As I mentioned last week, Canada's victory at the Tuto Marchand Trophy was only a warm-up to the real deal -- the 2015 FIBA Americas kicked off yesterday in Mexico City.
What Is It?
Every two years, FIBA holds continental tournaments across the World that serve as a qualification tournament for either the FIBA World Cup or the Basketball Tournament at the Olympic Games. USA already qualified from the Americas by virtue of their dominant victory at the FIBA World Cup last year. Brazil also earned an automatic qualification as the host of the Olympic games, but they'll still be participating in the tournament.
Because the USA isn't a part of this tournament, the field is as wide open as it has been in years. At stake are two spots at next year's Olympics, and three further spots into a pre-tournament qualification round prior to the Olympics.
|Group A||Group B|
Each team plays every other team in its group for the round robin stage. A win earns two points, while a loss earns one. The top four teams in each group advance to the next round, and the fifth place team is eliminated. All points obtained against the fifth place team are discarded as the eight teams carry on to the second round. The games are all squeezed together tightly (each team will play eight games between September 1 and 9).
The remaining teams will now face each other cross-group -- i.e. each qualified team from Group A will face all four qualified teams in Group B and vice versa. Keep in mind that the teams' point totals will carry over from Round 1. At the end of Round 2, each team will have faced all seven other teams that got this far. The top four teams then move on to the Final Round.
This round is an elimination bracket with four teams. The two winners of the semifinals move on to the Final, while the two losers play a game for third place. The winner of the Final is crowned the FIBA Americas champion.
Olympic Qualification Seeds:
The top two teams earn a spot in Rio. The next three teams will play in a pre-Olympic qualification tournament. If Brazil is anywhere in the top 5, the next subsequent team gets bumped up a spot since Brazil already has a spot in the Olympic tournament.
Mexico: In front of a raucous home crowd, the Mexicans will be tough to beat. They only have one NBA player on their roster in Jorge Gutierrez, but former NBA player Gustavo Ayon is a monster in this setting. Many of their players have NCAA experience, as well, so don't count them out.
Uruguay: The Uruguayans routinely punch above their weight at the FIBA Americas. They almost always qualify for the second round, and won a medal at the 2007 Pan Am Games. Without stalwart former NBA player Esteban Batista, they'll be in tough this time around. Almost their entire squad is based in the domestic Uruguayan league.
Brazil: They've rested all their NBA players since this tournament is of no consequence for them. We'll skip them for now.
Dominican Republic: This team would've been a problem if they had Al Horford and Karl-Anthony Towns. Alas, they'll only have Francisco Garcia this time around. Still, a lot of their squad plays in competitive leagues in Europe, so they won't be a pushover. They finished fourth last time around, with the same core players in their squad.
Panama: They haven't played a competitive basketball tournament since the FIBA Americas in 2011. For a squad almost entirely based in Central America, it'll be difficult for them to qualify, but I can't profess to knowing much about them.
Venezuela: No General Greivis Vasquez this time around. They'll also be without former Creighton star Gregory Echenique. Former Marquette man David Cubillan and Kobe Bryant's cousin (seriously), John Cox, are absolute studs in the international game. Tough team that beat Canada without Greivis at the 2013 FIBA Americas.
Argentina: This isn't your older brother's Argentina team. Luis Scola is still around and dominant. Andres Nocioni will mix it up. There's no Manu Ginobili and Carlos Delfino, but Guards Facundo Campazzo and Nicolas Laprovittola are Euro League studs that decimated Canada in the pick and roll at the Pan Ams. They'll be there at the end.
Puerto Rico: Coached by Rick Pitino, the Puerto Ricans were finalists at the Tuto Marchand even without star big man Renaldo Balkman. [Ed. Note: Really?] JJ Barea is one of the best guards in the international game, and the squad is physical and scrappy despite their lack of size. Balkman is back for the FIBA tourney though, so expect PR to be tough to beat.
Cuba: Of course, their squad is entirely local and they haven't played in a tournament since the 2011 FIBA Americas, where they finished 10th.
Canada: More later
Why You Should Care
Because this is a Raptors blog and we will be rooting for Team Canada. Canada hasn't played in an Olympics since Steve Nash led the squad to a valiant seventh in Sydney. Canada got off to a hot start at the 2013 FIBA Americas, but gassed out in the second round and lost their final three games. They beat the eventual champions, Mexico, by 25 though, so they had more than enough quality to win against top opposition. With plenty more experience under their belts this time around after a successful Euro tour last year and the Pan Am Gold earlier this summer, there's reason to be optimistic.
This is how Canada's roster shapes up:
PG: Cory Joseph - Phil Scrubb
SG: Nik Stauskas - Brady Heslip
SF: Andrew Wiggins - Melvin Ejim - Aaron Doornekamp
PF: Andrew Nicholson - Anthony Bennett - Dwight Powell
C: Kelly Olynyk - Robert Sacre
Each of these guys has their own story to tell, and as someone who's looked at NorthPoleHoops, CanBallReport and the like for years, it's amazing to see the program so close to taking a real first step to being a power at the international level.
Look at the who's who of names called into the 30-odd man training camp roster back in 2012. Those were the first signs of where Steve Nash and Jay Triano wanted to take this national team. Some of those guys didn't make it. That's okay, that happens. They still had a massive role to play in the development of our men's program. Three years later, it's Canada's chance to make some noise, and end a 16-year wait for an Olympic appearance.
We saw this program finish 22nd out of 24 at the 2010 World Championship. We begged for Samuel Dalembert to don the red and white only to have it all fall apart in a spat with Leo Rautins. After experiencing the lowest of lows, there is light at the end of the tunnel. This is all we could ask for.
Group A: Mexico, Dominican Republic, Brazil, Uruguay, Panama
Group B: Canada, Argentina, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Cuba
After Second Round: Canada, Argentina, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Brazil, Venezuela, Uruguay, Panama, Cuba
Semifinals: Canada d Puerto Rico; Mexico d Argentina
3rd place: Argentina d Puerto Rico
Final: Canada d Mexico
Final Qualification Results:
Olympics: Canada, Mexico
Qualification Tournament: Argentina, Puerto Rico, Mexico