Greece Is Eliminated from Olympic Basketball Based on One Game

I’m afraid that I’ve put my transactions opinions series on hold for a while, largely due to laziness.  (I’m sorry, but it’s just true.)  I’ll probably hold off and assign everybody a transaction grade, regardless of whether or not I did them in Part 1, on July 11 when everything becomes official.  In all likelihood, I would have published Part 2 tonight, but I saw an amazing story that just needed to be written, especially since it ties in with articles that I have written in the past.

Those of you who have read my earlier work know that I believe that international sports tournaments should have more games largely because we never know who really was the best team because there is so much room for upsets.  FIBA’s qualifying tournament for Olympic basketball is a prime example of that.  This is how it’s set up:

  1. Twelve teams qualify based on their performance in continental competitions.  Nothing wrong here, aside from the fact that the continental tournaments have single-elimination knockout rounds.  I’ll call that an orange flag because it’s not terrible enough to warrant a full-blown red flag.
  2. They are placed into three pods of four pods based on their continental zones.  I’m going to call this an orange flag as well; even though it would be better to have the pods based on FIBA ranking, this is not the end of the world.
  3. They are grouped into four groups of three.  Well, that’s another orange flag because they can still play double round robin group stages.
  4. The groups are a single round robin, consisting of only two games for each team.  Big time red flag.  The Miami Heat lost two games in a row six times this year, including twice during the play-offs.
  5. The top two teams in each group advance to a single-elimination knockout tournament where the semi-final winners and the winner of a third-place game advance to the Olympics.  Red flag again.  You’re putting way too much on a single game since everyone loses games.  

Unlike soccer, whose Olympics are basically a U-23 event, the Olympics are for all intents and purposes the biggest international basketball competition.  Therefore, FIBA should try to ensure that the best teams have enough margin for error where they could lose a reasonable number of games and still qualify.

This year, Greece was eliminated by Nigeria in a one-point upset.  Greece is ranked No. 4 in the world, while Nigeria is No. 21.  Okay, maybe that doesn’t sound like a big deal, especially for the soccer fans out there.  However, consider this: Greece has 7.2 times as many points in the FIBA Rankings as Nigeria does.  In the world of soccer, this is like Spain being upset by Thailand or Burundi.  Granted, Nigeria has Ike Diogu, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Olumide Oyedeji on its roster, all of whom have played in the NBA.  However, in the group stage, Nigeria qualified on point differential, having lost to Venezuela by two and beaten Lithuania by six.  Greece, on the other hand, beat Jordan and Puerto Rico by forty-four and fourteen points, respectively.  Puerto Rico is ranked higher than Nigeria and Venezuela.  How about them apples?

Speaking of Lithuania and Puerto Rico, they were playing in the knockout round too.  After three quarters, Lithuania led by all of two points.  Puerto Rico could win easily.  Would the Olympics be the same without Lithuania, the basketball-crazy nation ranked No. 5 in the world.  Furthermore, No. 6 Turkey, No. 7 Italy, and No. 8 Serbia will not qualify, while non-Top 10 nations France, Brazil, Tunisia and Great Britain will.  Tunisia qualifies because somebody has to qualify from Africa, and Great Britain are the hosts, but what about all these great European nations who didn’t even get to go to the qualifying tournament.  No. 33 Macedonia was on a hot streak during last year’s Eurobasket, so they did receive a berth.  A combination of a bad draw and/or a bad game can really hurt teams, and this just shouldn’t be so.  Why should it be so?


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