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Team USA's dominance and 2 other takeaways from the 2014 FIBA World Cup

Team USA made it look way too easy in cruising to gold, Spain missed its best shot to knock them off and several European stars showed their talent in a unique setting. We look back at the 2014 FIBA World Cup.

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno

1. Easier done than said for Team USA

By Mike Prada

A month ago -- hell, even a week ago -- there were serious concerns that Team USA wasn't even the favorite to win gold in Madrid. One starting forward went down with a devastating injury, partially convincing the team's leader -- along with his own mental fatigue and maybe a big shoe negotiation -- to drop out, too. The starting guards couldn't defend a chair, the power forward was the team's eighth choice for the role, the supposed lead point guard was rusty from two years rehabbing terrible knee injuries and the leader was a 21-year-old who barely played in the last Olympics. Meanwhile, the host nation was growing into a terrifying juggernaut that convinced Mike Krzyzewski to build a roster essentially just for one game.

Now, the only thought is this: is Team USA so far ahead of the rest of the world that the rules for international competitions need to change again?

A 129-92 victory over Serbia in the championship game completed a dominant tournament for Team USA's "C" team. They won their nine games by an average of 33 points, a mark bested only by the original Dream Team (43.75 points) and Dream Team II (37.75 points) since pros were allowed into these competitions in 1992. They were significantly more dominant than the 2010 FIBA World Championships team led by Kevin Durant and the star-studded 2012 Olympic team that won gold in London. Keep in mind: this was a team without an obvious star like Durant, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant or Tim Duncan.

Certain events conspired to make Team USA's path easier than most champions. They were drawn into a joke of a group and on the opposite side of top projected challengers. They benefited from Spain's stunning quarterfinal loss to France -- even now, we can say a USA-Spain final would have been significantly more competitive than the USA-Serbia one we got. The field was weaker than usual, considering France's absences, Brazil's shakiness and the pre-tournament injury to Lithuanian captain Mantas Kalnietis.

But still: Team USA's weakest team on paper since 1992 beat the supposedly-improving world's best by an average of 33 points per game. You could make the case that six Team USA players -- Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kenneth Faried, Anthony Davis and even Klay Thompson -- belonged on the All-Tournament Team over anyone else in the field. Save for one sleepy half against Turkey and five wobbly minutes against Serbia, Team USA was untouchable. The games got boring, so thorough was Team USA's domination.

The odd part: Team USA demolished the field while often looking technically sloppy. The preferred offense in tough times, whenever they sort of resulted: either have Harden bowl into three defenders for a foul or throw the ball at the rim and let Faried and Davis grab it. They were about as frustrating as any club that wins every game by at least 25 points.

And yet, they won every game by at least 25 points. Krzyzewski and chairman Jerry Colangelo deserve immense credit for making USA Basketball's player pool deeper. So too does assistant coach Tom Thibodeau for turning a starting lineup featuring three abysmal perimeter defenders into a devastating defense unit.

But we've been told often that the rest of the world is good enough to expose Team USA when it looks disorganized. Clearly, they're not. This shouldn't have been so easy for Team USA. Perhaps it's time to change the format again to make the fight for a title more interesting.

2. Spain's legacy at a crossroads

By Kevin Zimmerman

France's defeat of host nation Spain in the tournament's quarterfinal round ended the anticipated feature matchup between the Spanish and Team USA. While the U.S. lost a chance to prove itself against the best on-paper foe, Spain has a longer and more painful way of perceiving the disappointment.

Earning medals in the future, let alone winning gold, won't get any easier.

Everything lined up for Spain to win gold this summer. It was playing on familiar soil. In making the championship game, a Spanish squad with both youth and experience would have faced a second tier of American stars. Spain's loss to a French team without Tony Parker wasn't a significant disappointment it itself so much as in context of the past and the future.

The Gasol brothers are aging, and the next opportunity on the international stage comes in the 2016 Olympics, when it's likely the Americans put together a more impressive roster. While Ricky Rubio represents youth, there's always the worry this is a once in a lifetime generation of players. Look no further than Argentina's Golden Generation, which won a gold at the 2004 Olympics in Greece and a bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. After coming in fourth place in the 2012 Olympics, an aging Luis Scola could only do so much to carry his team to an 11th-place finish in the FIBA event this summer. The roster of veterans didn't let itself breed young talent; now it has little.

It's not over by any means, but the clock is slowly ticking on Spain. Still, the legacy of this generation might have been dealt a serious blow with a lost opportunity. Team USA seems to have used this B or C Team to flex its depth and power. Squads like Serbia, Lithuania and France have some intriguing youth that now have the experience to help them improve.

Spain is left wondering "what if?" It also should be wondering "what if never again?"

3. European players burst onto the scene

By Kevin Zimmerman

As the parity increases across national teams, good players get noticed more. They aren't performing well against bad teams or inhibited by the lack of talent on their own teams. A good performance is a good performance, and it's become especially true in a still improving pool of European prospects.

Several European players greatly helped their reputations with strong performances. Serbian point guard Miloš Teodosić led his team to a silver medal -- ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla considered his NBA desires on a few broadcasts -- while teammate Bogdan Bogdanović showed flashes and backed up the Phoenix Suns drafting him this summer.

Croatia's Bogdanović, Bojan, averaged 21.2 points, showing why the Nets are bringing him to the states for the 2014-15 season. Slovenian guard Zoran Dragic could soon enough join brother Goran in the NBA. Throw in names like Emir Preldžić, who averaged 12 points and four assists for Turkey, and Greek big man Ioannis Bourousis, a double-double threat, and it's clear there's never been so much talent.

Some of those players will sniff the NBA. Others will be happy to be paid big chunks of money to remain in Europe.

And yet, Team USA still dominated the tournament. The United States clearly has a wealth of talent to work with in international play, whereas the talent in Europe is currently separated into many smaller countries. Moving forward, it's worth wondering what is best for the game. What can grow the sport more: continuing with Team USA dominating the rest or conceiving a tournament where the USA faces a world team?

Final bracket

bracket 2

bracket 3

Final standings

  1. United States: 9-0 (G)
  2. Serbia: 5-4 (S)
  3. France: 6-3 (B)
  4. Lithuania: 6-3
  5. Spain: 6-1
  6. Brazil: 5-2
  7. Slovenia: 5-2
  8. Turkey: 4-3
  9. Greece: 5-1
  10. Croatia: 3-3
  11. Argentina: 3-3
  12. Australia: 3-3
  13. Dominican Republic: 2-4
  14. Mexico: 2-4
  15. New Zealand: 2-4
  16. Senegal: 2-4
  17. Angola: 2-3
  18. Ukraine: 2-3
  19. Puerto Rico: 1-4
  20. Iran: 1-4
  21. Philippines: 1-4
  22. Finland: 1-4
  23. Korea: 0-5
  24. Egypt: 0-5


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