After a week of thrilling—OK, it was pretty forgettable and at times mind-numbingly boring—the real work at the 2014 FIBA World Cup begins this weekend. The dregs of international basketball have been taken out to pasture, and the lack of urgency that pervades round-robin formats is no more.
Saturday marks the beginning of elimination-round action in Barcelona and Madrid, and with it should come a much higher level of play. The back-to-backs and back-to-back-to-backs are now a thing of the past. Each team will have at least a one-day break between games from now until the finals, which means benches should shorten and upsets might be more likely.
Of course, a vast majority of folks are ready to fast-forward to the finals, where the United States and Spain seem like mortal locks to butt heads once more. The co-favorites won their respective groups by more than 300 points total. No other team had a point differential better than Brazil's plus-83. Keep in mind that the Brazilians played the United States in exhibition action and Spain in Group A; neither game went well.
But before we look ahead at what's to come, it's important to take a look at what's already transpired. Or, more specifically, the utterly nutty results of Thursday's final day of group play. When teams took the court, most everything looked self-explanatory. Most of the spots in the round of 16 were decided, and even the ones that weren't featured pretty easy matchups on paper.
Welp. It proved anything but. With that in mind, let's update the 16-team bracket that will head into the weekend and highlight some of the day's most noteworthy results.
|Matchup (Top Half)||Date|
|Spain (A1) vs. Senegal (B4)||Sept. 6|
|Croatia (B2) vs. France (A3)||Sept. 6|
|Greece (B1) vs. Serbia (A4)||Sept. 7|
|Brazil (A2) vs. Argentina (B3)||Sept. 7|
|Matchup (Bottom Half)||Date|
|United States (C1) vs. Mexico (D4)||Sept. 6|
|Slovenia (D2) vs. Dominican Republic (C3)||Sept. 6|
|Lithuania (D1) vs. New Zealand (C4)||Sept. 7|
|Turkey (C2) vs. Australia (D3)||Sept. 7|
Angola 91, Australia 83
The day began with what was inarguably its most suspicious result. Behind 38 points and 15 rebounds from center Yanick Moreira, Angola was able to defeat Australia in what appeared to be a blatant tank job from the Aussies.
Ahead 42-29 going into the halftime break, Australia essentially gave Angola free reign in the second half. The South African nation, which had scored 62 points against Lithuania and 55 against Mexico earlier in the tournament, went for 62 alone in the game's final 20 minutes. Moreira, a 6'10" center who played at SMU last season, scored three more points himself than the entire Angolan team in the first half.
If the tanking weren't blatant enough, Australia sat stars Aron Baynes and Joe Ingles, while Matthew Dellavedova and David Anderson barely got off the bench. No big deal or anything; it's not like Baynes and Ingles are their leading scorers, Dellavedova is an NBA player and Anderson had been averaging well over 20 minutes per game or anything.
Slovenian point guard and Suns star Goran Dragic was one of about eleventy billion people to criticize the Australians:
Basketball is a beautiful sport, there is no room for fixing the game like today Australia vs Angola!! @FIBA should do something about that!— Goran Dragic (@Goran_Dragic) September 4, 2014
There is some fun irony we'll get to in a bit, but the gist of the story is Australia tanked to avoid playing the United States for as long as possible. By setting itself up in position to be the No. 3 seed in Group D—the Aussies would have clinched a top-two berth with a win—Australia would not have to play the U.S. until the semifinals if it advances to that point.
Group D's No. 2 seed, Australia's likeliest landing spot with a win, plays the U.S. in the quarters if it wins in the round of 16. While it was possible Australia could have avoided the United States by winning Group D, it would have needed to make up roughly 20 points in point differential and have Slovenia lose to Lithuania.
No matter which scenario played out, the Aussies were hoping for Slovenia to lose. Playing the odds that they were unlikely to make up the point differential, it was a no-brainer decision. It just wasn't exactly an ethical one.
Lithuania 67, Slovenia 64
If—OK, when—Slovenia exits at the hands of a United States beatdown in the quarterfinals, it'll only have itself to blame. Ahead 62-55 heading into the fourth quarter, all the Slovenians had to do was hold on. They would've captured Group D, thumbed their nose at Australia's tanking attempt and avoided the United States until the semis.
The defense did its job. Lithuania scored only 12 points in the fourth quarter. Slovenia scored two. In a preposterous collapse that would have looked like their own tank job if they had any reason to do so, the previously undefeated Slovenians missed their first 11 shots of the fourth quarter to allow Lithuania to come back to win.
An important message to Slovenia. http://t.co/HrW6I8Gn8C— Mike Prada (@MikePradaSBN) September 4, 2014
Slovenia shot 1-of-14 overall as a team after hovering around the 50 percent mark for the first three quarters. Keep in mind this team features All-NBA guard Goran Dragic, his talented brother Zoran and a solid supporting cast that had won its first four games by a combined 54 points. Slovenia had averaged roughly 90 points per game coming into Wednesday and was the most efficient offense in the tournament.
It was perhaps the strangest quarter of basketball I've seen this calendar year. Lithuania had three different stretches lasting more than two minutes without a point and somehow gained ground during each. I'm still not quite sure how to describe it. But it was not fun, and it was not good.
Either way, Lithuania has backed its way into the top seed out of Group D and has what should be a relatively breezy trek to the semis.
Philippines 81, Senegal 79
Let's quickly highlight a feel-good story to get the bad taste of Group D out of our mouths. The last time the Philippines won a game at the FIBA World Championship was Gerald Ford's first year in office. After a group stage that featured four hard-fought losses, the 40 years of bad luck changed Thursday.
Andray Blatche and Jim Alapag each scored 18 points, including a bevy of clutch free throws from the latter, as the Philippines overcame the surprising Senegal to earn its first win in this tournament since 1974 in an overtime thriller.
The first four contests had been a series of near misses. It had taken Croatia to overtime, nestled within four points of Argentina and done the same against Puerto Rico without getting over the edge. But this time it was Philippine shots that went through when the team needed them most, providing an inspirational capper for a country with a burgeoning basketball passion.
"It's incredible, especially with the way this tournament has gone," Alapag said, per FIBA.com. "I don't know if anybody really gave us a chance to compete against some of the top 10-15 teams in the world. But our country has waited so long to be on this stage. Hopefully we won’t wait another 40 years."
Senegal, an inspiration in its own right, dropped to 2-3 and will face Spain on Saturday. Center Gorgui Dieng filled up the stat sheet with 13 points, 14 rebounds, five assists, four steals and three blocks. Yet he also fouled out of the game, shot 3-of-9 from the floor and made a handful of turnovers. Co-star Mouhammad Faye did not fare much better, scoring his 20 points on 8-of-23 shooting.
Though one suspects a bloodbath is imminent against the Spaniards, Senegal should be able to use the World Cup as a springboard. Dieng excelled on the international stage and will go head-to-head with the Gasol brothers on Saturday, a litmus test to which Timberwolves fans should pay attention.
Even if it wasn't the prettiest game, it earned congratulatory cheers in Spain.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter