Credit: BNS, FIBA, Reuters - Scanpix | BasketNews illustration/A.Zaikauskas
Credit BNS, FIBA, Reuters - Scanpix | BasketNews illustration/A.Zaikauskas

Group C of the Olympic Basketball Tournament involves Argentina, Japan, Spain, and Slovenia, in alphabetical order. When it comes to predictions and power rakings, the scenery is reversed. Spain and Slovenia almost look like insurmountable obstacles for every other team in the tournament. However, there are some factors to be reckoned with.

Spain's roster may have the talent and experience to compete with anyone in the world, but key players like the Gasol brothers, Sergio Llull, Sergio Rodriguez, Rudy Fernandez, and Victor Claver are way past their prime, and most of them can only be effective only on the basis of limited playing time.

Slovenia has, Kevin Durant aside, the ultimate superweapon of the Games in Luka Doncic, but Goran Dragic is not walking through the locker room door anymore. If Luka doesn't work his magic, the former Yugoslav Republic may be in for a surprise against hard-nosed opponents like Argentina. The team coached by Sergio Hernandez and hosts Japan will fight for the second or the third spot, granting them access to the next stage of the tournament. In this group, the presence of Japan makes for a very tough ensemble of teams.

Let's have a closer look at each one.

SPAIN

Currently standing at No. 2 in the FIBA rankings, Spain has been the most successful national team globally, except for Team USA, over the last 15 years. No matter how old their players get, regardless of how bad they start a tournament, they invariably make their way into the medal rounds, and sometimes they even get their hands on the big prize, as they did in Japan (2006) and China (2019). Asia is a continent that suits them well. Although age can get in the way of a super talented roster and its expert coach Sergio Scariolo, Spain can never be counted out in FIBA competitions, especially since Team USA isn't exactly the definition of an awe-inspiring team.

Brothers Marc and Pau Gasol headline the team’s frontcourt again, providing a combination of experience and talent. NBA veteran and 2019 World Cup MVP Ricky Rubio serve as their floor general, while Rodriguez and Llull can still carry a considerable load. Usman Garuba is a breath of fresh air, and his presence could make up for the inclusion of players who had a rather lukewarm season, like Claver, Oriola, or Abrines. Marc Gasol, who was pivotal in Spain winning gold in Beijing two years ago, is coming off a disappointing season with the Los Angeles Lakers. If he can even remotely resemble the DPOY he once was, Spain will be on the right track for another medal on Asian soil.

4 Pau Gasol PF 213 cm 113 kg 41 yr.
5 Rudy Fernandez SG 196 cm 84 kg 36 yr.
6 Sergio Rodriguez PG 191 cm 80 kg 35 yr.
9 Ricard Rubio PG 193 cm 86 kg 30 yr.
10 Victor Claver SF, PF 207 cm 107 kg 32 yr.
13 Marc Gasol C 216 cm 120 kg 36 yr.
14 Guillermo Hernangomez C, PF 209 cm 113 kg 27 yr.
16 Usman Garuba C, PF 203 cm 104 kg 19 yr.
20 Alberto Abalde SF, SG 202 cm   25 yr.
21 Alejandro Abrines SF 197 cm 93 kg 27 yr.
23 Sergio Llull PG, SG 190 cm 91 kg 33 yr.
41 Juan Hernangomez PF 206 cm 104 kg 25 yr.

SLOVENIA

Slovenia clinched a spot in the Tokyo Games by winning the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Kaunas, Lithuania. On paper, they might be the most predictable teams. The truth is that if it wasn’t for Luka Doncic, the Slovenian team probably wouldn’t be on anyone’s list for the Tokyo Olympics. However, the mere presence of the Dallas Mavericks star renders the squad a potential medal contender.

Doncic averaged an incredible 27.7 points, 8 rebounds, and 8.6 assists in the NBA this season. He had a monster game against Lithuania in the decisive game in Kaunas, registering a rare - for the European standards - triple-double. In the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, the supporting cast, which included Mike Tobey, Zoran Dragic, and Jaka Blazic, stood tall and provided much-needed help to their boy-wonder.

In fact, Luka has never lost a game playing for the Slovenian NT. He won the EuroBasket in 2017 and made the All-Tournament team. As mentioned above, the absence of Goran Dragic will surely put more responsibility on his shoulders. If his teammates get more involved, something that's also up to Luka to a large extent, Slovenia can aim really high. The tough group they're in will definitely show how far they can go in the Olympics.

