The 2019 FIBA World Cup tournament tipped off under one week ago, and already we are down to just 16 teams as the field has been halved. China, Turkey, Germany, and Canada were among the biggest surprises to not advance, but all of the tournament’s biggest favorites remain.
Now it’s off to the second group stage, and it starts right away overnight Friday in China, so we’ve got no time to waste. Let’s remind ourselves of what we’ve seen so far and reset the rest of the tournament as we move into the second group stage. All odds are hot off the press from Bovada.
Pay attention to the tournament format
You’ll want to note the funky setup of this tournament. We began a week ago with 32 teams, split into 8 groups of 4. The groups each played a round-robin and advanced the top two from each group, so we’re down to 16. So far, so good, right?
So far, this is probably all familiar enough, a similar set up to soccer World Cup or other similar tournaments. The difference is that now we’ve gone into group play again, with the 16 teams split into 4 groups of 4. And it’s not just that.
The two teams that advanced from the first group stage stay together in their new group – and so does their result.
In Team USA’s case, that means the USA advances along with the Czech Republic. These results are cumulative, so Team USA is 3–0 in this group play, and the point differential carries over too. That could be relevant in case of a tie.
Those two teams are joined by two more from another group, only this round, it’s not quite a round-robin. You play the two new teams in your group but not the one you’ve already played, as that result is already included.
So the new groups are just a two-game “round-robin.’ At that point, a group winner is crowned. Anyone 5–0 is an obvious winner, while 4–1 likely means heading to the complicated tiebreaker rules. Two teams advance from each group.
From there, only eight teams remain and move into knockout play, with quarterfinals, semifinals, and a World Cup final to be played on September 15. That’s barely a week from now, so this will all happen quite quickly.
Okay, you got all that? Great. Let’s preview the groups and find some new best bets on the board.
Group I is as close as we get to a Group of Life at this stage. The host China failed to advance, with Poland and Venezuela coming through from Group A instead.
Poland won all three of their games after surviving a miracle overtime win against China, buoyed by multiple failed inbounds passes in the final minutes. Venezuela also is a team that is playing. Neither has an NBA player on the roster.
In fact, there isn’t an NBA player in the group. Argentina’s golden generation has almost all retired, so you won’t find Manu Ginobili or Carlos Delfino here. The only stalwart is 39-year-old Luis Scola, who is right at home since he now plays professionally in China.
Scola gets help from guys like Nicolas Brussino and Marcos Delia. They’re group favorites but they’re vulnerable, and no real threat to win it all (+6600).
You might think about taking Russia as a Group I long-shot winner at +1200. Russia’s entire roster plays professional ball at home in Russia, and you can see it in the team’s chemistry and style of play.
The Russians play and thrive in many close games, and they already gave Argentina a good run, losing to them by eight in group play.
They’ll need a lot from 33-year-old veteran Vitaly Fridzon, a fixture on a number of European and Russian championships. They’ll also need to beat Poland, then have Poland beat Argentina, to have a shot at the group. It’s a big ask.
None of the teams in this group is a real threat to make the World Cup finals, but that should make for an entertaining and competitive group.
Puerto Rico +6600
Group J has the one key must-watch game of the round, the September 8th finale between Serbia and Spain.
Serbia are the heavy group favorites at -350 and are now almost even favorites to win the whole tournament at +150. Serbia, and not Team USA, have looked like the real Dream Team so far. They destroyed Angola 105–59, crushed the Philippines 126–67, and took care of a feisty Italy team, 92–77.
Serbia may have the actual best player in the tournament, at least with international rules, in star center Nikola Jokic. Jokic does it all offensively.
He is one of the best passers in the world at seven feet, and he brings a transcendent basketball mind and sees every play a step ahead of the defense, adding a wet jumper to stretch the floor.
Serbia get plenty of spacing from Sacramento Kings players Bogdan Bogdanovic and Nemanja Bjelica, and they can bring 76ers behemoth Boban Marjanovic off the bench to wreck teams with massive twin towers pairing.
Serbia is really good and really fun. They’ve dominated thus far on both ends of the ball. But they are not a good bet right now, not at -350 when they have to beat a tough, veteran Spain squad to win the group. Their overall championship odds have dropped from +325 to +150, which is mental.
The odds certainly won’t go any lower than that, so wait for another better opportunity with this team.
Spain are the much better play, even if they’re not necessarily the better team. Spain brings a seasoned, veteran squad that coasted through group stage. They feature longtime Spanish international veterans Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, Rudy Fernandez, and Sergio Llull.
These guys have played together for well over a decade. They know where each other will be and know how to play in sync, and just about everyone on the team is at their very best in international ball.
