DONGGUAN, CHINA — The United States Mens National Team has arrived at the knockout rounds of the FIBA World Cup. Thirty-two teams were whittled down to eight for a single-elimination tournament in which a few teams have a legit chance of winning the whole thing.
For evidence that anything can happen in a 40-minute game, witness Argentinas win over Serbia in Tuesdays quarterfinal. Come Wednesday at 7 a.m. ET, the U.S. will face a must-win situation for the first time in this tournament (much like Serbia did on Tuesday).
2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup group standings, schedule: Team USA prepares for quarterfinal action
Although they have yet to face elimination — and there will be no easing into this tournament — the Americans feel ready for the quarterfinals because theyve taken every game as critical.
FIBA World Cup: Draw me like one of your French national teams
“Thats sort of been our approach from the get-go,” Joe Harris said after the conclusion of pool play on Monday. “[USA coach Gregg Popovich] talked about this is June basketball. Thats what our mentalitys got to be like. Each time we prepare for a team and play, it has to be with that sense of urgency.”
France presents serious challenges on both ends of the floor. And though theyre anchored by two-time reigning Kia Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, the French have had more success on offense. Through pool play, the French ranked second in the World Cup offensively, having scored an estimated 123 points per 100 possessions.
We explained it in Mondays newsletter, but a refresher: eight teams get in, the four lowest seeds pair off for elimination games, the winners face the Nos. 3 and 4 seeds for additional elimination games, then with the remaining four clubs its best-of-five series all the way down. In other words, its a four-team best-of-five tournament with two rounds of play-in games to get there.
The last time these two nations met on the international stage (in a non-elimination, pool play at the 2016 Olympics), France shot 56 percent and the U.S. escaped with a three-point win.
France has three main ball-handlers — Nicolas Batum, Nando De Colo and Evan Fournier — who can create offense. Fournier (31) and De Colo (26) combined for 57 points in Frances loss to Australia on Monday.
“Theyre sort of similar to us in that regard,” Harris said, “where they have guys that can beat you off the bounce, make plays for themselves and for other guys.”
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In regard to ball movement, France (which has assisted on 64 percent of its field goals) is closer to the U.S. (61 percent) than it is to Australia (78 percent) or Spain (77 percent). The Americans rank 18th at the World Cup in 3-point percentage (32.7 percent) while France ranks first (47.4 percent), which makes containing the dribble and avoiding rotations all the more critical.
France hasnt played any zone defense at World Cup, but that doesnt mean that they wont play any zone on Wednesday. Given their size (they start five guys 6-foot-6 or taller), the French would be able to extend that zone out high. The United States struggled against the zone in its overtime win against Turkey in its second World Cup game, but has improved its execution in its three games since.
Whether the French are playing zone or man-to-man defense, getting all the way to the rim will be difficult for the Americans in their half-court offense. The 7-foot-1 Gobert would prefer to hang back in the paint on pick-and-rolls. That means Kemba Walker and Donovan Mitchell will have pull-up opportunities at the elbows, and the screener will have pick-and-pop looks from the perimeter. Australias Aron Baynes shot 5-for-6 from 3-point range against France on Monday.
Myles Turner has attempted just three 3-pointers in 98 minutes at the World Cup. Brook Lopez, meanwhile, has shot just 2-for-12 from beyond the arc. Turner will start Wednesday, but it will be interesting to see how quickly (and for how long) the U.S. goes to a small-ball lineup with Harrison Barnes at center.
The U.S. has had better numbers, particularly on offense, playing small (plus-35 points per 100 possessions in 72 minutes) than its been with a center on the floor (plus-18), even though none of those small-ball minutes came in its 53-point win over Japan.
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Barnes has had some issues defending centers in the low post, but Gobert is not a post-up center. France also ranks 29th out of 32 teams at the World Cup in offensive rebounding percentage, so they wouldnt necessarily crush a smaller U.S. lineup on the glass.
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The matchup provides a unique opportunity for Mitchell, who will face Gobert (his Utah Jazz teammate) for the first time in international competition.
“Theres going to be a lot of trash talk for sure,” Mitchell said Monday. “I think that makes this fun, being able to compete against your teammates in a setting outside of the NBA. For me, Ive heard so much about FIBA basketball, heard so much about the last time France played the USA, when they played Spain with Ricky [Rubio], when they played against Australia.
“Im excited. Hes a hell of a player. He won Defensive Player of the Year for a reason. I think guys know that and Im going to try to give them as much info as possible.”
A return from Jayson Tatum, who has missed the last three games with a left ankle injury, would give the U.S. some more small-ball versatility, as well as another attacker off the dribble. As of Monday morning, Tatum didnt sound confident that hed be back for the quarterfinal.
Collectively, the Americans sound more confident with each passing game. Of course, few of them have been in a international elimination game that goes down to the wire.
“This is what we came here for,” Khris Middleton said. “This is what were playing on this team for, these type of games, these type of moments.”
John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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The 2019 FIBA World Cup is barreling toward the finish line as the quarterfinals are officially underway, and as the second-most prestigious international basketball tournament in the world, it should qualify as appointment viewing for any fan of the game interested in worldwide competition or the superstars who will comprise most of the rosters.
This year, the tournament takes place in China, which means that games are being played at unusual hours for American viewers. So for the sake of clarity, lets dive into how the tournament works, when the games will be played, and what the results will mean for these teams moving forward.
A total of 12 teams will participate in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Japan is automatically qualified for the Summer Olympics as the host nation, leaving only 11 spots left to fill. Seven of those 11 spots will be filled in China at the 2019 FIBA World Cup. Heres how each region can qualify directly from the World Cup:
Only four spots will remain available after the World Cup. Four teams will book their tickets to Tokyo at the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournaments in July of 2020.
From this point onward, the World Cup is a single-elimination tournament. Once a team loses, it is out, though it can still qualify for Olympic bids through third- and fifth-place games depending on the performance of other teams in its region.
The groups for the second group stage are determined by the results for the first round. The top two teams from Groups A and B share Group I, Groups C and D share group J, Groups E and F share group K and Groups G and H share Group L. Once the groupings have been determined, each team plays the two teams in their group that they have not yet faced once. The top two teams from each new group advance to the single-elimination knockout stage.
The tournament began with 32 teams divided into eight groups. Each team within each group played each other once. The top two teams from each group advanced into the second group stage. If multiple teams finish tied with identical records, then the first tiebreaker is their head-to-head record against one another in the tournament, and if that doesnt settle the tie, then point differential against one another, followed by overall point differential, are used next.
Sam Quinn joined CBS sports as a basketball writer in 2019. Prior to that, he wrote for 247Sports and Bleacher Report. He is a New York native and NYU graduate who also has roots in Florida and California. Full Bio