The 2012 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament tips off on Monday in Caracas, Venezuela, with eight teams taking the first step at moving their country closer to playing in the London Olympics. It's only pool play, but a pretty important step considering just one loss could be enough to dash a team's Olympic hopes.
Each team will play the other two members of their group (pairings available here) from Monday through Wednesday with the top two finishers in each advancing to the actual eight-team tournament taking place beginning Friday. Monday's schedule includes the following games:
Russia vs. Korea (11:30 a.m ET)
Korea hasn't made an appearance at the Olympics since 1996 in Atlanta, where it lost all seven of its games. This year doesn't look like it'll be the Koreans' year, either, considering they'll likely have to upset either Russia or the Dominican Republic just to make it to the tournament. Their odds of an upset on Monday are bleak, too, considering Russia's roster contains NBA-level talents like Andrei Kirilenko, Timofey Mozgov, Alexey Shved and Viktor Khryapa.
Greece vs. Jordan (2 p.m. ET)
Greece is a favorite in this tournament due to its size and a good mixture of national team veterans and young up-and-coming talent. NBA fans might recognize the names of Nick Calathes and Vassilis Spanoulis, but Antonis Fotsis and Georgios Printezis are also very good at this level. Jordan's roster features Osama 'Sam' Daghles.
Angola vs. Macedonia (5 p.m. ET)
This game is likely going to be the best of the day as Bo McCalebb attempts to put Macedonia on his back -- as he did last summer -- to upset 15th-ranked Angola. Angola finished as the runner-up in last summer's Afrobasket tournament and is trying to keep alive a streak of making it to the Olympics ever since its run at Barcelona in 1992.
Nigeria vs. Venezuela (8 p.m. ET)
Venezuela, the tournament's host team and coached by Eric Musselman, is a young team that put together a solid showing at last year's FIBA Americas tournament. Its only NBA player is Greivis Vasquez, though Gregory Echenique is an interesting player to keep an eye on as he just finished up his junior year at Creighton. Nigeria's roster includes Hornets forward Al-Farouq Aminu (and his brother Alade) along with former NBAers Ekene Ibekwe,Ike Diogu, Koko Archibong and Olumide Oyedeji.