Posted Aug 19 2010 7:55AM - Updated Aug 30 2010 11:09AM
Despite the absence of the 12 players who won gold in Beijing, the United States will be one of the favorites at the 2010 FIBA World Championship. And if Mike Krzyzewski's group plays together, they have a shot to win the world title for the first time since 1994. But it won't come easy, because the World Championship field is deep, and there's one more round of elimination play than there was at the Olympics.
The field of 24 teams is broken up into four groups of six teams each, with each playing in a different location in Turkey. After the six teams all play each other, the top four advance to the 16-team, single-elimination tournament in Istanbul.
The U.S. was drawn into Group B, which also plays in Istanbul. So the Americans won't have to do any traveling during the course of their 2 ½ weeks in Turkey. Beginning Aug. 28, the U.S. will play five games in six days against the other teams in their group.
The Americans' first three games come without a day off and are against their three toughest opponents in Group B. Games 4 and 5 are against Iran and Tunisia, neither of which is expected to advance to the elimination rounds.
To help preview the competition at this year's World Championship, NBA.com spoke with USA Basketball director of international player personnel Tony Ronzone, who has been in charge of scouting opponents for the U.S. since 2007. After spending the last nine years with the Detroit Pistons, he was hired this May by the Minnesota Timberwolves as their assistant general manager.
Here's a breakdown of the U.S. Team's three toughest Group B opponents, in the order in which they play them. On Friday, we'll take a deeper look at the medal contenders in the other three groups.
NBA players: None
Draft prospects: Bojan Bogdanovic (SG)
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2006 World Championship: N/A
2008 Olympics: Sixth (3-3)
2009 Eurobasket: Sixth (4-5)
Croatia is the second or third best team in Group B, with talent both in the backcourt and on the frontline. Most important, "They play very hard," Ronzone said. "They've got some good chemistry."
Former Raptor Roko Ukic runs the point, with Bojan Bogdanovic, a talented shooter, and Marko Tomas, a veteran scorer, on the wings. Ante Tomic, a 7-foot-1 center who was drafted by the Jazz in the second round of 2008, is one of the most skilled bigs in the tournament. A key for Croatia will be the health of Zoran Planinic, the former Net who is recovering from knee surgery and could provide scoring punch off the bench.
While they have size, Croatia isn't necessarily a threat to hurt the smaller Americans on the boards. They'll look more to outscore their opponents than to stop them.
NBA players: Primoz Brezec (free agent), Goran Dragic (PHX)
2006 World Championship: Ninth (2-4)
2008 Olympics: N/A
2009 Eurobasket: Fourth (6-3)
Slovenia has been banged up and not at full strength in their exhibitions, missing both Dragic and former Rocket/Hornet/Net Bostjan Nachbar in a loss to Greece on Wednesday. That has made them both tough to scout and project. But they should certainly be good enough to qualify for the medal rounds.
When healthy, this team is talented in the backcourt and big in the frontcourt. They'd be even better if the Kings' Beno Udrih would have accepted a role coming off the bench behind Dragic and Jaka Lakovic. Instead, he decided to leave the team last month.
The 6-foot-9 Nachbar is Slovenia's go-to scorer, but has been nursing a sore ankle. Udrih's older brother Samo, a 6-foot-5 wing, is also a player to watch.
"He's pretty talented," Ronzone said of the elder Udrih. "He's tough and he's physical. He's a very active guy, big and strong and plays hard."
Up front, Slovenia has Brezec and former Raptor Uros Slokar, two slow-footed bigs who could give the U.S. trouble on the boards, but who won't be able to keep up with the Americans' speed.
NBA players: Leandro Barbosa (TOR), Nenê (DEN), Tiago Splitter (SAS), Anderson Varejao (CLE)
Draft prospects: Raul Neto (PG)
2006 World Championship: 17th (1-4)
2008 Olympics: N/A
2009 FIBA Americas: First (9-1)
Brazil hasn't had much international success since the days of Oscar Schmidt, but with their talent and size, they figure to contend for a medal at this year's World Championship. And if there's one team that's going to exploit the U.S. Team's lack of big men, this is it.
"They'll give us problems," Ronzone said, "because they're real big."
Nenê, Splitter and Varejao are three 6-foot-11 bigs who are good enough to start on NBA playoff teams and athletic enough to keep up with the U.S. Most important, they all play big. So it's very likely that Krzyzewski will have to abandon his two-small-forward lineup in this game and play Lamar Odom or Kevin Love next to Tyson Chandler on the frontline.
The U.S. will look to put pressure on Brazil's guards, but they will have to be careful. Barbosa has the speed to break the U.S. press by himself and Marcelinho Machado is a potent shooter who will hurt them if they leave him open.
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