5 Luka Rupnik PG 186 cm 71 kg 28 yr.
6 Aleksej Nikolic PG 191 cm 80 kg 26 yr.
7 Klemen Prepelic PG, SG 191 cm 75 kg 28 yr.
8 Edo Muric SF 201 cm 86 kg 29 yr.
10 Mike Tobey C 213 cm 117 kg 26 yr.
11 Jaka Blazic SG 196 cm 96 kg 31 yr.
15 Gregor Hrovat SF, SG 196 cm 87 kg 26 yr.
27 Ziga Dimec C 212 cm 113 kg 28 yr.
30 Zoran Dragic SG, SF 196 cm 90 kg 32 yr.
31 Vlatko Cancar SF 203 cm 107 kg 24 yr.
55 Jakob Cebasek SF 200 cm 102 kg 30 yr.
77 Luka Doncic SG 201 cm 99 kg 22 yr.

ARGENTINA

If one was to sum up what Argentina (No. 4 in the FIBA rankings) is all about, it would suffice to describe them as "Spain of Latin America". Their winning mentality, the team spirit, the combination of finesse and hardness are the ingredients of which this team is made. It goes without saying that the 2019 World Cup finalists are going to need superb performances from star players and supporting cast to even come close to their previous tournaments' achievements. It's no wonder why someone would count them out since they lack stability and consistency. The 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics were considered a failure for the 2004 Olympic gold medalists. Whatever happens, Argentina (8th in the Rio Olympics) will rely on their veteran experience in an attempt to get back on the podium.

Without the likes of Ginobili and Nocioni, the lineup is now bereft of NBA-level talent, with the exception of a seasoned veteran Luis Scola, and the Denver Nuggets point guard Facundo Campazzo. But Argentina is bringing back ten players who competed at the 2019 Basketball World Cup in China. New additions are shooting guard Leandro Bolmaro and small forward Juan Pablo Vaulet. We should bear in mind that Argentina has been the only team to struggle against the United States in the pre-tournament friendly meeting, falling 108-80 in a game that was never in question. If the two of these teams meet again, it will mean that Luis Scola and the company are up to something big.

  Facundo Campazzo PG 179 cm 75 kg 30 yr.
  Nicolas Laprovittola PG 188 cm 88 kg 31 yr.
  Luca Vildoza SG 191 cm 86 kg 25 yr.
  Patricio Garino SG, SF 201 cm 92 kg 28 yr.
  Leandro Bolmaro SF 201 cm 91 kg 20 yr.
  Juan Vaulet SF 198 cm 91 kg 25 yr.
  Nicolas Brussino SF, PF 205 cm 88 kg 28 yr.
  Gabriel Deck SF, PF 199 cm 105 kg 26 yr.
  Luis Scola PF 206 cm 111 kg 41 yr.
  Francisco Caffaro PF 207 cm 98 kg 21 yr.
  Tayavek Gallizzi C 206 cm 102 kg 28 yr.
  Marcos Delia C 206 cm 100 kg 29 yr.

JAPAN

Although they are the home team, Japan are the lowest-ranked (No. 42) squad in the Olympic basketball tournament. The only way for them to outplay that ranking is for the Washington Wizards forward Rui Hachimura to play at the highest level possible. In theory, a group that also features Spain, Argentina, and Slovenia seems like a foregone conclusion. However, the overall performances during the friendly games have been more than encouraging. First, Japan defeated Belgium 87-59 in Saitama and the upset European powerhouse France (No. 7) 81-75. The Japanese also earned an easy win (79-58) against Hungary and lost 76-71 to Finland, but Hachimura did not play in any of those games.

Two years ago, the 23-year-old had just become the first Japanese to be selected in the first round of the NBA Draft, and many said that the country had formed the best-ever squad. But Japan ended up 0-5 at the tournament, proving it still had a long way to go. This tournament will show whether "the land of the rising sun" has made significant strides.

In addition to Hachimura, who has competed in the NBA over the last two years, versatile guard/forward Baba has tested his skills in the NBA G League and NBL. They also have Yuta Watanabe, who just completed his third and the most meaningful season yet in the NBA (50 games (4 starts), 4.4 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 14.5 MPG). Japan will try to "steal" a game (with Argentina looking like the most approachable opponent) and advance to the quarter-finals. The absence of spectators in Tokyo will secure a quasi-neutral home court for their adversaries.

2 Yuki Togashi PG 167 cm 67 kg 27 yr.
6 Makoto Hiejima SG 190 cm 88 kg 31 yr.
8 Rui Hachimura SF, PF 206 cm 104 kg 23 yr.
9 Leo Vendrame PG 186 cm 79 kg 27 yr.
12 Yuta Watanabe SF 203 cm 98 kg 26 yr.
14 Kosuke Kanamaru SG 192 cm 88 kg 32 yr.
18 Yudai Baba SF 198 cm 90 kg 25 yr.
23 Gavin Edwards PF 206 cm 110 kg 33 yr.
24 Daiki Tanaka SG 192 cm 93 kg 29 yr.
32 Avi Schafer PF 203 cm 107 kg 23 yr.
34 Hugh Watanabe PF 207 cm 106 kg 22 yr.
88 Tenketsu Harimoto SF 198 cm 102 kg 29 yr.

 


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