The United States obviously has its problems headed into the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup in just over 2 weeks.
My colleague Nikola has been chronicling the carnage for WagerBop as superstars turn down Gregg Popovich in droves.
Team USA lost a practice game to a G-League squad this week, if that gives any indication of the greybeard coach’s challenge in getting the unit ready for China.
But if the Stars & Stripes has decided to dig its way to China, some of the other proud nations at the FIBA tourney could be soaring.
I recognize the syndrome of NBA players bailing-out on their national club league’s home through my experience covering national hockey, in which it took the United States ages to convince a top-notch roster of veterans to travel overseas and represent America at the IIHF Worlds. But it also reminds me of modern-day college recruiting disasters. It’s as if Herman Edwards was the coach of the team, suddenly quit, and then every freshman “commit” begins typing up tweets that begin, “After speaking with my family…”
College programs and national programs are similar because each can be like a snowball rolling downhill. As a FIBA squad experiences success, it draws more interest and more star athletes to its cause. Think of a 21-year-old phenom who is of Turkish and American heritage. As of 2018, he would never turn down an invitation from USA Basketball just to play in the World Cup with Turkey.
As of 2019, I’m not so sure. Maybe our hypothetical kid would be tempted to give it a 1-off shot with Turkey. At least the Turkish roster appears put together by people who give a crap about winning the event.
The troubling pattern developing with the Red, White & Blue – reminiscent of losing incarnations of Team USA from the Olympic Games in Athens and FIBA tourneys in the same time-frame – have opened up a massive door for the other 7 Group Stage favorites headed to Asia.
Old-school versions of Team USA at the ice hockey worlds consisted of about as much talent as a typical NHL squad. The best I have heard the 2019 USA Basketball representatives described is as about as talented as an ordinary NBA lineup.
Having counseled gamblers to buy into Group-winner futures and not to hunt for a jackpot on the championship betting board, I am eating a whole lot of Chinese fowl.
Not only do the United States’ woes add up to a whole lot of medal-round opportunity for programs like Turkey, Spain, Canada, and Greece, but we could see more fireworks in the round-robin now that teams don’t have a prohibitive favorite in the back of their minds.
The United States was once a (-1000) bet to-win gold at some websites whole various name-brand icons sat sketched-in on preliminary rosters. The 2nd-tier American squad going to Shanghai is now merely a (-350) favorite to prevail…and yet many talented teams are still massive payoffs for the gold medal or even just a Group Stage romp.
Look on the bright side, as IIHF gamblers should do when the NHL doesn’t send its very best to Europe. We all know who the likely winner would be in a match-up of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook and other All-Star perennials of the NBA against the finest lineups other nations can cobble together. Those men dominate the spring playoffs and there’s no European, Asian or African defense that can stop them.
Not to say USA couldn’t lose with a stacked roster, but it would be a “miracle on hardwood” scenario. By sending a “B” team to China our basketball federation has done the world a favor – perhaps on accident – by giving the FIBA World Cup a truer sense of unpredictability.
Furthermore it’s hard to get excited about a (-1000) futures wager. Heck, it’s hard to get excited about a (-350) futures wager. It’s all risk and little payoff on a winner.
I’m not against anything that will bring more speculators into the FIBA markets looking for an underdog who could actually pay off by going over or around the Americans in the final bracket. It will draw more interest to a colorful event and to world basketball on TV.
The World Cup will suffer as an exhibition without King James and the Assassin present. Yet the event might also exhibit more signs of a real-life tournament without them. Have you ever watched a decent, young NBA squad and wondered if they could demolish the best of EuroLeague, or if it would be a close fight? Our next test-case tips off very soon.
Here’s a glance at just 8 of the squads slated to begin play on August 31st, including just a couple who might see Team USA’s woes and smell blood in the water.
All odds courtesy of MyBookie.
FIBA World Cup Odds: GROUP A
Poland ((+110) Odds-to-Win Group A, (+20000) Odds-to-Win Gold)
Poland is only ranked 25th in the world in men’s basketball. Biało-czerwoni has not reached a FIBA World Cup since 1967 or played in the Summer Olympics since 1980.
So why are the Poles suddenly a trendy, sexy wager to win Group A at just a dime-on-a-dollar longer than (Even)?
Head coach Mike Taylor could be a reason. The skipper has guided Poland to steady improvement on the court since 2014 and took the squad to the Round of 16 at the 2015 EuroBasket.
Veteran center Maciej Lampe is another. He led the squad through an impressive round of qualifiers with a 14.4 point and 7.2 rebound average.
Finally, Poland’s popularity as a Group A future could come down to gamblers sensing weakness in the co-favorites.
