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Everything you need to know about the 2014 FIBA World Cup

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Team USA is the clear favorite, but a slew of other contenders led by host nation Spain will pose stiff challenges at the 2014 FIBA World Cup. Read on for team-by-team previews, a schedule of games and much more.

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The 2014 FIBA World Cup (formerly the World Championships) begins at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning and goes on for two weeks until a world champion is crowned. Watching the games may be challenging given the six-hour time difference from the east coast to Spain, but it's basketball, something we've been without since June.

Team USA is again the favorite, though the departure of so many top stars makes it a weaker favorite than usual. One could argue that host country Spain is the favorite given that its playing on home soil and is motivated to avenge defeats to Team USA in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. Many other top clubs are depleted, but are certainly able to give Team USA and Spain a run for their money.

Here's everything you need to know about the 2014 FIBA World Cup. Click the links to jump to different sections.

GROUPS | FAVORITES | CONTENDERS | REST OF FIELD | SCHEDULE

THE GROUPS

The 24 teams were divided into four pools of six and will play each other once over the next six days. The four teams with the best records in each group proceed to a 16-team, single-elimination tournament that begins Sept. 6. Seeding is determined by a team's performance in pool play. The top team in Group A faces the fourth-place team in Group B, the top team in Group C faces the fourth-place team in Group D and so on.

Team USA is in Group C, widely seen as the easiest of the four pods. Top challenger Spain, meanwhile, was drawn into Group A, which most see as the "Group of Death."

Group A Group B Group C Group D
Favorite Spain Croatia USA Lithuania
Challenger Brazil Greece Turkey Australia
Challenger France Argentina Ukraine Slovenia
Favorite to advance Serbia Puerto Rico Dominican Republic Mexico
Underdog Egypt Senegal New Zealand Angola
Underdog Iran Philippines Finland Korea

This setup means Team USA and Spain avoid each other until the final, though Spain must navigate a difficult side of the bracket that includes Eurobasket 2013 champion France, an experienced Argentina squad and other top contenders like Brazil, Croatia and Greece.

Click here for more on the FIBA World Cup format.

THE TEAMS

THE FAVORITES

1. USA: Most of the big stars stayed home, but Team USA still has much more talent than anyone in the field. Can it come together in time to win in hostile territory? FULL TEAM PREVIEW

2. Spain: The Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka is a terrifying front line and they'll be at home, but are some of Spain's key pillars too long in the tooth? FULL TEAM PREVIEW.


Marc and Pau Gasol, Photo credit: Christian Petersen / Getty Images

MEDAL CONTENDERS

3. Lithuania: Jonas Valanciunas and Donatas Motiejunas are the stars, but Lithuania is deep and is a favorite to win Group D even with point guard Mantas Kalnietis injured. FULL TEAM PREVIEW.

4. Brazil: Few countries boast a frontcourt as good as Nene, Anderson Varejao and Tiago Splitter, but does Brazil have enough depth behind its stars? FULL TEAM PREVIEW.

5. France: The megastars (Tony Parker, Joakim Noah) aren't playing, but the Eurobasket 2013 champions have more than enough talent to make a deep run. FULL TEAM PREVIEW.

6. Croatia: New Nets wing Bojan Bogdanovic and 2014 76ers lottery pick Dario Saric lead a young team looking to build on a fourth-place finish at Eurobasket 2013. FULL TEAM PREVIEW

7. Australia: Patty Mills' injury is a bummer, but it creates an opportunity for Dante Exum to do his thing alongside Matthew Dellavedova and Aron Baynes. FULL TEAM PREVIEW.

8. Slovenia: Goran Dragic's squad has great speed and shooting, but a lack of size must be overcome. FULL TEAM PREVIEW.

9. Greece: The transition between the core of a team that upset Team USA in 2006 to now has been painful, but Giannis Antetokounmpo's emergence has provided renewed hope. FULL TEAM PREVIEW

10. Argentina: This should be the last hurrah of the golden generation that burst onto the scene in the 2002 World Championships and 2004 Olympics. Sadly, it won't include Manu Ginobili, who the Spurs barred from participating. FULL TEAM PREVIEW.


