As the knockout phase of the FIBA World Cup tips off on Saturday in Madrid and Barcelona, here’s five things we learnt from the preliminary round.

1. The United States are better than expected – but not unbeatable. It’s probably not better than the third-best squad the Americans could have mustered but with so much athleticism, as well as not inconsiderable talent, the reigning champions were always destined to be tough to stop.

It would take a brave man (or woman) to bet against them lifting the trophy in Madrid next weekend. Yet even with James Harden attempting to play a little D, they are probably the weakest roster Uncle Sam has despatched since they missed out on the championship in Indianapolis in 2006.

And while neither Mexico, or likely quarter-final opponents Slovenia, should cause much problem, beyond that, they will need to earn their victories.

2. Spain like their chances. If this is destined to be the last stand for Pau Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro and their long-time running mates at international level, then they’re leaving it all on the floor.

The rout of Brazil summed up their intent. And although their backcourt-by-committee and the ever-ghastly shooting of Ricky Rubio might cause a little concern, it’s not unreasonable to call them co-favourites.

3. The Greeks are for real. There’s always a theory – let’s call it the Turkey principle – that if Robert Louis Stevenson were alive today, he’d have based his tale of Jekyll and Hyde on the great enemies of European basketball.

Often hot and cold in equal measure, the Turks stepped up against the USA but then went on a familiar rollercoaster ride. Whereas the Greeks, one of the trio of unbeaten teams in the preliminary phase, are in one of those moods where there’s been no rumblings of internal divisions, ego outbreaks or head traumas. Can it last?

4. With your best player out, a little heart goes a long way. Argentina probably won’t get past Brazil on Sunday and that would really signal the end of what has been a brilliant era. But, even minus Manu Ginobili, they’ve clung on for dear life.

Same with France, who have a little more talent but who desperately miss both Tony Parker and Nando de Colo at the helm. And with a Patty Mills-less Australia whose shameless manipulation of the draw by losing to Angola should be blamed on the format, not on the warriors from Down Under.

5. Life’s much better with the Finns. We’re already missing Finland who were as much fun in Spain as they were in Slovenia 12 months ago. However their effective elimination game with New Zealand was a win-win. Who didn’t want more of the Tall Blacks and that haka? 1 million viewers on YouTube can’t be wrong.

FIBA World Cup, Round of 16.
USA v Mexico (3pm), France v Croatia (5pm), Dominican Rep v Slovenia (7pm), Spain v Senegal (9pm)

Lithuania v New Zealand (3pm), Serbia v Greece (5pm), Turkey v Australia (7pm), Brazil v Argentina (9pm)

(all times UK)

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