China (+140) (+50000)
The Chinese have traditionally dominated in Asia, winning 14 out of 16 FIBA Asian Championships from 1975 to 2005. At the Summer Olympics and other international contests the squad as folded-up a few too many times for comfort…even when Yao Ming has patrolled the paint.
Injuries have been an issue lately, but a young crop of rising stars has supporters hopeful for a sturdy and stubborn host squad.
6’11” center Zhou Qi put up a monster 25.5 point and 10 rebound average in a pair of FIBA qualifiers and has experience playing against NBA ballers, having spent time with the Houston Rockets.
31-year-old Yi Jianlian is a crafty veteran among Chinese big men, a player who has appeared on several NBA rosters and starred in the CBA.
Former FIBA workhorse Li Nan was appointed head coach in 2017 and is clearly competent. I’m concerned about the depth at guard and other shooting positions, but I’m still liking China over Poland in Group A at the current prices.
Venezuela (+500) (+125000)
The Venezuelan team earned its most noteworthy accolades in recent history by prevailing in the 2015 FIBA AmeriCup.
Venezuela qualified for the 2016 Olympics but failed to advance to the medal round thanks to a 44-point massacre at the hands of the United States.
Argentinian coach Fernando Duró will lead Venezuela on the international stage for the 1st time and will have the 1-2 punch of the Vargas brothers at his disposal. Perimeter shooter José Vargas averaged 11.2 points and 4.3 rebounds in FIBA Americas qualifiers, while 5’11” Gregory Vargas is a heady point guard with the ability to drive the lane.
The former’s advanced age of 37 could be a stamina factor late in the tournament.
Venezuela is matched against upstart Poland in the squad’s opening round-robin tip.
Ivory Coast (+3300) (+150000)
Head coach Paolo Povia will lead Ivory Coast to its 1st FIBA World Cup since 2010 and only the 4th appearance in team history. Ivory Coast is struggled to 14th place in the 2017 AfroBasket, making the nation’s upcoming bid in China something of a redemption story.
6’5” shooting guard Charles-Noe’ Abouo led the team through a dramatic qualifying campaign.
FIBA World Cup Odds: GROUP B
Argentina ((-120) Odds-to-Win Group B, (+800) Odds-to-Win Gold)
“El Alma Argentina” is a dynamic program full of NBA talent, even reaching a #1 Men’s ranking after the 2008 Olympics.
When Team USA struggled in Athens, it was Argentina that landed the knockout blow to the Americans before beating Italy to mount the highest Olympic podium. (-120) group-winner odds is a slight surprise given the Las Vegas obsession with recent trends, however, as the national squad has hit a rough patch in recent years, finishing 11th place at the 2014 FIBA World Cup and well out of the medals at the 2016 Olympics.
Argentina power-forward Luis Scola is an NBA veteran and a member of the CBA’s Shanghai Sharks. Scola was a steady scoring threat in qualifiers. PG Facundo Campazzo has been a stellar distributor of the rock.
Russia (+145) (+9000)
Sergei Bazarevich took over the Russian team in 2016 after several years of turmoil within the organization. Russia took home bronze at the 2011 EuroBasket and 2012 Olympics but failed to qualify for the 2014 FIBA World Cup or the 2016 Olympics.
Prospects are bright for rapid improvement. Standout guard Alexey Shved has been electric for Khimki of the EuroLeague and VTB United League. 6’9” center Joel Bolomboy earned his way onto multiple NBA rosters before heading to play in Moscow, not altogether unlike former NHL standout Mikhail Grigorenko.
Russia is another lower-risk, higher-payoff Group Stage pick that has an equal or better chance to get through 3 games atop the standings as the nation with the shortest wager of the 4 competing teams.
Nigeria (+600) (+50000)
Head coach Alexander Nwora led the Nigerian national team to a 2nd place finish at the 2017 AfroBasket, which was only a disappointment because Nigeria won the event in 2015. Perhaps those “trends” have made an impact on handicappers as the squad enjoys 6-to-1 odds to finish atop the round-robin.
20-year-old NCAA baller Jordan Nwora was a money man during qualifiers with a 21.7 point and 8 assist average in 3 performances. He’s been OK (ahem) for Louisville too.
Oh, and yes, Nigeria’s skipper is Jordan’s pappy.
South Korea (+15000) (+250000)
Ra Gun-ah (born Ricardo Ratcliffe) has been a sensation for South Korea with a 26.7 point and 12.5 rebound average during FIBA Asian qualifiers.
Former South Korean player Hur Jae took over as head coach in 2016 and will hope to improve on the team’s 23rd place finish at the 2014 FIBA World Cup.
South Korea must open against powerful Argentina at Wuhan Gymnasium on 8/31.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.