FIBA World Cup Final Round Preview and Picks

The FIBA World Cup has whizzed by. What began with 32 teams is now down to just 8. Team USA survived an early scare against Turkey and they remain unbeaten in the tournament, along with Australia, Spain, and Argentina, while Serbia took a loss but remain the tournament’s second favorite.

Group play is over, so we’re down to an eight-team single-elimination tournament now, which will play out over the remainder of the week in China with the gold medal game on Sunday, September 15.

Here’s a look at the upcoming bracket, courtesy of our friends at Wikipedia:

If you’ve been following the tournament this far (and let’s be honest, you wouldn’t be here now if you hadn’t been), you should immediately recognize one thing about this bracket.

The bracket is extremely top-heavy. USA and Serbia have been the heavy favorites the entire tournament, but now only one of them can make the finals. France is 5–1 and have been about as dominant as anyone, and they have an absolutely nightmarish path. It’s possible those are the tournament’s three best teams, but they’re all in the same half of the bracket. Even Argentina is a tough quarterfinal draw.

The other side of the bracket is the place to be. Spain and Australia have been very good, and neither has lost a game yet. Poland and Czech Republic are both surprises to advance this far. Barring a shock upset, Spain and Australia should be set for a semifinal with as close to a “bye’ in the quarterfinals as you can get in this kind of tournament.

If you need a refresher, be sure to check out SportsBook Review’s full preview of Team USA along with a review of the rosters from the Rest of the World.

Let’s run through each team and find some best bets. All odds from Bovada.

Poland +50000

Save your money. Poland is loving life after advancing this far, but there’s no way they win three more. They’ve been the benefit of a dream draw and two close wins over China and Russia, and American-born A.J. Slaughter has been a fun watch and has certainly caught the eyes of some scouts.

But Poland was blown out 91–65 in their toughest game against Argentina. Every opponent left will be tougher, so their underdog odds will only increase in difficulty from here.

Czech Republic +10000

Tomas Satoransky continues to cash the Czechs for this team (see what I did there??), filling up the box score with an assortment of points, rebounds, and assists. Poland might be the bigger surprise in name, but Czech Republic has been the tournament’s biggest Cinderella story so far.

In their World Cup debut as an independent nation, the Czechs were blown out by 21 to the Americans back on match day one, and most assumed that was the beginning of the end. But after Team USA barely survived Turkey in overtime, the Czechs handled them with ease, beating Turkey by 15 to advance to the second group stage as the de facto fourth member of Team USA’s group.

But there they were a surprise again. Their first round two group game against Brazil turned into a 22-point blowout after the Brazilians had shocked Greece to win their group. Then Czech Republic hung just close enough to Greece in a loss to advance on point differential. They’re the only team to advance with two losses.

The Czechs are feisty and continue to be overlooked, but they can give any team trouble. Australia dare not overlook them in the quarterfinals. One upset is in the realm of possibility, but three more shockers seems a bridge too far.

Argentina +6600

Argentina is one of four 5–0 teams remaining in the tournament, but they have benefited immensely from a great draw, and that all changes now. Argentina won their first-round group easily enough against South Korea, Russia, and Nigeria, then breezed through the second round against Venezuela and Poland, beating both by 20+ points.

At +93, Argentina has the the third best point differential in the tournament, behind only the favorites, USA and Serbia. But that’s been helped by beating up on a lot of inferior teams, and now they’ll face Serbia and likely USA before a potential finals.

Argentina is a veteran team led by 39-year-old Luis Scola. They’re a scrappy team that knows the international game well and, even though their golden generation has mostly past, they’ll be a tough out against any opponent. Argentina opens +12 against Serbia or +650 on the moneyline.

Serbia is definitely a better team, but they struggled against Spain’s cagey veterans so there’s a real chance for an upset here. Team USA certainly wouldn’t mind. Serbia’s big men should control the game, but Argentina will hope to keep the game close and steal it. It’s too much to ask this team to win three more, but a cover or even win against Serbia is definitely in play.

France +2000

France was one bucket away from seeing odds closer to half this number, but a tough 100–98 loss to Australia in the second-round finale dropped them to second in the group. Instead of getting the Czechs in the quarterfinals, France now must face the United States, then Serbia or Argentina, before the finals.

France is led by two-time defending Defensive Player of the Year, Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, along with a number other names you’ll recognize like Evan Fournier, Nic Batum, and Nando de Colo. Fournier and Batum give France one of the better wing duos in the tournament, and that’s an area Team USA traditionally has a pretty big advantage. Those two could hold their own against the Americans, and Gobert is far better than any Team USA center.

Team USA has struggled to score in the paint against zone defenses, and Gobert can use the international zone rules to man the paint permanently and protect the rim, swatting the ball off of it on rebounds. The Americans love to play small and have used a lot of Harrison Barnes at center, but Barnes has no shot against Gobert. France could have an advantage defensively and on the boards.