Luis Scola, Photo Credit: Christian Petersen / Getty Images

THREATS TO ADVANCE

11. Turkey: The 2010 World Championship finalists have fallen off badly since and were forced to rely on a wild card to make the field at all. Pelicans center Omer Asik is here, but top stars Ersan Ilyasova, Enes Kanter and Hedo Turkoglu are not. Luckily, they ended up in an easy group outside of the United States and should battle Ukraine for second place.

12. Ukraine: Longtime NBA coach and TNT commentator Mike Fratello has built a team in his image: anonymous, yet cohesive. Ukraine finished in the top six in Eurobasket 2013 and continue to build its program step by step. Veteran Pooh Jeter is the elder statesman for a young, athletic club that should advance and scare a top contender.

13. Serbia: In most groups, Serbia would be a contender, but drawing into Group A with Spain, France and Brazil makes a deep run difficult. Suns 2014 first-round pick Bogdan Bogdanovic leads a tall side that has plenty of offensive talent, but will struggle to defend Spain and Brazil's inside depth.

14. Puerto Rico: Timberwolves guard J.J. Barea and former NBA journeyman Carlos Arroyo lead a gritty club that could shake up Group B, but a lack of size will likely doom them by the knockout stages. (Remember former Knick Renaldo Balkman? He's Puerto Rico's starting power forward.)

15. Mexico: The surprising 2013 FIBA Americas champions boast two NBA players in Gustavo Ayon and Jorge Guttierez, but not much else. Still, they should be able to beat out Angola and Korea to make the knockout stages.

16. Dominican Republic: This could have been a fun squad with top high school prospect Karl Towns joining Hawks star Al Horford and veteran Rockets wing Francisco Garcia. Alas, Horford won't play and Kentucky reportedly isn't letting Towns suit up either, leaving Garcia to prop up a hodgepodge roster.

17. Senegal: One thing's for sure: Senegal has size. Promising Timberwolves youngster Gorgui Dieng leads a three-man rotation that includes former Wizards and Kings big man Hamady N'Diaye and one-time lottery pick Saer Sene (remember him?). Getting crushed by the Dominican Republic in their final tune-up game isn't a good omen, though.

18. New Zealand: Thunder center Steven Adams isn't playing, so it's going to be an uphill climb for the Kiwis to get out of the group stages. They still have former Wisconsin point guard Kirk Penney, who dropped 37 points on Lithuania in a 2010 World Championships game.

19. Finland: The Fins' appearance in this tournament came with much controversy. Despite its low FIBA ranking, Finland earned a wild card spot over Canada, which is stocked with young talent. Wizards big man Drew Gooden didn't get his paperwork done in time to become a naturalized citizen, so former NBA second-round pick Petteri Koponen will have to lead the way.


J.J. Barea of Puerto Rico, Photo credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

EXPECT AN EARLY EXIT

20. Philippines: The proud basketball nation is making its first appearance in a major international tournament since 1954, which is great for them. Great for us: we finally have a chance to see what a team built around Andray Blatche will look like.

21. Angola: This traditional African power always tops competitors on its continent to reach major international competitions, only to fall meekly in the group stages as the opposition improves. Group D is weak beyond the top 3, so perhaps this is the year it changes.

22. Iran: Former Grizzlies big man Hamed Haddadi and one-time Oregon star Arsalan Kazemi are the players to watch for the 2013 FIBA Asia champions. Iran would've had a chance in a different group, but they'd have to beat out one of Serbia, France, Spain or Brazil to advance, and that's not happening.

23. Egypt: A Cinderella run to the final of the FIBA Africa Championship (after losing all three games in the group stages, weirdly enough) got Egypt here. A win over Iran and fifth place in Group A would qualify as a major success.

24. Korea: China's shocking defeat to Chinese Taipei in the FIBA Asia quarterfinals opened the door for Korea to claim the third Asia spot. Don't expect the stay to last long.

THE SCHEDULE

The FIBA World Cup begins Saturday and will proceed at a breakneck pace until the championship game on Sept. 14. Here is Team USA's pool play schedule.

Aug. 30, 3:30 p.m.: Finland (ESPN)
Aug. 31, 3:30 p.m.: Turkey (ESPN)
Sept. 2, 11:30 a.m.: New Zealand (ESPN2)
Sept. 3, 3:30 p.m.: Dominican Republic (ESPN2)
Sept. 4, 11:30 a.m.: Ukraine (ESPN2)

Click here for the full FIBA World Cup schedule.

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