Group of Death? Biggest surprises? Finals Predictions? Breaking down FIBA World Cup draw
The draw for the 2023 FIBA World Cup took place in Manila on Saturday with Team USA getting a favorable group in the 32-team basketball tournament. Defending champions Spain will be among the favorites alongside the United States, who are looking to bounce back after a disappointing seventh-place finish in 2019.
While many questions remain about lineups and rosters, we’ve assembled a team of ESPN’s global basketball experts to dissect the matchups ahead of the competition, which runs from Aug. 25 to Sept. 10 and will be co-hosted by the Philippines, Indonesia and Japan.
ESPN NBA Senior Writer Brian Windhorst, Sid Ventura from ESPN Philippines, Jordi Blanco for ESPN Spain, Leonard Solms of ESPN Africa, Mickey Carter-Browne representing ESPN UK, Kane Pitman out of ESPN Australia, and Fernando Nardini for ESPN Brazil are here to break down the draw and give you their predictions.
Which is the Group of Death?
Windhorst: Group H, as in “H”oly moly. Canada presents an issue for the draw because they are loaded with NBA talent but haven’t had success in recent competitions, so their ranking is very low. When Jakarta selected them as their preferred team and locked them there for the first two rounds, Team USA should have sent a beautiful fruit basket because it meant someone was going to get a bad draw and it sure wasn’t the Americans. Instead, it was their nemesis France, who not only must fight with the Canadians but, later the defending World and European champion Spain. One of France, Spain or Canada won’t make the medal round and never step foot in the Philippines – sheesh!
Nardini: Agree with Brian here and say it’s Group H, definitely. France and Canada are favorites in the group, but Latvia cannot be ruled out.
Carter-Browne: I am going with Group E. It is highly likely Australia will ultimately qualify at the top of the group due to their depth of experienced team players that are well-suited to the international game. The second qualifying spot is up for grabs between Germany, Finland and Japan. While Japan is ranked behind Germany and Finland, you cannot underestimate the home advantage for “The Five Reds,” which might give them the edge in their group stage games.
Solms: From an African perspective. Ivory Coast in Group G have the toughest draw out of the five African teams. They are not only up against Spain, but also a Brazil side featuring many talents at top European and South American clubs. Iran are no pushovers either, but even if Ivory Coast finish above them, they still have to surpass either Spain or Brazil too in order to advance to the second round.
Which team got the most favorable draw?
Windhorst: The 2019 World Cup seventh-place finishers and recent losers of the top spot in the world ranking … United States of America. After having numerous long flights and bus rides in China, the U.S. will play all their games in the same arena in Manila this time around. If they take care of business in the first and second rounds, which even the flawed 2019 team did, the Americans won’t have to see France, Spain, Australia or Canada until the semifinals. It’s a dream draw.
Pitman: Group C shouldn’t pose many challenges for the USA, with New Zealand and Jordan are the clear outsiders. The availability of Giannis Antetokounmpo will be a watch for Greece, with the Milwaukee Bucks superstar battling wrist, knee and back injuries through the back end of the NBA season.
Blanco: Slovenia has a group that should be easy enough to go through without too much trouble, especially against Georgia (with Sandro Mamukelashvili in doubt).
Ventura: I’d say Serbia. If they play true to form and top Group B, they’ll play the top two teams from Group A in the second round. Based on current rankings, Serbia’s likeliest opponents will be Italy and the Dominican Republic. Even though Italy upset Serbia in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in 2021, both teams are beatable. Assuming the top seeds take care of business, Serbia has a clear path to the gold medal round without having to face either the United States or Spain.
Solms: Among the African nations, Angola were the winners from the draw. They have reached the second round of a World Cup before in 2006 and still have players from that era who they may choose to call upon, namely Carlos Morais and Olímpio Cipriano. There are younger talents breaking through, too, such as point guard Childe Dundão. Angola will be underdogs against Italy, but have no reason to fear any of their Group A opponents.
