And then there were four…
After two weeks of competition in China, just four nations remain in the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup. On one side of the bracket, the French National Team will take on Argentina and on the other side, an undefeated Spanish National Team will take on the Australian Boomers in a rematch of the Bronze Medal game in the 2016 Olympic Games.
With back-to-back defending champion United States and fellow powerhouse Serbia eliminated from the tournament, the field is wide open as each of the remaining four teams has a legitimate shot at capturing gold.
As we gear up for the final days of the World Cup, take a closer look at why each of the remaining teams will - and won't - win it all…
Why France will win it: France just beat the United States which means it should be confident that it can hang with absolutely anybody.
That confidence coupled with having one of the best remaining duos in Evan Fournier and Rudy Gobert makes France a prime candidate to capture the gold in China. Fournier is averaging a team-best 21.0 points per game in the tournament while Gobert continues to show he's one of the best bigs in the world by imposing his will around the rim on both ends of the floor.
That duo is just two of five NBA players on the roster, as Hornets veteran forward Nicolas Batum has come on strong as of late and 2017 Knicks lottery pick Frank Ntilikina has found his stride, making big plays down the stretch of France's win over Team USA.
Why France won't win it: Working against France's favour is the crop of big men Gobert stands to face on the path to winning. Should it get past Argentina and savvy veteran Luis Scola, France will face either Spain, who features Marc Gasol and the Hernangomez brothers or Australia, who has already made things difficult for Gobert with Aron Baynes, Andrew Bogut and Jock Landale.
France has a realistic path to the gold, but it cannot attain it without big performances from its centre. Marching unscathed through that group of bigs is a lot to ask even of Gobert.
Why Argentina will win it: Argentina is one of three remaining undefeated teams in the field - a product of the team's chemistry and experience.
The Argentine National Team earned a spot in the Semi-Finals with an impressive team victory over an imposing Serbia team that had been favoured by many to win it all. Argentina's familiarity with one another as a unit increases its chances to win gold for the first time since 1950.
Just because there are no current NBA players on the roster doesn't mean there isn't talent, either - EuroLeaguer Facundo Campazzo has showcased his wizardry on the offensive end while 39-year-old Luis Scola looks as effective as he did during his NBA days. In times where the team might seem outmatched, its team play allows them to remain afloat and cause disruption for other.
Why Argentina won't win it: The concern surrounding this team is that its strengths could easily become weaknesses depending on the matchup. Should they face a team with more talent and sufficient chemistry, will a lack of NBA talent be Argentina's downfall? Can Argentina continue to rely on the aging Scola to be its leading scorer?
That could be what stands in the way between the nation and winning the 2019 World Cup.
Why Spain will win it: Spain, too, is undefeated ahead of the final four and has done so thanks in part to the outstanding play of its four NBA players, namely Ricky Rubio and the aforementioned Marc Gasol.
It's been 13 years, but when the Spanish National Team won FIBA World Cup gold in 2006, the roster featured both Gasol and Rudy Fernandez, who are both still competing for their country at 34-years-old. With that duo knowing what it takes to win and Rubio excelling as both a scorer (15.3 ppg) and playmaker (5.5 apg), Spain has the perfect formula to reclaim its spot atop the basketball world by winning the tournament.
Spain has done a remarkable job taking care of the ball in China, committing just 71 turnovers in six games in contrast to its 136 assists - the third-highest total of all teams at the World Cup. Plenty of credit goes to both Rubio and Gasol, who have handled the majority of the team's playmaking duties thus far.
Why Spain won't win it: Spain will next take on an Australia team that has an extremely talented backcourt. The potential problems that Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova present on both sides of the floor could ultimately be what halts Spain's magical run.
While Rubio has been excellent throughout the World Cup, his toughest test so far awaits and it will certainly be a challenge to keep his play up to par with what he's displayed thus far. Can he put forth yet another solid effort against Australia's strong guards? Can he contain Mills while also scoring on the other end? Can Gasol continue to run this show with Aron Baynes and Andrew Bogut in the way?
In terms of matchups, Australia poses a major threat and could be what ultimately keeps Spain from reclaiming the gold.
Why Australia will win it: Of the three teams that have yet to lose in China, Australia could very well be the most confident of the bunch as it has seemingly gotten better with time.
Above anything, the main reason the Boomers should enter the final four with confidence is simple: They have Patty Mills.
Mills has tapped into another level at the World Cup, posting averages of 22.2 points to go along with 4.5 assists and 2.3 rebounds. The Spurs prolific guard has shown he's capable of doing whatever it takes to lead this team to its first-ever medal-finish in international competition.
It's not just Mills, either.
Aron Baynes, Matthew Dellavedova and Joe Ingles have all done their part on the offensive end while Andrew Bogut has had his hand in a little bit of everything - scoring, rebounding, playmaking, you name it.
Perhaps most impressive about this Aussie team is its passing as it is averaging 24.7 assists per game, good for first among all teams in contention for the gold.
Why Australia won't win it: A deviation from what's worked, or an over-reliance on Mills, is ultimately the biggest potential setback for this team moving forward. As mentioned already, Spain is a team that's seen it all and could make the most of its experience advantage to make things difficult for the Boomers.
In the 2016 Olympic Games, Australia fell to Spain by one point in the Bronze medal game. That memory is likely still very fresh in the memory of the Boomers.
As Australia's confidence grows, so will the difficulty of the tasks it faces, meaning it will have to go all-in and fire on all cylinders to earn it.
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