If you're a fan of NBA or NCAA basketball, than the FIBA competition format may confuse you. After all, there are no playoff series. They don't have single-elimination tournaments. The FIBA World Championship uses a pool play format. It also uses a series of regional competitions to decide which national teams have the right to participate in the biggest competition of them all. The following is a look at how it all works.

So how does it all work?

Serbia & Mont.
New Zealand
Puerto Rico
To begin, there are 24 participating teams in the FIBA World Championship this year, up from 16 squads in 2002. In the preliminary round, each team plays all the other squads in their own group in single round-robin group contests. There are four groups of six teams a piece, meaning the preliminary round is composed of five total games for each squad.

The national teams that finish in the top four of each group qualify for the Eighth-Finals -- 16 such squads will participate in this phase of the competition. The first and fourth place finishers and second and third place teams play single elimination games in Eighth-Finals Aug. 26 and 27. Teams from Group A will face teams from Group B in those contests and teams from Group C match up with teams from Group D. The winners advance to the Quarter Finals.

The eight remaining teams that make it to the Quarter-Finals then face off in single elimination contests Aug. 28 and 30. The winner of a contest between a No. 1 and No. 4 place finisher plays the winner of a contest between a No. 2 and No. 3 finisher. At stake is a ticket to the Semi-Finals. The loser in all four Quarter-Final contests play in one of two consolation games on August 31.

The Semi-Finals, which take place Sept. 1, are the first time it's possible for first-place finishers from each group to meet. There could be some huge matchups in the Semi-Finals contests as the national teams vie for the two spots in the gold medal game Sept. 3. The losers of the two Semi-Finals contests will battle for the bronze Sept. 2.

How did they qualify?

There are four ways a team may have qualified for the 2006 FIBA World Championship.

All eyes will be on the stars in Japan.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty

1) By hosting the FIBA World Championship
2) By winning the 2004 Olympic gold
3) By qualifying in their FIBA Zones tournaments held August and Sept. 2005.
4) By receiving one of the four FIBA wild card spots.

Puerto Rico, Serbia & Montenegro, Italy and Turkey qualified as wild cards, as determined by the FIBA Central Board in Nov. 2005. The board took things such as recent national team success into consideration.

In Asia, Japan qualified as the host while China, Lebanon and Qatar were the top three respective finishers at the FIBA Asia Qualifying Tournament Sept. 8-16, 2005 in Doha, Qatar.

In the Americas, Argentina got a bid as the 2004 Olympic Champion while Brazil finished in first place at the FIBA Americas Qualifying Tournament August 24-Sept. 4 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic by defeating the Argentineans. Venezuela, the United States and Panama finished third, fourth and fifth, respectively. Puerto Rico earned a wild card bid.

In Africa, Angola, Senegal and Nigeria were the top three finishers, respectively, at the FIBA Africa Qualifying Tournament August 16-25 in Algiers, Algeria.

In Europe, Greece, Germany, France, Spain, Lithuania and Slovenia were the top six finishers at the FIBA Europe - Eurobasket, Sept. 15-25 in Serbia & Montenegro. Italy, Serbia & Montenegro and Turkey received the remaining three FIBA wild cards.

Australia and New Zealand both received bids as members of the FIBA Oceania Zone. Australia defeated New Zealand in a best of three series 2-0 to win the FIBA Oceania Championship.

What makes this competition special?

Winning the WBC is considered by many as more prestigous than gold in the Olympics.

It's special because it's not just a basketball competition, it's the basketball competition. Each of the FIBA Zone championships, which take place every two years (odd years, when either the Olympics or World Championship isn't going on), get their importance in large part not because they offer bragging rights within the particular region, but rather, they offer the right to play on the world stage for something bigger.

Outside of the U.S., the FIBA World Championship is often considered even more prestigious than the Olympic Games. Take a look at what 2002 U.S. National Team coach George Karl and former USA Basketball President Tom Jernstedt said shortly before the previous World Championship held in Indianapolis.

"I lived in Spain for two seasons and I'd like to reemphasize that a lot of European basketball thinks the World Championships are much more important than the Olympics, and America, I think we always have the Olympics as a priority. I know for a fact in Spain that sometimes they didn't even send their best team to the Olympics, but they always send their best team to the World Championships."
-- Former USA Basketball head coach George Karl

"Many people think that this competition around the world is more significant than the Olympics. One of the reasons is that there are 16 teams (now 24) that go through the zone qualifying to qualify for the World Championship, whereas in the Olympics there are 12 teams, and many people worldwide think that this is a more competitive opportunity and a fairer competition than the Olympics."
-- Former USA Basketball President Tom Jernstedt

Fully grasping why the FIBA World Championship is so important helps one appreciate the spirit of the fans across the world as they cheer on their national teams. National pride helps build cultural identity, and in doing so, helps us celebrate our uniqueness. It also helps us realize what we have in common.

A passion for the game.