The group stage of the FIBA World Cup 2014 have ended and the successful nations are lining up in the Round of 16 to fight it out in do or die games. Expect spills and plenty of thrills as the eyes of global Basketball turn to the first knockout stage of the competition. With everything to play for, and to lose, the country’s gearing up for Saturday and Sunday will want to progress to the next round in Spain and continue the World Cup dream.
Here’s our preview of the games.
USA vs. Mexico
Neighbouring countries the USA and Mexico will clash in a crunch match that has just a bit of derby spice to it on Saturday, and the nations’ respective histories in this competition could not be different. The USA is a four time winner of the World Cup (including when it was still the World Championships), but has never won consecutive tournaments. As favourites this year they will be hoping to make history, starting with passing Centrobasket champions Mexico.
The Mexicans have not appeared in a World Cup since 1974, so everything in this FIBA World Cup 2014 as a tinge of history being made, including making it out of the groups. Yes, Mexico is just happy to be here, but the players will not want to go quietly into the night.
The USA sauntered through Group C to sweep the table 5-0, delivering crushing wins aplenty along the way. Of course, the US has strengths all over the court, but so far Kenneth Faried has been the standout performer with 13.8 points per game and a 79.1% field percentage. Mexico slipped through Group D in fourth place, progressing with a losing 2-3 record. While there may be a feeling that the job has been done, head coach Sergio Valdeolmillos has said the team is here to win the competition.
Brazil vs. Argentina
If the USA vs. Mexico game has plenty of fire behind it, the Brazil vs. Argentina game is going to explode. A South American rivalry par excellence, these nations compete in everything, not least on the hardwood of Basketball. That rivalry will be renewed in the round of 16 during this FIBA World Cup 2014.
Two time World Championships winner Brazil looked good while qualifying in second place from Group A with a 4-1 record. The team seemed to be moving through gears through the group phase, highlighted by a 128-65 blowout over Egypt in Game 5. Marcelinho Huertas is the Brazil playmaker, and he will be called upon to dictate the rhythm on the floor again here, but will also look to point from the bench courtesy of Leandro Barbosa.
The Argentines will remember the 2010 edition of the World Cup when they downed Brazil 93-89 at this stage of the competition. During that epic, Luis Scola led Argentina to victory with an impressive display and will be asked to similar again on Sunday. Veteran forward Walter Herrmann has also been in good form, covering both zones on his return to the national team set up after a six year absence.
France vs. Croatia
France has a good record against Croatia in tournament Basketball, downing their opponents twice during the Eurobasket 2009 tournament. As reigning Eurobasket champions, France will be expecting to go deeper into the FIBA World Cup 2014, but struggled at times in Group A, finishing third with a 3-2 record. Croatia on the other hand will be pleased to pass through a tough Group B in second place, also with a 3-2 record.
Croatia play to get the most from Bojan Bogdanovic, but the roster does have strength in depth, as was proved in the 103-82 win over Puerto Rico in Game 5. During that success the team chipped in to help Bogdanovic, while Barcelona center Ante Tomic is a thorn in the side of opposing teams under both posts.
France has its own go to guys in Boris Diaw, Nicolas Batum, while Thomas Huertal is easing into the tournament from point guard.
Turkey vs. Australia
Anything could happen in this game because these teams seem to define blowing hot and cold. Turkey especially are hard to predict, capable of the sublime one game and the awful the next, but one thing is for certain, the Turks are a threat on their day. Australia is also capable of swings in form, but the team has plenty of heart and fight, meaning this could well be the toughest game of the round.
Turkey are easing into the tournament and big men Omer Asik and Kerem Gonlum have been pivotal in the team’s success, while Oguz Savas has also impressed from the bench, including a 15 point and 6 rebound effort as the Turks passed Dominican Republic in Game 5.
Australia do not look to standout individuals, instead working as a unit. However, the Aussies can call on Aron Baynes, forward/centre David Andersen, small forward Joe Ingles and point guard Matthew Dellavedova. If these players click then the Turkish will have a huge task on their hands. However, the team has rarely clicked and scraped through Group D with a 3-2 record.