Spain aren’t as good as they once were, missing names like Pau Gasol and Sergio Rodriguez atop the roster, but they’re talented and seasoned and know how to grind out wins. They have the size to hang with Serbia. Marc Gasol can hold his own against Jokic, and Spain should have the advantage on the perimeter.
Spain vs Serbia is huge for the tournament big picture. The winner of Group J gets a dream path to the World Cup final. They’ll likely face Poland or Russia in the quarterfinals as a de facto bye before being favored against one of Australia, Lithuania, France, Brazil, or Greece.
The Group J runner-up will likely have a tougher quarterfinal against Argentina before a likely game against Team USA in the semis.
The Spain-Serbia game is huge, and it should be a close, tightly contested game that will come down to the final minutes for the Group J crown. At +250 to win the group, Spain only need to win this game around 29% of the time to pay off.
Serbia may be better, but they’re not that much better. This is simply a bet you have to make. Spain is +1500 to win the tournament, and if they win the group, that likely means being the favorite until a gold medal game against Serbia or Team USA. They’re a bet on experience.
With all due respect to Italy and Puerto Rico, they are likely window dressing in this group. Puerto Rico had two inspiring one-possession comeback wins over Iran and Tunisia to advance but will be hard-pressed to win again.
Italy dominated Angola and the Philippines almost as much as Serbia but then didn’t really challenge the Serbians in a 92–77 loss. Italy are sneaky good, featuring NBA players Danilo Gallinari and Marco Bellinelli. They’ll have the chance to play spoiler against Spain but that may not ultimately matter.
The Czech Republic +8000
Team USA was lucky to escape Group E with a win after barely surviving an overtime game against Turkey on matchday two. Turkey looked the Americans in the eye and didn’t blink, and they had every chance to put Team USA away.
Turkey led by two in the final seconds of regulation but fouled Jayson Tatum on a three at the buzzer. When Tatum made two of three free throws, the game went to overtime and there, Turkey was again in the driver’s seat.
Up one with under ten seconds left, Turkey had four free throws and a chance to ice the game but missed every one of them. Two Khris Middleton free throws were enough to steal – yes, steal – a 93–92 win.
The devastated Turks never recovered mentally, losing by 15 to the Czech Republic to see themselves eliminated from the group. Czech is led by guard Tomas Satoransky, who has quietly played very well in John Wall’s absence for the Wizards over the past couple of seasons.
Team USA beat the Czech Republic with ease in the opener, winning by 19, then beat the pants of Japan to secure the group win.
You can read our full in-depth Team USA breakdown here, but you should know that this is not our A team or even our B team. The biggest star on Team USA is Kemba Walker, the only multi-time All Star on the roster.
The next biggest star might have been Tatum, who is a question mark going forward after picking up an injury in the final seconds of the win against Turkey. Tatum sat out the win against Japan and is likely out against Greece, and it’s unknown whether he’ll be available going forward. Games come every two days, so there’s not much time or turnaround here.
Without Tatum, Team USA is much thinner than you’d think. They started Joe Harris, yes, Joe Harris in Tatum’s place against Japan. Harris is a fantastic shooter and all, but did anyone ever expect Joe Harris to be starting a meaningful international game for Team USA?
The Americans were also without Marcus Smart against Japan, sitting out with a leg injury that has bothered him over the past month leading up to the season.
Without those two, Team USA’s bench is quite thin. Derrick White and Mason Plumlee were expected to watch from the end of the bench but are playing real minutes now, while Jaylen Brown and Khris Middleton are suddenly the only real bench options.
The Americans are also weak at center comparatively, with Myles Turner, Brook Lopez, and Plumlee failing to match the star power of other centers in this tournament like Jokic, Gasol, and Gobert.
Despite all that, the Americans remain favorites. They’re big Group K favorites and ought to be, though they’ll likely be challenged by both Greece and Brazil. It’s likely been over a decade since you’ve seen odds this playable on Team USA, now just -125 to win the World Cup, nearly even odds.
The Americans still have lots of shooting and have played strong defense, though they’ve struggled to break down opposing zones and score at the rim.
Still… are you really turning down even odds on Team USA?
The Americans are not a shoo-in to win the group, as both Brazil and Greece could challenge them for the throne.
Greece, of course, feature the reigning NBA MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, along with a list of other former NBA players plus standout guard Nick Calathes. Greece opened the tournament as the third favorite at +1000 but has seen those odds halved to +2000 after failing to win their group.
Greece has struggled, and so has the Greek Freak. The Greeks are not playing through Antetokounmpo as much as he’s used to in Milwaukee, and he’s struggling to make as big of an impact off the ball. Greece has also had a hard time on defense at times.
They lost to Brazil by a single point, then struggled to put away New Zealand in the group finale, a game they had to win to advance. They ultimately won by six points but it was an uninspiring showing against what should have been an overmatched Kiwis team.
