The FIBA World Cup format can be quite convoluted to follow, especially for American fans and even Team USA players themselves. Unlike the linear bracket format they are accustomed to, the World Cup format poses unique challenges. It is crucial to understand that the most significant games of the tournament have already begun.
If Team USA manages to defeat Montenegro on Friday, they will essentially secure a spot in the quarterfinals next week. However, a loss to Montenegro doesn’t necessarily eliminate the U.S. from the tournament, but it could have detrimental consequences for their positioning and potentially trigger a series of tiebreakers. To solidify their position, Team USA needs to secure victories over Montenegro and Lithuania to complete the second round.
By winning the upcoming matches against Montenegro and Lithuania, Team USA will essentially secure the de facto No. 1 seed heading into the quarterfinals. This not only guarantees a more favorable spot in the bracket but also provides the team with valuable rest between the quarterfinals and the semifinals.
Team USA coach Steve Kerr emphasized the importance of winning both games during a recent film session with the team. The players are fully aware of the significance and are determined to put themselves in an advantageous position.
As the tournament progresses, the level of competition naturally becomes more challenging. Montenegro, led by Chicago Bulls center Nikola Vucevic, has proven to be a formidable opponent. Vucevic has been exceptional in the World Cup, averaging 20.7 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game. Additionally, Montenegro possesses a strong backcourt led by American-born point guard Kendrick Perry.
Lithuania, on the other hand, is led by New Orleans Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas. Valanciunas has been a force on the court, averaging 13.7 points and 10 rebounds per game. His expertise in drawing fouls on the interior poses a unique challenge for Team USA. The Lithuanian team boasts a massive front line and currently leads the World Cup in rebounding.
In anticipation of the upcoming matches, Coach Kerr has experimented with different lineups, opting for larger lineups against Jordan. This strategic choice aims to neutralize the size advantage of their opponents. Despite the potential height disadvantage, Josh Hart has been a standout player, especially in rebounding. His strength and tenacity compensate for any height discrepancies, as he is accustomed to guarding larger players in the NBA.
Kerr has expressed his satisfaction with the new lineup, particularly the shift of Brandon Ingram to the second unit. This adjustment has resulted in a smoother game flow, benefiting both the team and Ingram himself. Ingram, who had not come off the bench since his rookie season, embraced the change and delivered an impressive performance with five assists and seven points in just 15 minutes of play.
Ingram expressed his excitement for the opportunity and felt comfortable in his new role. The adjustment allowed him to handle the ball more and operate in open spaces, showcasing his versatility and contributing to the team’s success.
As Team USA navigates the complexities of the FIBA World Cup format, they remain focused on their ultimate goal. The players are motivated to secure their spot in the quarterfinals and strive for the No. 1 seed. With their dedication, preparation, and willingness to adapt, Team USA is determined to excel on the international stage.
The journey towards the FIBA World Cup title continues, and Team USA is poised to overcome any obstacles that come their way.