For Americans not following the FIBA World Cup closely, it’s easy to believe that Team USA is the tournament’s only juggernaut. The United States is one of two teams teams that went undefeated in group play, beating its opponents on average by a whopping 33.2 points. Team USA leads the field in points (102.2), rebounds (42.0), assists (23.0), and steals (15.6) per game while shooting a tourney-best 54 percent from the floor. After so much consternation due to the surprising absence of superstars like Kevin Durant and Kevin Love, it’s hard to say the U.S. has missed a beat. But Team USA still might not be World Cup favorites; host nation and United States rival Spain has been just as if not more impressive than the Americans so far.
We’ve already extolled Spain’s oft-breathtaking play in the group stage, but the Brothers Gasol and company deserve all the praise they can get. If this two-way sequence from the United States’ exhibition game against the Dominican Republic encapsulates the identity of USA Basketball, yesterday’s beautiful fast-break in their win over Serbia does the same for the Spanish.
Drool. That’s basketball at its absolute apex, and uncoincidentally, that’s about the level of which Spain has played overall in the World Cup.
Statistics of the Spanish don’t compare to those of the Americans, but that surface-level takeaway denies crucial context. Spain dominated the “Group of Death,” beating teams by an average of 19 points per game, while the United States feasted on cupcakes during pool play. The average world ranking of Spain’s opponents thus far is 19.0; Team USA’s is 27.2.
And a simple eye-test confirms the notion that Spain – performing at its current height – poses more problems for Team USA than initially anticipated. Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka will give Anthony Davis, Kenneth Faried, and DeMarcus Cousins fits on both ends of the floor, an especially concerning likelihood given the Americans’ reliance on interior play in the group stage. The United States’ chief advantage over Spain in the past doesn’t exist this time around, either – this iteration of Team USA lacks wing behemoths like Durant, LeBron James, and Carmelo Anthony its used to exploit the Spanish in recent match-ups.
Given what we’ve seen so far, we’re convinced that Spain is every bit as good as Team USA. On a neutral floor, the seemingly imminent gold medal match-up between the two powers would be a toss-up. But the championship game will be played in Barcelona. The home team, believe it or not, might have a slight advantage.
The knockout portion of the World Cup begins tomorrow. Stay tuned.
Is Spain the World Cup favorite?
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