Dominican Republic vs. Slovenia
The FIBA World Cup 2014 has been a historic one for the Dominican Republic, its first since 1978 and one that has been successful, with the team qualifying from Group C with a 3-2 record. Slovenia’s progress has been serene as the team won four consecutive games to open the tournament, only slipping to Lithuania in a decider to see who topped Group D.
Francisco Garcia is retiring from international hoops after this summer, but what a swansong the NBA shooter is having, leading the Dominican Republic to the Last 16. A talismanic figure in the front court, Garcia is averaging 30 minutes on the hardwood and is taking 20.3 points per game. So important is he to the teams’ general play that no other Dominican player has averaged in double figures.
Slovenia are less reliant on one player, but nonetheless Goran Dragic is their go to guy. The point guard controls the game for Slovenians, dictating the pace on the floor, while he also grabs the points and dimes. He has secured 17.4 points per game, 4.0 assists, 2.8 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game to be one of the stars of the competition so far. However, if the Dominican Republic cut Dragic out of the game, Slovenia can turn to the likes of Zoran Dragic and Domen Lorbek for buckets.
Serbia vs. Greece
This is definitely one of those international games that is too close to call. How do you choose between two nations that are capable of turning it on and dominating games? Greece certainly looked more comfortable in the group stage, winning Group B 5-0 to remain unbeaten in the competition. Serbia’s passage was more fraught, with the country progressing from Group A with a losing 2-3 record.
Although, Greece would only underestimate the Serbian contingent at its own peril, because the Balkan team is a capable of a big game. Serbia’s starting five has performed well, with three of the players averaging in double figures on the scoreboard. Milos Teodosic is the talisman, but as teams concentrate on him players like Miroslav Raduljica and Nemanja Bjelica do damage to opponents. The Serbs also have young sensation Bogdan Bogdanovic, who has been relatively quiet but is capable of turning in game winning performances.
Greece perform so steadily and with such purpose that they have rarely looked troubled on the hardwood and have eased through with metronome like precision. Ioannis Bourousis has worked the interior and is currently averaging double-double figures of 12.0 points and 10.0 boards per game. The team has its own starlet in Giannis Antetokounmpo, the teenage wonder kid has not lit the tournament up, but looks to be a fine prospect.
Spain vs. Senegal
After the glory of winning the World Cup in 2006, Spain had an indifferent tournament in 2010. However, the Spanish look to be back this year with renewed determination, evident as the team swept Group A 5-0 to reach this stage. Senegal have had a glorious competition, winning two games to qualify from Group B in fourth place, but the Africans are unlikely to match Spain in this encounter.
The Gasol brothers, Marc and Pau, have led Spain’s efforts so far in the competition. Older sibling Pau is currently averaging 21.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per game and has been among the best players during the FIBA World Cup 2014 so far. Marc Gasol is also providing spark at the posts, averaging 11.8 points and 6.8 boards per game, while both brothers are also adding their fair share of assists and steals. Veteran guard Juan Carlos Navarro continues to defy Father Time with some classy displays and will work the engine room of Spain again during this round.
Senegal face a backs to the wall game, but the African nation has surprised many in this tournament and has potential to cause an historic upset. Gorgui Dieng is a handful in the paint and is offering double-double figures of 18.0 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. He has also averaged over 38 minutes on the floor, so it goes without saying that if Spain shut Dieng down they will be on the road to victory.
New Zealand vs. Lithuania
No team will appreciate its place in the Last 16 more than New Zealand. The players fought back from three consecutive losses at the start of the competition to leave Group C with a 2-3 record. Lithuania on the other hand has progressed more steadily, and hit its stride in Game 5 to defeat Slovenia and clinch top spot in Group D.
New Zealand should not be underestimated by any team in the competition, this is a team finding momentum at the right time and is rabid on the boards. A rebounding powerhouse, New Zealand are not the biggest team, ironic considering they are nicknamed the Tall Blacks. However, in the paint the players work tirelessly and on the bench Isaac Fotu has provided a key all round game that is like a get out of jail card. There are players to watch here, but this is a dedicated team effort.
Lithuania are classier than New Zealand and act slicker on the court, with precision, power, pace, and technique the order of the day. Jonas Maciulis and Donatas Motiejunas have led the team during the competition, but a strong roster means that Lithuania can look to all areas to provide. Make no mistake, this game is a true clash of styles and is one to watch if spectacle is what you want.