The rebranded 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup begins August 31, expanding from 24 nations to 32. Said countries are split into eight groups that feature four teams apiece.
The two that finish with the best record move on to the knockout round, while the other two enter a loser’s bracket with fifth place on the line. The tournament is being held in China and will crown a champion—with the added bonus of seven countries securing a spot in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
In the leadup to the tournament, we’re previewing each group, continuing with Group B. (See Group A here.)
ARGENTINA (FIBA WORLD RANK: 5)
The Argentinian National Team was the first to show the rest of the world that the Americans could be beaten, pulling off that famous 2004 upset in the semifinals of the Athens Olympics.
The South Americans were powered by future Hall of Famer Manu Ginobili and the rest of the golden generation (Carlos Delfino, Andres Nocioni, Fabricio Oberto, and Luis Scola), all of whom saw notable NBA time.
Fast forward to today and only 39-year-old Scola remains a part of this group. He is still a handful for opposing defenders, efficient scoring around the basket and equipped with an array of fakes and pivots around the rim. In the 15 years since bringing home the gold medal, Argentina has medaled only one other time—winning bronze during the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Still, a new stable of players that looked up to the golden generation has kept Argentina among the elite, as evidenced by their FIBA Rank.
Nicolás Brussino, Facundo Campazzo and Nicolás Laprovíttola form a three-headed monster for the modern squad. Brussino had a brief stay with the Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks as a shooting wing. Meanwhile, the other two split duties at the point guard spot: Campazzo is more facilitator and Laprovíttola has a knack for putting the ball in the basket.
Argentina’s strength is continuity. There are 10 members on the roster that also played at AmeriBasket in 2017. Their head coach, Sergio Hernández has been in charge since 2015.
Anything less than qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics would be deemed a failure. This is a scrappy group who won’t be outworked in any game they play.
KOREA (FIBA WORLD RANK: 32)
The Korean National Team finished second to New Zealand in World Cup qualification to earn their spot. They aren’t as dominant as China but they consistently put themselves on the medal stand in FIBA Asia events.
However, their global accomplishments haven’t been as pronounced as what they’ve been able to do on their continent. They last made the Olympics in 1996 and haven’t been to this tournament since 2013 where they finished 23rd. The recent improvements of other West Asian countries—Lebanon, Jordan and Qatar, specifically—has provided stingier competition there as well.
All 12 players selected are in the Korean Basketball League (KBL), and they bring back every player from their qualifying roster. With a nucleus cemented, the hope is that familiarity breeds success.
Leading them will be Ricardo Ratliffe. Born in America, he attended JUCO—where he was a two-time First-team All-American—before transferring to Missouri. After graduating, he began playing professionally in South Korea and was a naturalized citizen by 2018. The 6’8” big man averaged a double-double (24.2 points and 13.9 rebounds) in the KBL.
The current members hope they can get the country’s first win at the World Cup since 1994. It won’t be an easy task as they are part of one of the tougher groups.
NIGERIA (FIBA WORLD RANK: 33)
The Nigerian National Team remains the only African nation to ever qualify for the Summer Olympics. They made the 2012 London games and beat the likes of Lithuania and Greece. They made it again in 2016 and saw their FIBA World Rank Jump all the way up to 16.
Since then, the country has only collected a silver medal at 2017 AfroBasket, and their ranking has receded. The World Cup provides them with an opportunity to rejoin the upper echelon of global basketball.
Frequent contributors Al-Farouq Aminu, Ike Diogu, Ekpe Udoh, and Benjamin Uzoh are back, bringing size, athleticism and NBA experience. Nigeria can be a force defensively when things are clicking.
Newcomers Chimezie Metu, Jordan Nwora and Josh Okogie also provide needed reinforcements and youth to the old guard. Metu (San Antonio Spurs) and Okogie (Minnesota Timberwolves) have a few seasons in the NBA, and Nwora was named the ACC Most-Improved Player last year.
Nigeria’s current ranking isn’t a reflection of the talent it can put on the floor, and that’s even when missing players like Festus Ezeli, David Nwaba, Semi Ojeleye, Miye Oni, KZ Okpala, and Chuma Okeke, who will all sit out.
There is a very real chance that they not only make it out of this group but have an extended run during the knockout stage. Qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics could mean Nigeria finally fielding a full roster, something the world has yet to see.
RUSSIA (FIBA WORLD RANK: 10)
The Russian National Team was dealt a major blow when Alexey Shved was ruled out for the competition with a foot injury. The EuroLeague All-Star can single-handedly power this squad, but without him, they must find new ways to achieve their goals.
Andrei Kirilenko retired from international basketball, and Timofey Mozgov was cut from the preliminary roster due to a knee injury, so this was already going to be a brand new look for the nation during this event
Replacing Shved won’t be easy, but 21-year-old Grigory Motovilov hopes to replicate his performance for the Russian youth squads (18.4 points per game on 43.5 3-point percentage at the 2018 u20 European Championships) now that he’s playing with the big boys.
The new star will be forward Sergey Karasev. Big things were expected of him after being taken 19th overall in the 2013 NBA Draft. He remained in the NBA until 2016 but has since played for Zenit St. Petersburg and Khimki of the VTB United League and EuroLeague.
Injuries have hampered him, but he now gets a chance to remind everyone why he was so highly thought of as a youngster.
Things should go smoothly if everyone is able to gel in their new roles.
Russia clearly looked like a top contender when the assignments were first announced. Failing to get out of the group stage would be less than ideal. Health has stripped them of their two best players but advancing to the knockout round is still expected.