2019 FIBA World Cup Group A Preview

Enzo Flojo on Aug 25, 2019 03:20 PM
2019 FIBA World Cup Group A Preview
Host China is the favorite to advance from Group A of the 2019 FIBA World Cup (photo courtesy of FIBA.com)

With just about a week to go before action tips off at the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup in eight different Chinese cities, it's time to look at each of the groups, gauge the teams' respective depths, and project how they will fare on the biggest stage of international basketball.

Let's begin with Group A, which will be hosted in the Chinese capital of Beijing, where host team China seem to be in a prime position to have a strong start to their tournament. 

(Note: In each of these group previews, the teams will essentially be ranked based on their confirmed rosters/pools and their most recent tune-up game results.)

Favorite: China

The home team has been on a hot streak in their tune-up games highlighted by wins over Puerto Rico and Angola and a stint in the NBA Summer League. Prolific guars Guo Ailun is expected to be among the most explosive backcourt players in this group, but China's main strength lies in their size, what with the "Walking Great Wall" trio of Yi Jianlian, Zhou Qi, and Wang Zhelin anchoring their frontline.

The draw has also been quite favorable to the host country, with no team higher than 20th in the FIBA World Rankings joining them in the group. With homecourt advantage, unmatched size, and their drive to match or eclipse their 8th place finish in 1994, China is a cinch to be the odds-on favorite to top Group A in Beijing.


Contender: Poland

It has been 52 years since Poland last played at the FIBA World Cup, and just making it this far has already been a momentous achievement for the country ranked 25th in the world. Most people probably won't be familiar with many of the names on coach Arkadlusz Miloszewski's squad, especially with "Polish Hammer" Marcin Gortat once again being unavailable as well as former NBA big man Maciej Lampe.

A trio of names to watch, however, are Mateusz Ponitka of Zenit Saint Petersburg, Adam Waczynski of Unicaja Baloncesto Malaga, and naturalized player AJ Slaughter of Real Betis Energía Plus. The 6'6" Ponitka saw action in every Qualifiers game for the Poles, oftentimes being their most potent offensive threat. Waczynski, for his part, is an explosive scorer who's a Euroleague veteran and can really knock those threes down in succession. Slaughter, who was actually teammates with our very own Japeth Aguilar at Western Kentucky, has been an international hoops journeyman with stops in France, Greece, and Spain. He is expected to be Poland's primary playmaker. 


Dark Horse: Venezuela

Venezuela is counted as a strong basketball nation in the Americas, but they haven't had much luck on the world stage, with their last World Cup appearance in 2006. They were impressive in the 2016 Rio Olympics, though, finishing in the top 10 with a win over China. Right now, though, they haven't been fortunate in terms of their preparations, with off-court issues seemingly hounding the national team at every turn.

Still, if Venezuela manages to get its act together, they have a potent pool of players that can still potentially run the table in Group A. At the forefront of that will be power forward Nestor Colmenares, who has been as dedicated to the national cause as can be. He is a workhorse in the paint and will be tough to guard together with 6'11" froncourt partner Gregory Echenique, who, when healthy, is a double-double machine. The Vargas boys -- Jose and Gregory -- are also impact players for this team, and they showed that in their 81-74 win over Senegal in a tune-up game at the Suzhou International Basketball Challenge.


Underdog: Cote d'Ivoire

The Ivorians haven't done so well in their preparation matches for the World Cup, losing big to Italy last month in Trento and then failing to notch a win at the recent Torneo de Malaga against Spain and the Philippines. Despite this being their fourth World Cup appearance, the Ivorians are also coming in without much fanfare and depth. They are currently the lowest ranked team in FIBA's Power Rankings, and like Venezuela, much of it also has to do with off-court issues. 

On the hardwood, though, there are some notable names for Cote d'Ivoire, like Souleyman Diabate, Charles Abouo, and naturalized player Deon Thompson. Diabate, who plays for SLUC Nancy Basket in France, was the Ivorians' main floor general in the Qualifiers, averaging 4.2 assists per game, while Abouo, who plies his trade for ADA Blois Basket 41 also in France, was their best scorer at 11.1 points per game. Reinforcing the team will be the 6'8 Thompson, who is Waczynski's teammate at Unicaja Baloncesto Malaga and should add to Cote d'Ivoire's relatively shallow frontcourt. 

Overall, this group is China's to top, barring any unforeseen obstacles and unless they get blindsided by explosive performances from the other squads. Poland should advance as well, that is unless Venezuela finds a higher gear as the World Cup begins. 

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