Brazil's Leandro Barbosa feels they have as good a chance as any.
This article will take a look at the top seven teams and their chances to take down the United States in the FIBA Championships. The U.S. team has been pushed to the wire by both Spain and Brazil, and both are among the top seven teams to take down the U.S. Team.
Some of these teams are pretty big longshots to take down Durant and Co., but each poses a real threat, and it isn't written in stone that the U.S. wins this.
They, like Argentina and Brazil, did not put out their best players, and all three put themselves at risk because of that. It could be up to a team like Lithuania to sneak a championship away from the main three contenders.
Key Players: Nicolas Batum, Boris Diaw, Ian Mahinmi, Alexis Aijinca, Mickael Gelabele—Tony Parker, and Mickael Pietrus are sitting out
Wins: Spain, Lebanon, Canada
Losses: Lithuania, New Zealand
Next Opponent: Turkey (Sun, Sept. 5)
Turkey has proved to be a pretty decent team, all things considered, but France upset Spain and notched an impressive victory over a surprisingly good Canadian team. The loss to New Zealand is a bit perplexing, however, and it leads me to believe that this team might not be as good as they appeared in the victory against Spain.
France lacks any good outside shooters, which is an utter necessity in international basketball. Ultimately, their lack of outside shooting will nail their coffin shut. You can't win games without spreading the floor with good shooters, because it opens everything up, especially in international play, when teams run zone defenses quite frequently.
Key Players: Bostjan Nachbar, Jaka Lakovic, Goran Dragic
Wins: Tunisia, Croatia, Brazil, Iran
Losses: USA (by 22)
Next Opponent: Australia (Sun, Sept. 5)
Goran Dragic is leading the way for a Slovenian team which has surprised everyone so far. The win against Brazil was pretty impressive, and other than the fact that they failed to give the U.S. a game, there would be reason to believe that they have a shot at winning this tournament.
In addition to Dragic’s strong play, Bostjan Nachbar, a former player for the New Jersey Nets, has appeared strong too, and like Dragic, has a great outside shot. Slovenia has been working it around the perimeter, trying to find open threes, and it has been an effective strategy, except against the U.S., as they are one of the quickest teams to rotate to shooters.
They shouldn’t have much of a problem disposing of Australia, who is without Andrew Bogut.
Key Players: Nemanja Bjelca, Nenad Krstic, Kosta Perovic
Wins: Angola, Jordan, Australia, Argentina
Next Opponent: Croatia (Sat, Sept. 4)
Serbia has taken care of business, but mainly against mediocre opponents. Their win against Argentina was no small feat, and Angola, Jordan, and Australia are all perennial pushovers. Croatia’s only wins have come against Slovenia and Iran, with the other three games being blowouts, so this one shouldn’t really be close either.
Key Players: Martynas Andriuskevicius, Linas Klieza
Wins: New Zealand, Canada, Spain, France, Lebanon
Next Opponent: China (Tues, Sept. 7)
Lithuania is one of only two undefeated teams in the tournament, and they have done it against top teams such as Canada, Spain, and France. China seems to be quite a pushover this year with a 1-4 record, their sole win against the woeful Ivory Coast, and even then, only by 10 points.
I guess that is what happens when Yao is removed from the equation.
Key Players: Carlos Delfino, Andres Nocioni, Luis Scola, Fabricio Oberto, Roman Gonzalez—Manu Ginobili is sitting out
Wins: Germany, Australia, Angola, Jordan
Next Opponent: Brazil (Tues, Sept. 7)
This upcoming game against Brazil should be an exciting and widely watched game. Both Brazil and Argentina have fielded tough teams for this tournament, and Brazil took the U.S. within two points of winning.
Argentina, despite being without star guard Manu Ginobili, has benefitted from some ridiculous play by Luis Scola. Through the first four games, Scola was averaging 28 ppg and scored 30-plus in three of the four wins. His combination of inside skills coupled with a mid-range jumper allows him to be very effective, especially in international play.
Key Players: Anderson Varejao, Tiago Splitter, Leandro Barbosa—Nene is sitting out
Wins: Iran, Tunisia, Croatia
Losses: USA (by 2), Slovenia
Next Opponent: Argentina (Tues, Sept. 7)
Brazil really made waves when they took the U.S. down to the wire. Both of their losses have come to two of the better teams in the tournament, and as mentioned, I favor them over Argentina. They have looked strong and Barbosa is taking them on his shoulders against teams with a lot more talent.
Key Players: Rudy Fernandez, Ricky Rubio, Marc Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro, Fran Vasquez, Felipe Reyes—Pau Gasol is sitting out
Wins: New Zealand, Lebanon, Canada
Losses: France and Lithuania
Next Opponent: Greece (Sat, Sept. 4)
Spain, by all accounts, has been a disappointment. However, that was in pool play. Now that the stakes are higher, I expect Fran Vasquez and Ricky Rubio to rebound from sub par performances.
France lucked out in what was probably their best performance ever on an off night for the Spanish team, and Lithuania is undefeated this year, surprising everyone.
This game with Greece will not be easy, however. Greece is a tough team to gauge at this point, since their three wins all came against horrible teams. Still, I expect Spain to turn it up a notch and win this game. What makes Spain No. 1 is their overall talent. Their performance has been lacking, but they are too talented for most teams, and it should show in the elimination rounds.
Just think how much better they would be with Pau Gasol, though.