Group play is over, and 16 teams have advanced to the elimination rounds of the FIBA World Championship in Turkey. A tournament already full of surprises should have some more in store. And, so far, more questions have been raised than answered. John Galinsky asks and answers five of them.
Who is blocking Team USA's path?
By going undefeated in group play, the U.S. got a relatively easy draw for the next two rounds. First up Monday is Angola, possibly the worst team left judging by its 50-point loss to Serbia. The Russia-New Zealand winner awaits in Thursday's quarterfinal; neither has an NBA player or is in the top 12 of the FIBA world rankings. In other words, Team USA should cruise into the semifinals.
Is this tournament watered down?
In terms of talent, yes. Many of the world's best players aren't participating. That includes all of the Team USA 2008 gold medalists, but also key players on each of the other contenders. If anything, the Americans are best equipped to handle those absences because of their depth in the national program. Spain, the defending champion, has struggled without Pau Gasol and Jose Calderon. Argentina, the No. 1 team in the FIBA rankings, misses Manu Ginobili and Andres Nocioni. The winners will be anointed world champions, but it's not like they'll need to be true world-beaters.
Who is the tourney's top player?
Kevin Durant is probably the best player in Turkey right now. After all, he finished No. 2 in the NBA MVP voting and hasn't disappointed for Team USA, averaging 17.8 points in 24 minutes per game. The tournament's most dominant player, however, is Argentina forward Luis Scola, who has scored at least 30 points in four of five games and is averaging 29 points while shooting 60 percent from the field. Scola is coming off a breakout season for the Rockets but has long been a big-time scorer in international play. He could expose the Americans' weak interior defense if the teams meet in the semifinals.
Which team is the biggest surprise?
The home team has been the best story of the tourney, with Turkey, egged on by its passionate fans, going undefeated in group play. But that isn't nearly as surprising as Lithuania's 5-0 start, which includes a 76-73 upset of Spain and a 14-point trouncing of France. Linas Kleiza (pictured), a journeyman NBA player, is the team's star, averaging 17.4 points and 6.8 rebounds. But the roster is full of superb shooters and hard-to-spell names like Martynas Andriuskevicius. They could face Team USA in the semifinals.
Will Team USA be golden?
Much has been made of the Americans' "B" roster, their narrow escape from Brazil and their inconsistent play so far in the tournament. But you know what? No other team has looked better. Turkey and Lithuania, the other unbeatens, aren't highly regarded. Spain and Argentina, expected to be Team USA's biggest threats, have proved vulnerable without some of their best players. With the most talent and depth by far, the U.S. has an excellent shot at winning this thing for the first time since 1994.