Commentary

Group B: Brazil is biggest challenge to USA

Originally Published: August 21, 2007
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

Tournament of the Americas: Group A | Group B

In assessing Group B along the overall scheme of the tournament, you have to assume the United States will go 8-0 in first- and second-round play.

So the task for the other good teams in this group -- Brazil and Canada -- is to come through opening-round play with a 3-1 record to increase their chances of finishing second or third overall at the end of the second round. That's because no one wants to be fourth after the second round, since in all likelihood that would mean a semifinal matchup with the United States when one of the two Olympic berths will be at stake.

Here's a breakdown of the five teams in Group B:


     United States of America

Kobe Bryant
Bryant

Coach Mike Krzyzewski has named three of his five starters: Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. Throw in a point guard, and that leaves just one spot for a big man.

That small lineup will be plenty against nearly everyone in this tournament, but the team's overall lack of height could become an issue against Brazil -- and again in Beijing next summer unless it is addressed by then. Compared to last year's World Championship entry, this team has better shooters (Mike Miller, Michael Redd) and better point guards (Jason Kidd, Chauncey Billups).


     Brazil

This is likely the only team with a snowball's chance in hell of giving the Americans a 40-minute battle.

Leandro Barbosa
Barbosa
Nene Hilario
Nene

The Brazilians are led by NBA players Nene and Leandro Barbosa, but will be without two other NBA players Anderson Varejao of Cleveland and Rafael Araujo of Utah, whose unresolved contract situations make it too big of a risk for them to represent their national team.

Varejao and Araujo could have given the Brazilians a sizeable height advantage over the United States, which plans to go small against most opponents.

The best non-NBA players for Brazil, which recently won its third consecutive Pan American Games championship, are Tiago Splitter (the Spurs' 2007 draft pick) and Marcelo Machado.


     Canada

Samuel Dalembert
Dalembert
After failing to qualify for the World Championship in 2006, the Canadian federation replaced longtime national coach Jay Triano (now an assistant coach with Team USA) with Leo Rautins.

Rautins was successful in getting NBA center Samuel Dalembert to play in the tournament, but he had no such luck with fellow Canadians Steve Nash and Jamaal Magloire.

One player to watch is Pitt graduate Levon Kendall of Vancouver, who scored 40 points for Canada's junior national team in an upset victory over the U.S. two years ago.


     U.S. Virgin Islands

Raja Bell
Bell
After finishing a disappointing eighth at the Pan American Games earlier this summer, the U.S. Virgin Islands could have trouble making it out of the first round even though four of five teams advance to the second round in each group.

Their only NBA player is Raja Bell, who will presumably get to resume his one-on-one rivalry with Kobe Bryant.

The second-best player is point guard Kevin Sheppard, who played college ball in the U.S. for Jacksonville University.


     Venezuela

David Cubillan
Cubillan
They were expecting to be the home team for this tournament before it was moved to Las Vegas following Team USA's bronze-medal finish in Japan last summer.

Keep an eye on 3-point shooter David Cubillan, who plays college ball in the U.S. for Marquette. Also, don't expect the Venezuelans to look particularly sharp in their opener against the U.S. on Wednesday night, as the team is due to arrive in Las Vegas just 27 hours prior to tip-off.

Tournament of the Americas: Group A | Group B

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.