Continental qualifications are taking place for the men's basketball tournaments at the 2012 Olympics.
Three teams from the North and South America have already qualified. They are the FIBA Americas finalists Argentina and Brazil, and the United States, who were the 2010 World Champions.
Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, who have qualified for the 2012 Olympic Qualifying Tournament, will play in a repechage that's held in the months before the Olympics. This could be the first year in quite some time that four teams from FIBA qualify for the Olympics.
So what stands in the way of another American team making the tournament? Nine other teams vying for a total of three spots.
The two Asian teams were determined this weekend. They are Jordan, who made a surprise run to the Asian final, and South Korea. Neither of them have fared well against non-Asian teams, and both are devoid of top-level talent, so they are likely not to be much of a factor.
Two African teams are also in the tournament. One is Angola, who is ranked 13th in the world and the other is Nigeria, who is ranked 21st in the world and had the best point differential in African championship pool play.
The biggest challenge to the American squads will likely come from the four European teams in the tournament. This is a strong field, featuring three powerhouse Eastern European teams. A few years ago, there would be no question that the qualifiers from this tournament would be European, but this isn't a few years ago.
One of these European powerhouses is Greece, who is ranked 4th in the world, despite falling in the Eurobasket quarters. Greece's team consists primarily of high-level Euroleague players, a few who have had stints in the NBA. Greece had finished in the top five in the last two Olympics, but followed up an 11th place in the 2010 World Championship with a disappointing 6th in Eurobasket.
Other European teams in the qualifying round are Russia and Lithuania, both of whom have been in Olympics in the past, and continue to be in the top 15 in FIBA World Rankings. However, each are suffering from the lack of high-caliber talent on their roster. Andre Kirilenko, Timofey Mozgov and Linas Kleiza are the only players likely to be called up who started a game in the NBA last season. Also disconcerting to me is that Lithuania wasn't able to take care of business at home in the Eurobasket.
Another team in from Europe is surprise contender Macedonia, whose Olympic hopes are still alive after defeating Eurobasket host Lithuania 67-65 in a quarterfinal last week and finishing fourth in the Eurobasket. With Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia out, Macedonia is the only former Yugoslav republic still in contention.
Rounding out the field is New Zealand, who is ranked No. 19 in the world and has qualified for two of the past three Olympics, and finished 12th at the 2010 Worlds after notching a victory over France.
A Closer Look at American Teams
Puerto Rico is ranked 15th in the world rankings, and has exciting guard play led by Carlos Arroyo—who started the season as the Heat’s starting PG—and Dallas driller J.J. Barea. Puerto Rico’s chances could be buoyed by the fact that it is one of the top candidates to host the tournament.
But don’t count out the Dominican Republic, either. Their team is led by Al Horford, fresh off two All-Star years and an All-NBA Third Team appearance. Horford is beginning to establish himself as one of the premier big men in the world. He is joined on the team by Detroit Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva (he of the Kevin Garnett smack talk). Though only ranked 30th in the world, this ranking—along with the rankings of Puerto Rico and Venezuela—are misleading because the rankings consider matches played up to eight years ago. If you look more recently, you note that Dominican Republic has recorded quality wins.
My prediction: You can see Nigeria, South Korea, and two of Venezuela, Angola, Jordan or Macedonia at the bottom of the table, and Russia, Lithuania and either Greece or Puerto Rico qualifying for London.