another opportunity for him to continue to blossom."
In many ways, Antetokounmpo is the perfect poster child for where Greece's basketball team is at right now. The youth movement is in full effect for head coach Fotios Katsikaris, who has four other players aged 25 or under.
The glaring absence of Vassilis Spanoulis, who is sitting out this event, does put more pressure on Antetokounmpo. It's a dangerous proposition to put so much on a teenager, but size can be a difference-maker.
For the Philippines, the best thing it has going for it is a second-place finish at the Asia Championship last year. However, that does come with an asterisk because none of the power countries were there.
The championship was won by Iran, which has a decent basketball team but nothing that will make an impact on this stage with the elite teams battling it out for a title.
Andray Blatche is the centerpiece player for Smart Gilas, which lost to Croatia on Saturday, and should make for an interesting matchup against Antetokounmpo. Blatche has the experience edge in this game, but Antetokounmpo has more athleticism and a ceiling that keeps rising.
Despite being born in the United States, Blatche became a naturalized citizen of the Philippines basically just to showcase his skills in this event and get an NBA contract. Rafe Bartholomew of Grantland.com wrote about the country's recruitment of the 28-year-old:
The last time the Philippines competed in the Olympics for basketball was 1972. So when the country placed second in last year’s FIBA Asia Championship and finally earned a return to the world stage, (Philippines coach Chot) Reyes and his bosses at the national basketball federation, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas, decided to go for broke and recruit an NBA big man to serve as the naturalized player for Gilas Pilipinas, as the team is known in the Philippines. Their goal: to somehow win two out of five games in the group phase (against Argentina, Puerto Rico, Croatia, Greece, and Senegal) and advance to the knockout round of the World Cup.
As tactical as its efforts were, the Philippines will have a long, winding road to climb if it wants to get out of Group B with Argentina, Greece, Croatia and Puerto Rico also in the mix.
Greece may not be in this tournament for the long haul, an unfortunate product of having so many young players on the roster, but it has more than enough firepower to withstand the Philippines.
Prediction: Greece 81, Philippines 68
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