Nigeria vs Russia
One of the best Saturday values has to be the Russian national team taking on Nigeria. Right now, Nigeria is a -4.5 favorite in their opening round game and I think that could be at least one or two points too low.
The Russian National team is good, but since unification in their domestic leagues, things have been harder to judge talent-wise. Only four members of the team are from the powerful CSKA Moscow club that wins all the time, while the rest of the team is made up of lesser-known players from lesser-known teams.
Compare that to the Nigerian team, which consists of six current or former NBA players and the boys from Russia will have their hands full here.
While Russia may have a size advantage over the Nigerians, Ekpe Udoh can still play well at center, and at 6’10 he is no shorty. Along with Al Farouq Aminu, the frontcourt for Nigeria is going to be hard to score on.
These two still have the ability to lock up NBA bench players, and even some starters, so imagine the defense they are going to throw at Russia in the opening game of the biggest basketball tournament in the world.
Add in the perimeter play of Josh Okogie, Ike Iroegbu, and Ben Uzoh, and this team is going to be a handful. I could see them getting out and running on the slower and plodding Russian team, while also running up the score to a three or four possession victory.
My Pick: Nigeria -4.5 @ 5Dimes
China vs Ivory Coast
The Chinese National team is getting some extra juice both in the FIBA Odds for this game, as well as the tournament. As the host country, China will want to come out swinging early and often in this tournament, especially against lesser teams like Ivory Coast.
While they aren’t anything to scoff at, the Chinese should make quick work of them in this one as long as they aren’t over-pressured to perform as a permanent home team in this tournament.
While I doubt China is a top 10 team in this tournament, they may actually be pretty close to that power ranking. Captained by former NBA lottery pick Yi Jianlian and former second-round pick Zhou Qi, this team has some depth in the frontcourt.
While they may be young and slightly inexperienced in international play, this Chinese team has been working hard since failing to qualify for the World Championships in 2014. Now that the World Cup has taken over for that tournament, I think China is probably motivated to play this one as hard as possible for their own country.
This may lead to some jitters early in the game, but this team is talented enough to dispatch the Ivory Coast by 14 or 15 points. The rest of the tournament may be hard for China, but at least they get a somewhat softer opponent in the first game of group play.
My Pick: China -12.5 @ 5Dimes