October 4, 2013

#Spain2014 RotW wild card race, or why China and Brazil makes it

The qualifying for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup is over, almost: now FIBA has to select three "invited teams" (their language), or commonly called as "wild cards", to complete the 24-team tournament. Since FIBA can't select more three teams from a continent, and on all accounts, FIBA chose the 3 European teams, that means there is usually one spot left for teams from the rest of the world (RotW). But with really impressive upsets elsewhere, FIBA might choose 2 wild cards outside Europe: and those would have to be Brazil and China.

Previously, I've discussed the wild card exists: a safety net provision to include the participation of the United States in the FIBA World Cup in the disaster that they can't qualify. Since that hasn't happened ever, I've listed "usual" reasons on why teams get the wild card.

There's also the "maximum 3 countries from a continent" rule, which effectively promotes affirmative action on FIBA by disallowing themselves from three European wild cards. But since EuroBasket 2013 pretty much proceeded without the more than the usual number of shock upsets, I said FIBA might limit the European wild cards to two, with three front runners in Greece, Russia and Turkey (in order of the chance of being selected).

So now, we're looking for two teams from the rest of the world. It helps if we'd see the wild cards FIBA has previously selected outside Europe to see what they're looking for:
  • 2006: Puerto Rico
  • 2010: Lebanon
In both countries, basketball is one of the more popular sports. In the 2005 FIBA Americas Championship, Puerto Rico finished a dismal seventh, below Venezuela, Panama and the Dominican Republic (this was the pre-Horford days). It was a disaster for the Puerto Ricans, and they were saved with a wild card invitation in 2006. Puerto Rico, despite its small size, is a frequent host of FIBA Americas events, and it was just a year removed from their famous trashing of the USA teams in the 2004 Olympics.

In 2009, Lebanon was beaten in the third place playoff by a Rashiem Wright-powered Jordan team, denying them of a third consecutive World Championship berth, an impressive feat for an Asian team not named China or Korea. The Lebanese handed the French, led by Tony Parker, the greatest win in Lebanese basketball history in the 2006 World Championship. Geography probably played a part too, as Lebanon was close to Turkey, the 2010 championship host.

So looking at both of FIBA's RotW wild cards, we'd see that:
  • Basketball is reasonably popular in that country.
  • The team performed reasonably well in the immediately preceding tournament.
Let's see the other teams not named Brazil or China first on why they won't be invited:
  • Tunisia: While Tunisia is pretty close to Spain, the Tunisians have not made enough waves after their epic 2011 FIBA Africa Championship win. And they were booted out in the Round of 16 in 2013; an early exit for an Asian or African team would mean an uphill climb for a wild card selection.
  • Nigeria: Their best players didn't show up in Abidjan this year. Despite that, they topped the group, but unfortunately faced an equally stacked Senegalese team in the quarterfinals. They lost.
  • Ivory Coast: The sentimental favorite, the Ivorians lost to African powerhouse Angola in the semifinals, and lost to Senegal in the third place playoff, via a four-point play. FIBA doesn't usally pick hosts (outside Europe) that underperformed as a wild card.
  • Chinese Taipei: It'll be the ultimate injustice, in sporting terms, that China is picked instead of Chinese Taipei, but the Taiwanese haven't got any CVs outside Asia to speak of. FIBA hasn't picked a wild card on a team that hasn't appeared in the World Cup either for first time or in a long time.
  • Venezuela: That overtime loss against Puerto Rico was very, very costly, as it virtually shut the doors to them to the final round. Again, FIBA doesn't usually pick a qualifying tournament host outside of Europe that didn't qualify.
  • Canada: Unlike Venezuela which were riding, for the most part, the home crowd support, the Canadians were actually legit contenders for the fourth Americas berths. But their youth and inexperience did them in.
Now, while Brazil and China would make it? It's actually easier to make a case for Brazil: they're a quality team if their NBAers are in the roster, and they'd host the 2016 Olympics. Aside from the being a large country with a reasonable basketball following.

As for China, they have been on a downswing lately after Yao Ming left. Iran won the three Asian titles in the post-Yao era, the only title China won is when the Iranians were eliminated by Jordan in 2011, which lost by a single point to the Chinese. There hasn't been any statement games for the Chinese in the world stage after Yao left. The Chinese lost all of their games in the 2012 Olympics, and scraped through the knockout stages of the 2010 Worlds via a tiebreaker (a "healthy" win vs. Ivory Coast.

What gives FIBA the incentive to pick China is the massive market, and hope that they can perform well. Even if 10% of China's population tune in, that's more than the population of almost all of the wild card contenders. That's good for press releases proclaiming that their website got a ton of hits.

With that said, it will be very interesting if FIBA will pursue their maximum 3 European wild cards, as it will certainly leave out one from Brazil and China. It all boils down on these:
  • Which teams can guarantee that their NBAers can play: Some American and European players are actually a hard sell to play, while Asian, and in a lesser scale, Americas, players will play, even on "dead end" tournaments, such as the Asian or Pan-American Games.
  • Which makes economic sense: China, Russia, Brazil and Nigeria have populations of over 100 million. China, has the most massive market, while Russia has the "most quality" market.
  • Which is closest to FIBA's hearts. China has hosted four Asian championships in the 21st century. Puerto Rico has hosted the Americas championship twice. The Turkish Airlines sponsors the Euroleague. Venezuela has hosted the last Americas championship, and the 2012 wild card tournament.
Well of course it would be easier if FIBA would just hold a home and away series to determine the wild cards? Less corruption, better transparency and more money. Players and clubs might not like it, though.  But it is only up to four games (most points win, with away "goals" and OT) per team. Why not:
  • Semifinals (winners progress to the finals):
    1. Africa #4 (Ivory Coast) vs. Asia #5 (China)
    2. Asia #4 (Chinese Taipei) vs. Africa #5 (Cameroon)
    3. Playoff to determine 11th place in Europe (Greece vs. Latvia) 
  • Finals:
    • Semifinals #1 winner vs. Europe #8 (Italy)
    • Semifinals #2 winner vs. Americas #5 Venezuela
    • Semifinals #3 winner vs. Americas #6 (Canada)
    • Playoff to determine 9th place in Europe (Finland vs. Belgium)
The bad thing here is no Russia and Turkey (and Nigeria), and FIBA wouldn't like that so, probably this wild card setup would be used. Anyway, we'd be using this for the last time anyway.

    No comments:

    Post a Comment

    Comments are absolutely not moderated. Comments are displayed immediately once posted. Comments can be only be removed by the author (if signed in to a Goggle or OpenID account) or if requested by someone else with good reason.