BASKETBALL Preview: U.S. favored over Serbia, Greece and Spain in 18th FIBA World Cup

What used to be called the FIBA World Championship is now the FIBA World Cup and after a five-year hiatus, will be played in China beginning on Saturday and over the following two weeks to (1) crown the World Champion in men’s international basketball and (2) qualify seven teams for the 2020 Olympic tournament in Tokyo.

This is the 18th edition of the World Championships – from 1950 to 2010 – now World Cup – beginning in 2014 – and the competition was moved to the year between the FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games to try and make it a bigger player on the international stage.

One way to do that is to place the tournament in basketball-mad China, which will host for the first time, and is the third time the event has been in Asia: it was previously in the Philippines in 1978 and Japan in 2006. The games will be played in eight cities:

● Beijing: Wukesong Arena (18,000) ~ Group A
● Shanghai: Shanghai Oriental Sports Center (18,000) ~ Group E
● Nanjing: Nanjing Youth Olympic Sports Park Gymnasium (19,614) ~ Group F
● Wuhan: Wuhan Gymnastics (11,700) ~ Group B
● Dongguan: Dongguan Cultural and Sports Centre (16,000) ~ Group H
● Guangzhou: Guangzhou Gymnasium (11,609) ~ Group C
● Foshan: Foshan Int’l Sports & Cultural Arena (14,700) ~ Group D
● Shenzhen: Shenzhen Bay Sports Centre (12,381) ~ Group G

The tournament has been expanded from 24 to 32 teams, which will make for some lopsided games in the group stage. The eight groups (with FIBA world rankings):

● A: Cote d’Ivoire (64), Poland (25), Venezuela (20), China (30)
● B: Russia (10), Argentina (5), South Korea (32), Nigeria (33)
● C: Spain (2), Iran (27), Puerto Rico (16), Tunisia (51)
● D: Angola (39), Philippines (31), Italy (13), Serbia (4)
● E: United States (1), Turkey (17), Czech Republic, Japan (48)
● F: Greece (8), New Zealand (38), Brazil (12), Montenegro (28)
● G: France (3), Dominican Republic (18), Germany (22), Jordan (49)
● H: Australia (11), Lithuania (6), Canada (23), Senegal (37)

The U.S. stars who passed on playing for the American teams have been well documented, but there is plenty to watch with Giannis Antetokounmpo – the NBA Most Valuable Player for Milwaukee – headlining the Greek team and many other NBA players on Australia, Serbia and other squads.

The American schedule starts on Sunday (1) vs. the Czech Republic, followed on Tuesday (3) vs. Turkey and on Thursday (5) against Japan.

Group play continues to 5 September, with the top two teams advancing to the second round, in four new groups. The top two teams in each group will head to the quarterfinals on 10-11 September. The semis will be on 13 September and the medal matches on the 15th.

The United States is the heavy favorite, even after a close loss to Australia in one of its exhibition games – played in Melbourne in front of 52,079 screaming fans – with Serbia the next choice. The favorites, per Bet365:

● 11/20 ~ United States
● 16/5 ~ Serbia
● 11/1 ~ Greece
● 14/1 ~ Spain
● 25/1 ~ France
● 33/1 ~ Australia
● 40/1 ~ Lithuania
● 90/1 ~ Argentina

The longest odds are at 1,500/1 for the Philippines, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, Venezuela, Jordan, South Korea and Angola.

The games will be streamed on ESPN+ in the U.S. Look for results here.

For many years, the U.S. didn’t care much about the FIBA World Championship, even after finishing second, first and second in the first three editions in 1950-54-59. The U.S. didn’t make the championship final again until 1982, but has done better since. The U.S. won in 1986-94-2010-14 and won bronze medals in 1998 and 2006. All together, the U.S. has five titles, three silvers and four bronzes for 12 medals in 17 tournaments.

The five championships for the U.S. are the most, along with Yugoslavia (1970-78-90-98-2002), followed by the USSR (3), Brazil (2) and one each for Argentina and Spain.