2019 FIBA World Cup Group F Preview
Enzo Flojo on Aug 29, 2019 10:10 AM
Greece's Giannis Antetokounmpo, of the Milwaukee Bucks, eyes the ball following a dunk, during a game against Italy at the Acropolis basketball tournament at the indoor Olympic stadium of Athens, Friday, Aug. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)
With just two days 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.
In this piece, we'll break Group F down. All of the group's fixtures will be hosted in the second largest city of China's East Region, Nanjing. We have the Greek Freak, the Brazilian Blur, Vooch Island, and the Tall Blacks' Haka. It's gonna be a crazy fun group.
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.
The big Group F question is this: can anyone really even matchup with Giannis Antetokounmpo? The correct answer is NONE. Giannis will dominate this group, and consequently, Greece will dominate this group. Hellas will be powered by the NBA Most Valuable Player. Let that sink in. No NBA reigning MVP has ever played at the same year's World Cup till now. KD bailed in 2014. LBJ did the same in 2010. Tim Duncan wasn't around in 2002. So on and so forth as far back as 1994, when NBA players debuted in the World Cup.
Backing Giannis up will be older brother Thanasis along with former NBA guard Nick Calathes and veterans like Ioannis Bourousis and Georgios Printezis. This is a solid Greek quintet. Solid enough to win Group F? For sure. Solid enough to win it all? We'll see.
The Brazilians have been impressive of late, winning 2 of their last 3 tune-up games -- wins over Argentina and Montenegro sandwiching a loss to France. This is also among the most experienced team in the entire field, with Anderson Varejao, Leandro Barbosa, and Alex Garcia all playing in their fifth -- yes fifth -- World Cup. All three started in the 2002 World Cup in Indianapolis, and all three have played in every World Cup since.
Are they in the twilight of their respective careers? Of course, but that will drive them to leave everything on the floor as Brazil aim to match or even improve upon their 6th place finish five years ago in Spain. Other guys to watch include Vitor Benite of Club Baloncesto Miraflores and Marcelinho Huertas of Saski Baskonia.
Dark Horse: Montenegro
This will be Nikola Vucevic's team to lead. The 7 foot Orlando Magic slotman will carry this Montenegrin squad as far as he can, though, honestly, that doesn't necessarily mean past the group stage. The 28-year-old NBA All-Star is plenty tough to handle, yes, but his supporting cast leaves much room for improvement.
Yes, there's Milko Bjelica of Toyota Alvark, Bojan Dubljevic of Valencia Basket Club, and Petar Popovic of KK Buducnost Voli, but when ranged against the depth of Greece and Brazil, Montenegro will just be extremely challenged. It's not impossible for them to advance, but they are surely not going to be favored to do so.
Underdog: New Zealand
We would all have loved to see Steven "Aquaman" Adams suit up for the Tall Blacks, but even without him, the Kiwis are solid, as proven by their fresh win over Italy in Anshan after being competitive in a loss to Serbia the night before. Who will lead this team? Expect the Webster brothers (Corey and Tai) to be at the forefront, with veterans Isaac Fotu and Tom Abercrombie sure to help in big ways. Even then, however, it'll be very difficult for coach Paul Henare to steer this team beyond the group stage.
Overall, Greece should sweep this group, and Giannis should give notice that he's a man on a mission. Brazil will be the favorites to join Hellas in the next round, but both Montenegro and New Zealand have the talents to potentially make things interesting.