The cream continues to rise to the top as the 2014 FIBA World Cup moves forward, but several teams are looking to establish themselves as legitimate contenders on Day 4 in Spain.
Although the United States and host Spaniards remain the clear top squads, they are far from bulletproof. The Americans were pushed to the limit by Turkey before running away with the game in the fourth quarter, while Spain has yet to truly be tested.
Aside from those two teams, any number of nations could emerge as potential dark horses to reach the championship game, or bronze-medal candidates at the very least.
Here is a full breakdown of Tuesday's FIBA World Cup slate, along with predictions regarding how the elite international tournament will ultimately play out.
Day 4 Schedule
|2014 FIBA World Cup Day 4 Schedule|
|Group||Team 1||Team 2||Time (ET)||Watch|
|C||USA||New Zealand||11:30 a.m.||WatchESPN|
|D||South Korea||Slovenia||2 p.m.||NBATV|
|C||Finland||Dominican Republic||3:30 p.m.||WatchESPN|
Updated Championship Predictions
Plenty of eyebrows were raised when Team USA trailed Turkey by five points at halftime on Sunday, but the Americans came out firing in the second half and proved that they are still the team to beat on the international stage.
This United States team is a shell of the one that is likely to compete at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, but it is hugely talented nonetheless. That talent was individual in nature when the Americans struggled in the first half against Turkey, but it came together late.
As evidenced by these statistics courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info, head coach Mike Krzyzewski's team came together when it mattered most:
That type of team play will be necessary moving forward as the competition gets tougher. The Turkey game probably won't be the last time that Team USA finds itself on the ropes. According to Jeremy Woo of SI.com, Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving was happy with the way his team handled it.
In the first half, we separated as a team a little bit. We had some adversity. We faced it. Going into the locker room, we just came together as a team. Coach just had us talk. We brought it together. We told each other what we needed to do adjustment-wise on both ends of the floor. I think we did a great job of executing in the second half. That's what it boiled down to.
No team in this tournament is as dynamic offensively as the Americans. Guards Stephen Curry, James Harden, Klay Thompson and Irving have been particularly tough to contain thus far. Also, Team USA has an underrated presence inside with Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried impressing most.
The United States isn't invincible, and it isn't a lock to win this tournament by any means. Host Spain and a few other teams could give Team USA some trouble, but the Americans remain the favorites.
As long as they learned from the Turkey game and continue to mesh in the coming contests, the United States will successfully defend its FIBA World Cup title.
It comes as no surprise that Spain is motivated and playing extremely well through three games on its home soil. After thrashing overmatched Iranian and Egyptian teams in their first two games, the Spaniards confirmed their status as a contender for the gold medal by beating a strong Brazilian side by 19 points on Monday.
Spain entered this tournament holding an obvious advantage over every other team in the paint by virtue of the Pau Gasol-Marc Gasol-Serge Ibaka triumvirate. All three of them have held up their end of the bargain thus far, with Pau playing dominant basketball in particular.
The Chicago Bulls big man is averaging nearly 24 points and seven rebounds per game. Pau is clearly in top form, which leads John Schumann of NBA.com to believe Spain is the favorite to win gold over Team USA, according to the NBA's official Twitter account:
Spain seems like a shoo-in to reach the finals, but declaring it the favorite may be a bit premature. As good as Spain's interior game is, there are some question marks at guard. Neither Ricky Rubio nor Jose Calderon have shined as ball distributors against inferior competition, while Rudy Fernandez is the only outside player averaging better than 10 points per game.
As big as Spain's advantage over Team USA may be in the paint, the United States' guard play advantage could be even bigger. The Americans are also more athletic overall, which means Spain could struggle if the potential finals matchup turns into a track meet.
Spain is good enough to push the United States and beat Team USA under the right circumstances, but the Americans are the favorites until they prove otherwise.
If there is one team that has the potential to break up a USA vs. Spain finals matchup, it very well may be Greece. The Greeks have traditionally fared quite well in international competition, and that has certainly been the case thus far at the 2014 FIBA World Cup.
Greece is a perfect 3-0, and it has thrived due to its team-first play. No single player is averaging better than 12 points per game, but six are averaging at least nine per contest. Although Greece is lacking when it comes to big-name talent with NBA experience, it boasts several players who know how to excel under the international umbrella.
With that said, Milwaukee Bucks phenom Giannis Antetokounmpo has been a force through three games, while Memphis Grizzlies guard Nick Calathes is having an excellent tournament as well.
A lot has changed for the Greek national team over the past eight years, but it is important to note that Team USA's only loss under Krzyzewski came against Greece eight years ago, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Even though the names on both rosters are drastically different, Greece employs the same style of play. The Greeks can be deadly from long range, and that is something that the Americans struggled with when they faced Turkey.
Team USA and Spain would certainly like to avoid Greece, but both would be favored in the event that they have to face the savvy Greeks. Even so, Greece is a top candidate to take the bronze medal in this tournament, and that would certainly be a great accomplishment for a team that doesn't boast many NBA players.
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