The first round of pool play concludes Tuesday night at the 2013 FIBA Americas tournament. The last game of the day will feature a rather surprising matchup as Brazil and Jamaica will square off in a loser goes home game.
Yep, the same Brazil that's currently ranked ninth in the world, finished in fifth place at last year's Olympics and has been in three of the last four FIBA Americas championship games is one game big Samardo Samuels game away from being eliminated in the first round of a tournament featuring perennial cellar-dwellers like Paraguay, Uruguay and Mexico.
Fans of international basketball are right to be shocked by Brazil's performance in the FIBA Americas, but this isn't the Brazil most fans have become familiar with over the past several years. Nene, Tiago Splitter, Anderson Varejao and Leandro Barbosa are all sitting out for a variety of reasons, leaving a huge hole in the middle and a lack of reliable scoring all over the court.
The players that were expected to step up in their place simply haven't panned out on either end of the court, however, and everything coach Ruben Magnano has tried hasn't worked -- whether he's tried to go big, go small or pound it inside, this iteration of Brazil just isn't able to get it done against a talented field ... and it doesn't help Magnano hasn't coached much of the last two games after being kicked out during Sunday's loss to Canada.
Without the aforementioned four players, recent Utah Jazz draftee Raul Neto is the only NBA player on the Brazil roster. Many expected Brazil's roster was deep enough that the young guard wouldn't see the court this tournament, but he's appeared in the last two games after getting a DNP-CD in the team's opening outing. Those appearances have come in garbage time, and he's scored just three points in 19 minutes of action.
Marcelo Huertas was expected to pick up the NBA players' slack considering he had a solid showing in the 2012 Olympics and is one of the best point guards in Spain's top league. That hasn't happened yet, however, as he's shooting just 36.7 percent from the field and doesn't have enough help around him to make up for that lack of scoring.
Brazil's top scorer has been 33-year-old Guilherme Giovannoni, a former highly-regarded prospect that never really broke out on the international circuit. He's been just fine for Brazil this tournament, though, averaging 14 points and 8.7 rebounds ... though his 4-for-17 performance from beyond the arc has contributed to an overall lack of outside shooting prowess (12-of-54, 22.2%) for a team that was expected to be quite solid from beyond the arc.
The fact that Brazil has struggled so is partially due to them not having the talent to matchup with their opponents: former NBA backup big Esteban Batista almost single-handedly beat them Monday, San Antonio Spurs guard Cory Joseph had a huge game against them on Sunday and Renaldo Balkman scored 24 points against them in their tournament-opening loss.
This simply isn't a very good version of Brazil's national team, as they've shown thus far in the tournament. There's a chance they keep themselves alive for another round of pool play if they're able to overtake Jamaica, but the writing is on the wall: Brazil isn't going to be good enough to earn an opportunity in next year's FIBA World Cup.
Luckily for them, though, there's a good chance the FIBA Americas doesn't really matter for them. The 2014 FIBA World Cup has four wild card spots available and, along with China, Brazil's likely to earn one of those spots as long as they promise a few of their NBA players will show up next summer. And then, even if they don't play well next summer, they're automatically qualified for the 2016 Olympics as the host country.
It's obviously a down year for Brazilian basketball in international competition, but they should be lucky enough to get automatic bids in the next two big basketball tournaments. And, as long as that happens, this year's poor showing won't be remembered by the time the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro roll around.