The one area Team USA is definitely better is at guard, especially point guard. France has no match for Kemba Walker, unless Frank Ntilikina suddenly comes of age in one fell swoop. The Americans will need big scoring games from their guards to beat France. It looks like a tough test.

France can hang with anyone in the tournament. Gobert neutralizes the other elite big men like Serbia’s Nikola Jokic and Spain’s Marc Gasol, and Fournier and Batum can get hot and bring a lot of international experience to the table. They’ll have a real shot against USA and could beat anyone. It’s a tough road ahead, but at +2000, these long shot odds might be worth a roll of the dice.

The odds for France against USA in the quarterfinals are not available yet as of this writing, but you may want to consider that one too, especially if you’re getting something like +500 or better.

Australia +1400

It’s been a dream few weeks for Australia, and they’re certainly the chic underdog pick at this point of the tournament. The Aussies are 5–0 with the most impressive win list of any team, having beaten Lithuania, France, and Canada. And don’t forget, that doesn’t even include the friendly win against Team USA a week before the tournament.

This is a golden generation of talent for Australia, a handful of players all in their prime that love to play together and help magnify each other’s strengths. The team has plenty of big men with Andrew Bogut, Jock Landale, and Aron Baynes, while their scoring and creation has fallen mostly upon NBA veterans Patty Mills and Joe Ingles. Mills and Ingles are role players in the NBA, but they’ve been stars in bigger roles at the World Cup.

This is a smart, veteran team. They know each other well and play together, punishing opponents for any mistake. They’ve also shown the mettle to win close, contested games. They beat the Americans with a big final stretch from Patty Mills, and their five World Cup wins have come by just 42 total points, an average win differential of 8.4 points per game. That includes 5- and 2-point wins in the group finales against Lithuania and France to clinch the group each time, setting them up on this wide open path.

Australia have long dreamed of winning a medal, and they’ll have a very good chance now. They’re big favorites against Czech Republic in the quarterfinals and sit on the right side of the bracket, with only Spain standing between them and the final. A berth in the final guarantees a medal, while a semifinal loss to Spain would mean a chance for the bronze in the third-place game.

Can this team win the whole tournament? Yes – they can. But will they? All those close wins are great, but they also imply the luck could run out at some point. Australia would be an underdog in the finals and probably against Spain in the semis. But this team will be confident against anyone, and the odds here are pretty good considering the Aussies will be a heavy favorite in the quarters and at least a coin flip in the semis. A charitable view of the Aussies might even put them closer to +600, so the odds are in your favor here if you like this team and are looking for a sleeper.

Spain +500

Spain pulled of the shock upset of the second group stage, taking down Serbia in a game that wasn’t even particularly close. Spain was our sleeper pick last round at +250 to win their group and +1500 to win the tournament. You see now that their odds have dropped to just +500, and they’re no longer in your favor at that number.

Spain will have a chance in any game, and they begin with by far the easiest draw left in the tournament, lucking into a quarterfinal with Poland. That lines up a likely semifinal matchup with Australia and then the finals, where they’d probably be an underdog to USA or Serbia.

Spain just wins, and this team has played more games together than anyone else in the tournament. Ricky Rubio, Marc Gasol, Sergio Llull, and Rudy Fernandez lead the way. These four have played together for over a decade, and they’re each at their very best in the international game. They know they can beat any opponent because they’ve done so before, and they won’t think themselves an underdog in any game.

Spain absolutely has a shot at this thing. They are massive favorites (-2000) to beat Poland and should cover the -15.5 with ease, so that’s a solid play. But the +500 doesn’t leave much wiggle room for a team that seems like a coin flip against Australia and an underdog in the final. If you like Spain, that’s great, but you should have bet them last round at +1500 when we told you to.

Serbia +200

Serbia was so dominant in its first four World Cup games that they closed in on Team USA and became almost co-favorites for the championship, getting close to even odds to win it before a surprise upset loss to Spain in the group stage finale. Spain dominated Serbia for most of the game, helped greatly by the absence of Nikola Jokic after an early ejection.

Serbia remains second favorites, and the +200 odds aren’t doing you any favors. Their draw got much tougher after the loss to Spain. Instead of an easy Poland matchup and a sizable favorite against Australia, Serbia draws a much trickier Argentina team before a likely semifinal against Team USA. And even if they win both of those, they’ll still have to win a final against probably either Australia or Spain, the team that already dominated them.

Still, don’t rule Serbia out. Even with the loss to Spain, Serbia has an incredible +151 point differential over its five games, absolutely blowing out every other opponent in its path. This team is very good and, arguably, could be the favorite in any matchup. Yes, they might be better than Team USA.

Now that Greece has been eliminated, Nikola Jokic is the best player remaining in the tournament, without any question. Jokic is a basketball savant that controls the offense with his passing and high basketball IQ. He’s a better defender than he looks, and he does it all on offense with his shooting and creation. This could be his springboard toward a dark horse MVP campaign (+1500) with the Denver Nuggets.

