TURKEY SHOOT

With the FIBA World Championships under way in Turkey, MVP gives the lowdown on which teams to look out for.

GROUP A
Angola, Australia, Germany, Jordan, Serbia, Argentina

Argentina
Ranked number 1 in the world by FIBA, the South American powerhouse has appeared at the World Championships 11 times – but only walked away with the trophy once. Despite missing their all-star player, San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili, plus Andres Nocioni, Argentina remain one of the five teams capable of leaving Turkey with the title. Sergio Hernandez’s squad have had an impressive warm-up campaign, emerging victorious from the South American ‘Super 4’ tournament and the Efes World Cup. They have a very strong front court presence – anchored by Houston’s energetic fan-favourite Luis Scola – but losing Nocioni to injury at the last minute is a blow. Meanwhile in the back court, defensive-minded play maker Pablo Prigioni of Real Madrid handles the point. Argentina should win this weak group handily.

Key Players – Luis Scola (F, Houston Rockets), Carlos Delfino (G, Milwaukee Bucks)
Key Absentees – Manu Ginobili (G, San Antonio Spurs), Andres Nocioni (F, Philadelphia 76ers)

Serbia
This Serbia team impressed at Eurobasket last year and took some notable scalps on the way to a 2nd place finish. Their prospects at this year’s World Championships took a knock when star centre Nenad Krstic was suspended for the first three games after his madness last week. Dusan Ivkovic’s team are anchored at the point by 6′ 5″ Olympiacos play maker Milos Teodosic but he will also serve a ban at the outset. Teodosic has had a great year domestically, winning the Euroleague MVP award while leading his team to a 2nd place finish. No one else in this group can get close to Argentina or Serbia, so expect these two teams to be hitting the knockout rounds.

Key Players – Milos Teodosic (G, Olympiacos), Nenad Krstic (C, Oklahoma City Thunder), Novica Velickovic (F, Real Madrid)
Key Absentees – Vladimir Radmanovic (F, Golden State Warriors), Peja Stojakovic (F, New Orleans Hornets)


GROUP B

Brazil, Croatia, Iran, Tunisia, USA, Slovenia

USA
Despite not boasting a single player from their Olympic gold winning team from two years ago, this USA squad is very strong – and, despite Coach Mike Kryzewski’s protests, should still be considered as a credible favourite for the trophy. Reigning NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant will be leading from the front and should provide the USA’s primary offensive threat. Rajon Rondo was a shock withdrawal from the squad, but they can still call on multiple NBA champions and several athletic young stars to get it done. Providing they can escape potentially tricky fixtures with Brazil and Slovenia, the USA should win this group by a comfortable margin.

Key Players – Kevin Durant (F, Oklahoma City Thunder), Derrick Rose (G, Chicago Bulls), Lamar Odom (F, Los Angeles Lakers)
Key Absentees – Lebron James (F, Miami Heat), Dwyane Wade (G, Miami Heat), Chris Paul (G, New Orleans Hornets)

Brazil
Two-time champions Brazil have endured a mixed warm-up to the tournament, but go in with a good shot of qualifying from their group. Their go-to player is current ACB Most Valuable Player Tiago Splitter, who has just completed a move to the San Antonio Spurs. Brazil are a balanced team but their strength lies in the front court, where Cleveland’s Varejao joins Splitter to provide a rebounding and hustle presence. Barbosa provides speed and spot-up shooting in the back court, but can be inconsistent…and the team seems to have given up waiting for Nene to overcome his injury worries. Look for Brazil to duke it out with Slovenia for the second qualifying spot in Group B.

Key Players – Tiago Splitter (F, San Antonio Spurs), Anderson Varejao (F, Cleveland Cavaliers), Leandro Barbosa (G, Toronto Raptors)
Key Absentees – Nene Hilario (C, Denver Nuggets)


GROUP C

China, Greece, Ivory Coast, Russia, Puerto Rico, Turkey

Greece
The Greeks played just about as badly as they could in their exhibition loss to the USA, so shouldn’t have a problem stepping up their game once the tournament gets into full swing. As just about one of the only countries devoid of injury worries, the Greek roster is dominated by players from the two domestic powerhouses – with Panathinaikos front court duo Diamantidis and Fotsis providing the target men for Olympiacos point guard Vassilis¬†Spanoulis. Aside from the USA loss, Greece totally blew away the competition in their other pre-tournament games (including destroying Russia by 40, who must be dreading this rematch). Greece are a balanced team and have good strength in depth. They might go to the wire vs China and Turkey but should have enough to beat both to win the group.

Key Players – Vassilis Spanoulis (G, Olympiacos), Dimitris Diamantidis (F, Panathinaikos), Antonis Fotsis (F, Panathinaikos)
Key Absentees – None

China
Absent Rockets’ star Yao will leave a huge gap in the Chinese frontline, which lacks a significant offensive punch. Former LA Lakers 12th-man Yue Sun will run the point for Bob Donewald’s squad and will be looking to use his huge height to his advantage in Turkey. With Yao out, the Chinese team is vulnerable in the paint and lacks an imposing defensive presence – which could prove to be their downfall vs the powerful, quality frontlines of Greece and Turkey. 2010 will be China’s 8th appearance at the World Championships, with their best result an 8th place finish 16 years ago in Canada. It will take several players to step up and fill Yao’s huge shoes if China are to get anywhere near that placing this year.

Key Players – Jianlian Yi (F, New Jersey Nets), Yue Sun (G, Beijing Aoshen Olympian), Fangyu Zhu (F, Guangdong)
Key Absentees – Yao Ming (C, Houston Rockets)


GROUP D

Canada, France, Lebanon, Lithuania, New Zealand, Spain

Spain
Spain should breeze through Group D without even breaking a sweat. They are the most stacked team in the competition and have depth at every position. The only weakness of Sergio Scariolo’s team is that they can become complacent and lose focus – as evidenced by their narrow victory over Team GB at Eurobasket 2009. Their Barcelona contingent will also be stinging from a 3-0 whitewash in the finals of the ACB in a match-up they were expected to comfortably win. The loss of one Gasol (Pau) is mitigated by the hugely improved play of the other (Marc) and Calderon’s injury won’t make too much of an impact as he had become a 2nd/3rd string reserve since Rubio’s emergence. All but three of the Spanish team play in the ACB, widely considered to be the second best domestic league after the NBA. If anyone can provide a robust challenge for team USA, it’s ‘la Roja’.

Key Players – Ricky Rubio (G, Barcelona), Filipe Reyes (F, Real Madrid), Juan Carlos Navarro (G, Barcelona)
Key Absentees – Jose Calderon (G, Toronto Raptors), Pau Gasol (C, Los Angeles Lakers)

Lithuania
Still hurting after a poor showing at Eurobasket 2009, Lithuania is on a mission to prove they are still worthy of their 6th place FIBA ranking. With a squad containing only one household name (Raptors swingman Linus Kleiza), this basketball-mad country will try and push their way to the top with physical defense and good ball movement. Kleiza is the undisputed leader of the team, having averaged 17pts and 7rbs for Olympiacos last season as they nearly took the Euroleague crown. He is joined in the front court by athletic veteran centre Javtokas, a predecessor of LeBron James at St. Mary HS in Akron, Ohio. Lithuania should have enough to take 2nd place in this weak group but may struggle going forward if they can’t get their patented three-point attack into gear.

Key Players – Linus Kleiza (F, Toronto Raptors), Robertas Javtokas (C, Valencia), Mantas Kalnietas (G, Zalgiris)
Key Absentees – None

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