The ending to Greece’s loss to Brazil was quite bizarre indeed, especially if you don’t watch much international basketball. It was a close game late and it looked like Brazil had put the game away, up three with just a few seconds on the clock, when Greece got away with an old Chris Paul trick.
As Brazil went to foul the Greeks, a standard international strategy with little time left and up by more than two, they instead got off a long three-quarter court shot and drew three free throws on the play.
But that wasn’t the only drama. Greece made the first two free throws to draw within one. The final free throw hit the back of the rim and bounced around the rim looking like it would fall when Brazil’s Bruno Caboclo leaped and swatted the ball off the rim as the clock expired.
In the NBA, that would be goaltending and maybe even a technical foul. In the international game, that’s just a good defensive play since the ball is live on the rim.
That’s the sort of scrappy, intelligent play you can expect from Brazil when they play Team USA in what could be a tricky group finale. Brazil won all three group games by a total of 20 points combined, never dominating but always battling.
Brazil are led by longtime NBA veterans Leandro Barbosa and Anderson Varejao along with a good mix of young players like Caboclo and Didi Louzada.
Brazil paid off big as our long shot recommendation in the first group stage, winning the group at +550 as our best bet. Now they’re getting worse odds against a far superior opponent, basically, +500 to beat Team USA. It’s certainly possible but those odds are not doing us any favors.
Dominican Republic +2800
Americans will be watching Group K, and all eyes will be on that Spain vs Serbia matchup in Group J, but Group L promises to be the most entertaining with a legitimate three-team race at the top.
That race will not likely include the Dominican Republic, who inspired with close wins over Jordan and Germany for a shocking advancement to this stage, but they’ll be overmatched by all three opponents here.
Lithuania faces an uphill battle after a close loss against Australia in their group finale. They’ll need to beat France to advance and will need the French to beat the Aussies to have a shot at winning the group, but you’re getting +900 for that combo and both of those games feel very coin-flippy.
Lithuania remain quite dangerous, despite the loss. They feature their own twin big men in NBA centers Jonas Valanciunas and Domantas Sabonis, and that pair could give any team trouble in the paint. Lithuania have played very tough defense.
They’re led on offense by veteran point guard Mantas Kalnietis, who never played in the NBA but has won just about every European award available.
Lithuania have their work cut out for them now. Advancing second in the group means a likely quarterfinal match against Team USA, and they could still have two difficult opponents after that. They’re not a great bet anymore at +2500 to win the tournament but could be an intriguing group pick.
Australia have been the most entertaining team of the tournament. They’re a modern team with lots of spacing, including from all of their big men.
Joe Ingles is a role player in the NBA but a star for the Aussies, as is longtime Spurs veteran guard Patty Mills, while players like Jock Landale and Aron Baynes have been terrific so far too.
Australia have tried to win a medal for years and this may be their best shot. Their win over Lithuania gives them a real leg up in this group, and they’ll want to win it badly to stay on the right side of the draw.
They’ll have to beat France to do it, and France too is 3–0 thus far. The French team is a lesser version of Spain, full of players who don’t always stand out in the NBA but who are often at their best in international play.
Evan Fournier and Nic Batum give the team a pair of wings that can handle, create, and shoot, and those wings are a real advantage in international play. Nando de Colo is a key player as well, and of course, the defense is anchored by Rudy Gobert, perhaps the best defender in the NBA.
France won all three group games by a combined margin of 77 points, boosted by destroying a Dominican Republic team by 34 that had already qualified for the next round. France are +1600 to win the tournament.
They have the talent to beat anyone but face the toughest group draw of any remaining favorite, since they’ll have to beat both Australia and Lithuania to win the group. They’re probably not the right bet at this time.
If you like big man play, Group L is the group for you. Gobert, Sabonis, Valanciunas, Andrew Bogut, Landale, and Baynes will be a fun watch. It’s just a shame the Dominican Republic can’t convince Al Horford or Karl-Anthony Towns to join them last minute.
The final game of the group stage on September 9 is the big one, France vs Australia. The winner of that one should likely win the group and be a chic favorite to make a sleeper run all the way to the final.
And remember, the group runner-up likely has to play Team USA in a quarterfinal. Though, of course, Australia already beat Team USA in a friendly match the week before the tournament.
Spain +250 to win Group J
Lithuania +900 to win Group L
Spain +1500 to win the World Cup
USA -125 to win the World Cup
If you bet all of these, you give yourself a few options to win cash. If Spain does win their group, you’ve basically covered your fees, and you’ve also got Spain and USA on opposite sides of the draw with a good chance of them meeting in the final, guaranteeing you a win and setting up a possible hedge situation.
Even if Spain does not win their group, they should advance in second and set your finalist picks up for a semifinals matchup. That basically guarantees you a team in the finals as a likely favorite. Enjoy the games!