This tournament may also be a springboard for Sacramento Kings wing, Bogdan Bogdanovic, who has been one of the stars of the tournament. Bogdanovic was impressive as ever against Spain, pushing the team toward a comeback campaign with Jokic out and giving Spain a bit of a scare before they pulled back away. Bogdanovic has been an impressive shooter, scorer, and creator, and he might be as good a wing as anyone left in the tournament – yes, including Team USA.

So if Serbia has the best player and one of the best wings, that sounds pretty good, right? It certainly should. Serbia also brings a cadre of other talented big man and plenty of shooting. They’ll be vulnerable to Team USA’s guards in a potential matchup, and that game would depend a lot on pace. If Serbia can slow it down and play a half court game, they may have the edge in shooting and spacing. Team USA would need to rely on athleticism and defense to win the day.

Serbia is my pick to win this tournament going forward, even with the loss and the tougher draw. But the +200 is not particularly in your favor. The better play might just be riding the Serbia money line three times to victory. They’ll certainly be the betting underdog against Team USA, so that really only backfires if USA loses to France, in which case Serbia’s odds would be halved or more. Serbia can win this thing. And they just might.

Team USA -115

We did a full breakdown of Team USA before the tournament, so be sure to give that a read if you haven’t yet.

The Americans outlasted Turkey in a crazy overtime game a week ago, but they have mostly coasted since. Team USA didn’t have much trouble with either Greece or Brazil in the second group stage. Both teams hung around awhile before the Americans pulled away in the second half, just the far superior and more talented team.

The American starting lineup is not exactly dominant – but the team’s bench and depth remain unrivaled. More than a few teams have hung close with their starters, only to have their bench units run off the court by Team USA. And that’s even been without Jayson Tatum the last few games, who would either be the star off the bench or push one guy further down the pecking order.

That guy could end up being Joe Harris, who replaced Tatum in the starting lineup to add some heady veteran play and shooting. Don’t be surprised if Harris remains in the starting lineup even if Tatum is healthy enough to play. Tatum could be a lethal weapon off the bench with his athleticism and scoring, and no international team has a bench wing to match him, while the American’s can use Harris’s spacing and shooting in the starting lineup without needing that extra Tatum scoring punch there.

Team USA was hoping for a breakout from young guard Donovan Mitchell, and Mitchell has had flashes at times but has yet to really break out. Mitchell has been a big contributor on the glass, but he tried to take over down the stretch in the tight game against Turkey and did not do well.

In truth, no American has broken out much just yet. Kemba Walker continues to be the team’s top scorer and best player, and he might be the guy to take the big shot if it’s needed. The guards on this team are still Team USA’s biggest advantage, even if names like Curry, Lillard, Irving, and others are missing. Against the toughest opponents like Spain, Serbia, and France, none of them really have an answer for Kemba or our point guards. Marcus Smart has also come on strong off the bench for USA.

The question mark will come at the four and five. Myles Turner, Brook Lopez, and Mason Plumlee have been fine at center but nothing particularly great. The Americans will likely have the worse center on the court in all of the remaining matchups, considering they’ll face Rudy Gobert in the quarters and probably Nikola Jokic and Marc Gasol the next two rounds. Even against Australia’s bigs, this team is at a deficit.

Team USA prefers to play small and has played a lot of Harrison Barnes at center. That has worked against teams like Brazil, Greece, and Turkey, but what will happen against one of the NBA’s elite centers? USA could be in trouble on the glass and against centers setting screens or rolling to the hoop. They could also seriously struggle to score against these big men. They’ll either need to go small and try to outscore the opponent in a shootout, or they’ll need Turner and Lopez to stretch the defense and hit threes if they’re on the court. That’s the key to every matchup going forward.

Team USA has been fine so far but hardly great. They need Tatum to play and look good, and they need big games from Kemba Walker and probably a few others.

Should the Americans be the favorite? Well… maybe. Probably? Maybe. History says thought ought to be.

But should they be this much of a favorite at -115, favored against the entire field? That’s a stretch. Remember, Team USA may well have to beat France, then Serbia, then Spain or Australia. It’s about as tough as any path imaginable at the start of the tournament.

Say USA is a 75% favorite to beat France, then 60% against Serbia and 65% in the final. That gives the Americans just under a 30% chance of winning the tournament, which should put them closer to +350, a far cry from -115.

And honestly, those numbers might be generous. The Americans might be more like 60% against France and in the final and closer to a coin flip against Serbia. If so, now their odds drop to 18% to win the tournament and they’d need to be well over +500 to be worth the bet.

To get anywhere near their implied odds at -115, USA needs to be more like an 85% favorite to France, 75% to Serbia, and 85% again in the final. Even at those absurdly optimistic odds, USA is still just 54% to win the tournament, just now finally a practical bet at -115. You might think the Americans will win, and perhaps they will. But you should not bet on it.

Best bets worth considering

Argentina +12 or +650 ML vs Serbia
France +2000 or Australia +1400 to win the World Cup
Play the Serbia ML three times to win the World Cup