Nardini: Like Leonard’s pick, I’m going with another team from Group A. Italy has a chance to bounce back from a frustrating Eurobasket 2022 and faces no opponents in the top 20 of the FIBA rankings.
With the tournament being held in three different countries, which team gets the biggest travel advantage?
Windhorst: The USA. They can stay in the same hotel, use the same practice facility and play the in same arena for the World Cup’s three-week duration. Even some of the other groups who are playing early rounds in Manila will have to change venues for the medal rounds. Many other teams will have to take up to four-hour flights.
Pitman: I’d take that further and say any team playing in Group C and Group D. Playing at the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila throughout, these teams will be able to settle in for the tournament and not worry about travel along the way. And yes, that includes the USA. A great result for the Americans.
Ventura: You mean outside of the two co-hosts? Beijing is just a five-hour flight away from Manila and is in the same time zone. China will probably be the only team other than the hosts that won’t have to deal with jet lag.
Solms: There are no real winners from Africa as far as travel is concerned, but at least South Sudan are likely to travel with several players based in Australia and New Zealand, who will not be too affected by jet lag. In any case, they are a team of well-travelled and adaptable players.
Which team is going to surprise in this tournament?
Windorst: Keep an eye on the Dominican Republic. They had a nice and unexpected run in 2019 in China when they advanced to the second round. Then they scored some huge wins in the qualifying rounds, including knocking out current World silver medalist Argentina on the last day on the road to secure their spot. But the biggest thing is that Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota Timberwolves), who hasn’t played for the team since 2013, has said he hopes to play. That star power plus a favorable Manila-based draw makes the Dominican Republic a team to watch for sure.
Solms: South Sudan have been handed one of the toughest draws out of the five African nations, but I believe they will win at least one of the games against China and Puerto Rico. The energy within South Sudanese basketball at the moment is unparalleled. Having only gained independence in 2011, this is the youngest nation in the world — one in which every single citizen has had their lives affected by war in their home country and many facing discrimination in the world. Basketball is their lifeblood and this is their moment to show the world who they are. Keep an eye on Nuni Omot, one of the world’s most underrated basketball players. From winning rebounds to passing to shooting, there is nothing the former Baylor Bears forward cannot do.
Carter-Browne: You would think Slovenia has all the momentum with Luka Doncic at the helm and hitting his prime. However, having one big star on your team is not enough at this level. Slovenia suffered a humiliating quarterfinal defeat to Poland in last year’s EuroBasket, and that was with Goran Dragic coming out of retirement for what was supposed to be a Slovenian Last Dance. Don’t be surprised if even Doncic can’t lift Slovenia any further this time.
Blanco: Finland. On paper, they are not as good as Australia or Germany, but the last results and performance give them great confidence in themselves. For the past two years this team has been growing and it will be no surprise if we see them deep in the tournament.
What is your way-too-early Finals prediction?
Windhorst: USA vs. France. Rematch of the Olympic Final, which the U.S. barely won. And this time, the French might have projected No. 1 NBA draft pick Victor Wembanyama, who is still burning after losing to the Americans in a hotly-contested World U-19 championship game in 2021.
Ventura: This will depend heavily on who’ll play for Team USA. Assuming they field a team that’s better than the guys that finished seventh four years ago, then give me USA vs. Serbia for the gold medal match. This also assumes that Nikola Jokic will play and will be wanting very badly to erase the stigma of their fifth place finish in China.
Blanco: It’s either the USA vs. France rematch or it’s USA vs. Spain. Either way, the Americans will not have problems reaching the final in case they play against Italy or Serbia in the semis.
Pitman: USA vs. Australia. The changing of the guard continues for Australia, with Josh Giddey set to make his first Boomers appearance at a major tournament, while Dyson Daniels will also be in the mix. With an Olympic medal now in the bag, Australia would love to take a step or two up on the podium. The two teams won’t cross paths until the semifinals at the earliest and it might take some unexpected results earlier in the tournament to end with this finals matchup, but it’s the World Cup, so anything is possible!