The World Cup is well underway in Spain. There are three Spurs playing (yes, I'm considering Aron Baynes a Spur for now) but that's not the only appeal the competition has. There's some beautiful basketball being played and there have been plenty of close games and even huge upsets in only three days. You should really give it a try if you miss basketball. And just so you are not behind when you do, here's a summary of what has happened so far.
The teams that were expected to be on the bottom of the group - Egypt and Iran - are there. Spain is firmly positioned at the top of the group, also as expected. The teams that are in the middle are the ones that have had unpredictable results. France lost a close game to Brazil and it seemed they were going to have to settle for the fourth spot in the group. Yet thanks to some Boris Diaw heroics they beat Serbia and could easily finish second. Boris' stats from that game (four points, five assists and five rebounds) don't look all that imposing but he delivered in the clutch, first with this beautiful assist to Joffrey Lauvergne...
...and then by scoring a go-ahead bucket and causing a turnover in Serbia's last attack.
After that quality win, France easily dispatched of Egypt with Diaw on the court for only eight minutes to move to two wins and one loss. Boris is taking ownership of the team with Parker out, even if his numbers don't completely flesh that out. And France could end up overachieving if Diaw and Batum lead the way in what initially seemed to be a throwaway tournament.
While Brazil has the same record as France, Tiago Splitter is probably not as happy as BoBo right now. Spain destroyed the up-to-that-point undefeated Brazil and it seems all the concerns about the potential of the South American squad were warranted. Brazil has very little in the way of proper spacing, which means they struggle to generate good looks. Their guard play has been solid if unspectacular on offense but their perimeter is questionable. And they have no depth.
Their strength was supposed to be their interior play but Splitter, Anderson Varejao and Nene were severely outclassed by the Gasols and have been having a tough time finishing inside in traffic. Now it looks like Brazil could finish fourth in the group, unless they can beat Serbia. The Serbians are a balanced, experienced team that has firepower from every position and the size to compete with anyone. I don't like Brazil's chances, personally, but there have been bigger upsets in the tournament already.
As for Spain, they are looking as strong as expected. Having three great defensive bigs (Yes, Pau is great in FIBA play) with legitimate range on their jumpers is a gigantic advantage and they play as a team on both ends. They could give the U.S. a good fight in the final, if both squads get there.
At least at this point it seems the order will be Spain, Serbia, France, Brazil.
Whereas Group A will qualify the four teams everyone was expecting to make it to the knockout stage, Group B has this year's Cinderella, Senegal, in prime position to make history. Led by Timberwolves center Gorgui Dieng, the Senegalese beat Puerto Rico and Croatia after losing their first game against Greece. Puerto Rico is a regular underachiever so that upset wasn't that surprising. But the African's victory over a Croatian squad that finished fourth in Eurobasket and was coming off a win against Argentina was shocking.
The other team that has turned heads is the Philippines. With Andray Blatche playing at an extremely high level and a whole roster filled with undersized but feisty and talented players the Philippines has lost all three of its games but has been a much tougher opponent than expected, taking Croatia to overtime and leading for a significant part of its game against Argentina despite Blatche missing most of the first half with foul trouble. It's a fun squad to watch and our Pinoy Pounders should be proud of it.
As for the rest of the group, Greece is leading with three wins in three games but will be tested as it faces Argentina and Croatia next. Croatia has two extremely exciting forwards in lottery pick Dario Saric and soon-to-be Brooklyn Net Bojan Bogdanovic. But they have underachieved a bit so far as a team despite their enormous talent, pulling off close wins against the Philippines and Argentina before losing to Senegal. Argentina, for its part, has had the problems it was expected to have on the boards and the defense has been spotty. Beating Senegal is a must, so that they can face Greece in the final game of the group fighting for first place instead of trying to avoid Spain.
This group has been the toughest to predict from the beginning. But my guess is Greece, Argentina, Croatia and Senegal will advance, in that order.
Groups C and D
The teams from Groups C (U.S.A., Turkey, Finland, Ukraine, Dominican Republic and New Zealand) and D (Lithuania, Slovenia, Australia, Angola, Mexico and Korea) had the day off today and have only played two games each, so there's less to tell.
I only caught a couple of quarters from Team U.S.A.'s games but it's obvious why they are the favorite to win it all. The most talented squad in the tournament is also lucky enough to be in a weak Group C with no real challengers, which should allow Coach K to make adjustments and give his key players plenty of rest. The only looming threat in the path to the finals is Lithuania. But it's hard to see any team proving to be a true hurdle for the U.S. in its search for gold (and a ticket to the Olympics) until a theoretical final against Spain.
Turkey, Ukraine and the Dominican Republic are likely to advance as well.
In Group D Slovenia and Lithuania will finish in the two top spots; we'll have to see who wins their head-to-head match up to determine the seeding. Aron Baynes' Australia and Gustavo Ayon's Mexico will also have a high stakes head-to-head match of their own but in their case the prize would be the chance to avoid the US in their first knockout game. Whoever finishes fourth in that group has a guaranteed exit in the round of 16. But finishing third could mean a date with a Turkish team that, while still the favorite to advance in that scenario, misses the offense Hedo Turkoglu and Ersan Ilyasova would have provided.
I'm going by the stats alone here, since I haven't been able to catch a game from this group. But Baynes has put up great numbers in the two games his team has played. He's averaging 17 points and 7.5 points in only 26 minutes a game, which is impressive.
Tomorrow Groups A and B will get the day off while Groups C and D catch up. As the event continues on, we'll have more updates.