With Monday's second-round games in the books, the quarterfinal matchups at the FIBA World Cup are officially set.
The loaded top half of the bracket contains four of the world's top five ranked teams, led by the United States and its rich roster of NBA talent. The lone omission from that group is second-ranked Spain, which finds itself in the much more favorable bottom half of the bracket.
Eleventh-ranked Australia is the biggest potential obstacle between the Spaniards and a berth in the final. Before then, a date with 25th-ranked Poland awaits Spain in the quarterfinals, while the Boomers will take on another tournament surprise in the Czech Republic.
Of course, in a single-game elimination format, one bad day can end a nation's championship hopes. Australia recently snapped Team USA's 78-game winning streak in a World Cup tuneup, further proving that anything is possible.
|Sept. 10||Argentina vs. Serbia||7 a.m.|
|Sept. 10||Spain vs. Poland||9 a.m.|
|Sept. 11||USA vs. France||7 a.m.|
|Sept. 11||Australia vs. Czech Republic||9 a.m.|
Aside from an eight-point win over Russia in the first round, No. 5 Argentina hasn't been much tested much thus far. Ageless veteran Luis Scola continues to lead the way for the undefeated nation, averaging team highs in points (17.4) and rebounds (7.8). However, Argentina's quarterfinal matchup against Serbia is quite the step up in competition.
The Serbs are shooting a tournament-leading 57% from the field and are second in scoring at 96.4 points per game. Sacramento Kings guard Bogdan Bogdanovic has led the way by dropping 20.6 points per contest while connecting at a sizzling 54.5% clip from downtown. The fourth-ranked country has also been feasting in the paint, tallying nearly 45 points per game.
Serbia's ball movement hasn't been hurt by the absence of playmaking wizard Milos Tedosic, as the team is pacing the tournament field with 27.6 assists per game. Simply put, this group has been an offensive juggernaut even without All-NBA center Nikola Jokic playing extended minutes.
Spain is entering the quarterfinals undefeated after dealing Serbia its only loss of the World Cup. While the Spaniards lack the scoring and star power of years past, their stingy defense could very well carry them to the championship game for the first time since winning it all in 2006.
This team has allowed just 63.8 points per game in the World Cup and surrendered only 69 on 40% shooting - including a 3-of-19 mark from distance - to an explosive Serbian squad in their second-round clash. Spain has also shown great discipline defensively, compiling the sixth-fewest personal fouls.
National team vets Ricky Rubio and Marc Gasol are averaging 14.6 and 11.6 points, respectively, and their experience on the big stage could be equally valuable against an underdog Poland team. The 25th-ranked nation placed first in Group A but hasn't produced the type of quality wins that Spain boasts on its resume. Poland runs most of its offense through guard Mateusz Ponitka, and he'll need to be at his best to have any shot of slaying Spain.
Despite all the chatter about stars sitting out, Team USA is right where it wants to be. After receiving an early wake-up call in an overtime win against Turkey, the U.S. is back on track with three straight wins by an average margin of 28.3 points.
Team USA's biggest advantage against France could be on the glass, where the Americans are averaging a tournament-leading 47.2 rebounds per game and rank fourth with 13 offensive boards per contest. Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert will likely be tasked with outmuscling Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner, who leads the Americans in both departments.
Les Bleus will look to neutralize that edge by riding the hot hand from beyond the arc. France is shooting a World Cup-leading 47.4% from distance and has a number of shooters who can find their rhythm in a hurry, including forward Amath M'Baye, who's second in the tournament with a 64.3% success rate.
The Czech Republic is playing with house money in its first-ever appearance at the World Cup as an independent nation. The team's lone NBAer, Tomas Satoransky, has been one of the top point guards in the tournament with averages of 15.2 points, six boards, and 1.4 steals while also ranking second among all players with 7.4 assists per game.
On the flip side, Australia is seeking to advance past the quarterfinals at the World Cup for the first time. The Boomers feature one of the deeper rosters at the World Cup, with four different players averaging at least 10 points per game. Between Patty Mills, Joe Ingles, and Matthew Dellavedova, the Aussies almost always have a playmaker on the floor who's capable of providing high-percentage scoring opportunities for their big men via the pick-and-roll.
Australia ranks second in the tournament with 25.4 assists per game and is third in scoring at 91.6 per contest. If the Czechs hope to keep their Cinderella run going, they'll need all hands on deck defensively.