World Championship: Group C preview
This collection of quality teams has been called the Group of Death. But only four of the six teams can advance to the second round. 2006 FIBA World Championship runner-up Greece appears to be the favorite, but spots 2-4 won't be easy to decide. Host Turkey and Puerto Rico appear to be locks to advance. But don't count out Russia and China, which can surprise if their opening-round rivals stumble.
Coach: Bob Donewald Jr.
Key players: Yi Jianlian, Liu Wei
Analysis: China is the classic example of a team that loses its identity and power with the absence of one player -- in this case Yao Ming.
Its road to the worlds has been full of disappointments. China has failed to earn an Asia-region gold medal in two classifying tournaments, the most recent of which came at home in 2009.
The team's top gun is the Washington Wizards' Yi Jianlian. But in a recent friendly in New York, he looked under par, and the Chinese were beaten by Puerto Rico.
The only thing that can keep China in contention is its outside shooting. If it comes in sharp, you can expect a tough game. But if its showing in New York is an indication of what lies ahead, it will be a rocky road.
Liu Wei and Wang Shipeng can take over part of the offensive burden and keep the Chinese close in this round, but it will be extremely difficult to move on unless one of the favorites stumbles.
Coach: Randoald Dessarzin
Key players: Alain Digbeu, Pape-Philippe Amagou
Analysis: The last time the Ivory Coast played in a FIBA World Championship was 1986, in Spain. On that occasion, it lost all five games it played.
Will it be any different this time? It's possible, but this tough group will make things very difficult for the Elephants, as they like to call themselves.
Alain Digbeu, born in France but of Ivory Coast descent, was expected to lead a team that basically depends on him and Pape-Phillipe Amagou to generate offense. But it is uncertain at this time whether he will join the team in Turkey.
The Elephants' main problems lie in the frontcourt. Center Mohamed Kone is still developing as a player, but his height (6-foot-11) can cause headaches for teams like Turkey and Puerto Rico.
Coach: Jonas Kazlauskas
Key players: Sofoklis Schortsanitis, Vassilis Spanoulis, Dimitris Diamantidis
Analysis: It should come as no surprise that Greece is the favorite in this group.
In addition to being the runner-up to Spain in the past FIBA World Championship, the Greeks have one of the best professional leagues in the world; squads like Euroleague runner-up Olympiacos always claim the top spots in European basketball.
It has perhaps the top front line in the tournament with players like Sofoklis "Baby Shaq" Schortsanitis, and guards Vassilis Spanoulis and Dimitris Diamantidis form a formidable backcourt. Taking out any individual performances, Greece plays extremely well as a unit and has excellent outside shooters at all positions.
Schortsanitis and captain Antonis Fotsis will be suspended for two games as a result of their roles in a brawl during a friendly against Serbia last week. However, this should not affect Greece's chances of advancing (but could come into play in its second game against Puerto Rico).
Greece is also one of the few teams that, after the suspensions are served, will have all its top players for the tournament, with no major injuries to date. Want to add another advantage for the Greeks? Besides host Turkey, they are playing closer to home than any other team.
Coach: David Blatt
Key players: Anton Ponkrashov, Andrey Vorontsevich
Analysis: Russia is one of the four wild-card teams in the FIBA World Championship, as it was one win short of making it outright.
Russia is undergoing a rebuilding process after the loss of various veteran players, as the likes of Utah Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko and Viktor Khryapa among others will not be present.
But the Russians still have a big gun in Anton Ponkrashov, a 6-7 guard who can play point. If sharp, he can cause many problems for opponents. However, his instability and inefficiency can make him a problem instead of an asset.
He will be supported by Andrey Vorontsevich and new Knick Timofey Mozgov, who round out the starting five with Sasha Kaun.
Coach: Manolo Cintron
Key figures: Jose Juan Barea, Carlos Arroyo, Peter John Ramos
Analysis: Even though it doesn't figure to be one of the favorites, Puerto Rico could become one of the Cinderella stories of the FIBA World Championship.
In a tournament devoid of some of the world's top players, the Puerto Rican team, which finished runner-up to Brazil in the 2009 FIBA Americas Championship, comes to Turkey with what it considers one of the best teams in its history.
Led by Carlos Arroyo and Jose Juan Barea -- two of its NBA players (Denver's Renaldo Balkman is the third) -- Puerto Rico has the ability to keep up with most of the elite teams. In former Washington Wizards reserve Peter John Ramos, it has a scoring center who is not an outstanding rebounder. Thus, Puerto Rico will depend on its forwards to do most of the dirty work under the boards.
The road to Turkey has been rocky, as Puerto Rico lost one of its main offensive guns, Elias Ayuso, just before heading to Europe.
Still, hopes are high. "This is a world-class team," coach Manolo Cintron said recently.
But Cintron, a top motivator who has excellent relationships with his players, also has come under fire for not being a tactical coach.
Coach: Bogdan Tanjevic
Key figures: Hedo Turkoglu, Ersan Ilyasova
Analysis: In addition to the quality of its players, Turkey will have an advantage no other country can match: It is the home team.
Led by the Suns' Hedo Turkoglu and the Bucks' Ersan Ilyasova, Turkey plays a typical FIBA-style game: physical with constant penetration to the basket. But the absence of the Jazz's Mehmet Okur forces all the offensive burden on its two remaining NBA players.
Turkoglu is coming off a subpar NBA season with the Toronto Raptors, and his play has been inconsistent during preparation for the tournament. But the boost from the sixth man in the stands will give Turkey the extra edge that should vault it into the second round. The team may have to depend on favorable seeding to get it any further.