With the next iteration of the FIBA World Cup fast approaching, sports media in North America have been focusing mainly on roster changes and injuries to the US men’s national team. From the ugly (and much-publicized) injury to Paul George to a withdrawal by 2010 Cup MVP Kevin Durant, the story on America in the 2014 FIBA championship has been focused on what they won’t bring to the table rather than what they will.
This is not a good sign for the defending champions. It is also a sign of things to come for the US men’s team at this year’s basketball world championships.
What Happened to Team USA?
After America won a spot in the weakest group (Group C) at the drawing in February, most analysts were picking America to repeat as World Cup champions. Winning Group C would have been no problem for the then-untrimmed squad of NBA superstars and role-players available to Coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Defeating whatever team emerged from Group D shouldn’t have been a problem, either, thanks in part to the slightly taller group of athletes America was planning to bring to Spain for the Cup this time around. Then came major roster changes and the meme-worthy George injury; the straw that will break this potential champion’s back is the loss of Kevin Durant.
Who Will Win Gold at FIBA 2014?
Though the US side will have a harder time getting to the gold medal game, they’ll probably pull it off. After all, they’re in the weakest group, and the roster as it stands now is still solid. Their likely opponent is Spain, a team that has a tough road to get to gold medal contention. , Spain is part of Group A and will have to beat traditional powerhouses Serbia, France, and Brazil at the Group level. Should they face Argentina out of Group B, they’ll enter the gold medal game against the US on rubbery legs, to say the least.
Does that mean America repeats? Not this much-weaker American side, just coming off a game against Lithuania that will tax them more than anyone is willing to admit. Besides playing against an American team that’s missing a few important pieces, Spain has a few things on their side.
The Spanish team is younger, slightly larger, and plays with more energy than Coach K’s 12 men. Let’s not overlook the squad’s significant home-court advantage. Spanish fans are some of the loudest in the world, which should give Spain the extra push they need to reclaim the FIBA championship from the US.
Rounding Out the Top Four
That leaves the awarding of the bronze medal up to a game between Lithuania and Argentina. These two teams are virtual mirror images, depending on size and ability at the wing rather than the speed and finesse of the Spanish and American teams. The smart money is against Argentina this year – their players are older than the Lithuanians, and without Manu Ginobili, they lack explosive scoring ability.