If you simply assume the United States is going to win the 2014 FIBA World Cup without a fight, you may want to tune in to watch Wednesday’s showdown between Spain and France.
Spain is ranked No. 2 in the FIBA world rankings and widely considered the biggest threat to the red, white and blue in this tournament. It will get another chance to show why against France Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN3 and WatchESPN.
Thus far, Spain is a perfect 3-0 and has eviscerated every opponent in its path.
It handled Iran 90-60, Egypt 91-54 and a strong Brazil squad 82-63. That Brazil game was particularly telling because Brazil features a trio of Anderson Varejao, Tiago Splitter and Nene Hilario down low, and Spain still had its way on the blocks. In fact, Spain out-rebounded Brazil 41-32 and ran the offense through its big guys.
Varejao commented on the game, via John Schuhmann of NBA.com: “You can’t just guard one guy. The way they move the ball, it’s hard. It’s tough to guard them.”
As for France, it lost to that same Brazil team 65-63 in the opener, narrowly edged out Serbia 74-73 while Boris Diaw dealt with foul trouble and then crushed Egypt 94-55.
Any analysis of this game has to start with Spain’s strength down low. Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka represent a trio of NBA stars, and Pau Gasol is averaging a team-high 23.7 points and 6.7 rebounds a night. His domination of Varejao in particular should probably raise some eyebrows in Cleveland considering Gasol and the Chicago Bulls are arguably the biggest threat to a Cavaliers Eastern Conference crown.
Brian Mahoney of The Associated Press suggested as much:
Pau’s brother Marc is averaging 10.3 points and 6.7 rebounds a night, while Ibaka is posting 11.5 points and 6.5 rebounds a game. Spain really has an advantage against any team in this tournament on the interior except for maybe the United States, depending on your opinion of Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Kenneth Faried and Andre Drummond.
It’s not just the big guys, though, that present problems for opponents.
Ricky Rubio sets the table with a team-high six assists a game and is constantly pushing the ball in transition, and Rudy Fernandez is hitting a blistering 70 percent of his three-point looks in the early going. That borderline-ridiculous shooting percentage from Fernandez is largely because there is so much defensive attention being paid down low to Ibaka and the Gasols.
Juan C. Navarro is also hitting 41 percent of his three-point looks for good measure.
This is a complete team that can beat you in a number of different ways. It also has home-court advantage throughout the tournament and may just walk away with a World Cup title.
France will counter with Nicolas Batum, Boris Diaw and a name that may not be familiar to American fans in Joffrey Lauvergne. Lauvergne leads the team with 11.3 points and five rebounds a game, while Batum is posting 11 points and 4.7 rebounds nightly.
France is certainly a solid club with Batum, Lauvergne and Antoine Diot doing most of the scoring and Diaw and Thomas Heurtel setting the table, but it just can’t match up with Spain talent-wise on paper.
There is one notable piece missing from France that could turn the tables who was there when France beat Spain in the semifinals on its way to winning the country’s first Eurobasket. Perhaps if Tony Parker was suiting up for the World Cup, the story would be different Wednesday, but Spain is simply a powerhouse of domination right now.
The United States may be the only team that can stop it.
Prediction: Spain 91, France 76
Follow me on Twitter: