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FIBA World Cup Preview: Group A

Group A in 2023 FIBA World Cup - Image Credit: FIBA

The FIBA World Cup is right around the corner with players from around the globe prepared to represent their homeland and make their country proud. This year’s tournament is as stacked as ever, so much so that any team could end up getting a first-place (or last-place) finish in their respective group.

Here’s everything you need to know, beginning with Group A:

🇦🇴Angola (FIBA Rank: 41)

How They Got Here: Angola, who are now in their sixth straight FIBA World Cup and ninth in the country’s history, are looking to continue their success after a fairly impressive run in the Africa Qualifiers, where they went 10-2 and averaged 74.1 points per game as a team, good for fourth in the continent.

The Guy: Headlining the squad is, of course, star big man Bruno Fernando, who currently plays for the Atlanta Hawks and is a four-year veteran of the National Basketball Association (NBA). Fernando has only recently joined the team amid their qualification and the occurrence of the NBA off-season, but he will immediately be their most dominant force and be the go-to guy for head coach Josep Claros.

X-Factor: Though Fernando is going to be the player every will have their eyes on, the true indicator of their success will come down to floor general Childe Dundão, who averaged 12.1 points and 3.6 assists in the qualifiers, and has breakout ability (see: his 23-point game versus Cape Verde). If Dundao can take some of the weight off Fernando’s shoulders, who knows how far this team can go.

🇩🇴Dominican Republic (FIBA Rank: 23)

How They Got Here: The Dominicans just barely snuck in after fighting with everything they had in an extremely tough Americas Qualifiers, against arguably some of the best countries in the entire world. After a dramatic win over Argentina to qualify, the Dominican Republic now finds themselves in South Asia.

Fans of Dominican Republic showing out during 2023 FIBA World Cup – Image Credit: Selección de Baloncesto de la República Dominicana/Twitter

The Guy: Karl-Anthony Towns, the All-Star big man for the Minnesota Timberwolves, is a narrative-changing addition for los dominicanos. He hadn’t played for them since 2013, but decided to join once they made this year’s tournament.

Towns is important for two big reasons: his combination of size, strength, and shooting ability is something very few people in the World Cup–no less the NBA–can defend, and his presence takes the eyes off of the DR’s more underrated difference-makers.

X-Factor: Speaking of difference-makers, one that should stand out this summer is Indiana Pacer Chris Duarte, who highlighted his explosive game when he dropped 20 points in their electric qualifying match versus Venezuela. Duarte might not be the number one or two option scoring-wise, but he has the ability to be a lightning bug for the DR. He diversifies their offensive game in a way that makes them a serious force to reckon with, not to mention being one of the team’s most consistent defenders.

🇵🇭Philippines (FIBA Rank: 40)

How They Got Here: After a disappointing 32nd-place finish to the previous FIBA World Cup, the Philippines are looking for a bounce-back showing this summer, though they face an extremely difficult grouping.

The Guy: Heading the charge, and far and away the most talented player on the team, is Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson, who is coming off a 20.8 point-per-game season in the NBA. It’s well-known just how good Clarkson is, but the biggest question is: how far can he really take them? Clarkson will definitely improve the team’s scoring, but there could be concerns with team chemistry, now that the dynamic has changed so suddenly from a team-based scoring attack to star player one.

X-Factor: The attention Clarkson will attract may also fuel other secondary guys to be even better, like Dwight Ramos, who had 18 points in a qualifying game versus Lebanon, and could very well be a consistent double-digit scorer for them. Similarly, former 7’3″ G-League Ignite prospect Kai Sotto is a readily available force in the paint and lengthens the team a lot more, making them a much more formidable force.

🇮🇹Italy (FIBA Rank: 10)

How They Got Here: This year’s Italian squad is most definitely the favorite to make it out of Group A, but underlying concerns are still very prevalent. The Italians made a miracle run in the FIBA EuroBasket 2022, upsetting the favored Serbia before a narrow loss to France, and displayed their prowess despite having much less ‘star power’ than some of their other European counterparts. Yet, the concerns mainly lie with their frontcourt, where veterans like Nicolo Melli will have a rough time guarding younger bigs like Towns and Fernando, who will feast with their combination of size and shooting ability.

The Guy: But on the other hand, their young frontcourt is one of the most promising in the entire world. 27 year-old Simone Fontecchio, who has slowly but surely made his way into the conversation of one of the NBA’s premiere rising stars, is sure to become the top option this tournament; every Italian knows they can only go as far as Fontecchio takes them.

X-Factor: But their frontcourt doesn’t end with the Jazz small forward, as studs like Nico Mannion and Matteo Spagnolo being some of the most talented young guys featured in the FIBA World Cup right now. Sharpshooter Marco Spissu is also going to be a name to remember, because if he gets hot, there is no stopping him. Italy’s biggest strength is that there is no one “x-factor”: there’s five of them, all of which could burst forward at a moment’s notice.

My Prediction:

  1. Italy
  2. Dominican Republic
  3. Angola
  4. Philippines

Italy’s dominance will carry over from EuroBasket, where their offensive weapons will continue to overwhelm the defenses they are set to face, and their firepower will prove to be simply too much. Anthony Towns and company will be able to sneak by their tough competitors to advance to the knockout stage because of their balanced attack, and experience with even tougher competitors like the USA and Canada.

Angola and the Philippines will put up good fights, but a lack of experience will be the ultimate deciding factor in keeping them from moving any further.

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