One of the big Olympic stories of the day was the United States’ crushing 156-73 victory in basketball over Nigeria. It set several records, such as most points scored by one team in a single Olympic match and most points by a single American player in an Olympic game (Carmelo Anthony). I am going to take several things from this epic blowout:
- Olympic basketball should probably remain a twelve-team tournament. As of the end of last year’s FIBA Zone Championships, Nigeria was the No. 21 ranked team in the world. At No. 32, Tunisia was the only Olympic team that was ranked lower, and they lost to the US by 47 on Tuesday. This implies that there is not a lot of depth in international basketball. In the 2010 FIBA World Championships, the US’s margin of victory was ten or greater in every game but one, a 70-68 victory over Brazil in pool play. For Turkey, the runner-up, six of their eight wins were by more than ten points, and one of the ones that wasn’t was their semi-final match versus Serbia. (It should be noted that neither Turkey nor Serbia is in these Olympics.) I’m all for having more teams in major international tournaments. Having more teams means more games, more experience, and more exposure, and more games means more money. However, the Olympics are basketball’s biggest stage, and I’m not sure that having massive blowouts like this is necessarily good for the sport.
- African basketball needs some help. In the United States’ last two games, they have beaten African opponents by a combined total of 130 points! Somehow, this exceeds the United States’ total margin of victory in their five pool play games at the 2010 FIBA World Championsips, which included four twenty-point and two thirty-point victories. (One of those thirty-pointers was against Tunisia.) Nigeria and Tunisia are Africa’s second and third-ranked teams, respectively, behind only regional-but not global-powerhouse Angola. Angola lost to the US by 55 in the Round of 16 at those World Championships. There is only one NBA player, New Orleans’s Al-Farouq Aminu, who plays for those three countries, although Tunisian center Salah Mejri did play Summer League ball this year, and Nigeria has former NBA’ers Ike Diogu and Olumide Oyedeji. Those three teams have a total of three players playing in Spain, France, Italy, Greece, and Russia. Such crushing defeats and lack of high-level players are indicative of the continent’s weakness. Furthermore, only three of Nigeria’s players were born outside of the United States. I think FIBA may be interested in improving the quality of play on this continent.
- FIBA needs to revamp its qualification process. I have trouble believing that Europe only deserves two automatic bids from its continental tournament, while Oceania has only two nations in its continental tournament, one of whom automatically participates in the Olympics. I’ll let that slide because Australia’s pretty good at basketball, but that’s not my big problem. Of the five FIBA continental zones and the official qualifying tournament, only Oceania has their bids determined by something other than a single-elimination knockout stage, and this is only because Australia and New Zealand are the only teams that bother to try; otherwise, they’d have a knockout stage too. Iran, Asia’s qualifier in 2008, finished fifth in the FIBA Asia tournament despite going 9-1, while runner-up Jordan went 5-4. The difference between the two teams-Jordan beat Iran in the first knockout round, probably costing Iran its spot in the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament-I don’t think they would have beaten China. As I mentioned in an earlier article, I was (and still am) extremely annoyed that Nigeria is in the Olympics at all, largely on the virtue of a one-point victory over fourth-ranked Greece in a knock-out round at the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament. FIBA should put a greater emphasis on round-robin and group stages like FIFA does, as opposed to the knockout tournaments that FIBA favors. (FIFA has some problems that I would never wish on any other sport, but they got their qualifying tournament formats right.) I know that elite basketball players can only compete during the summer, but that’s still plenty of time-they only need to play ten games (two group stages of five, I think). In fact, the FIBA Americas tournament without the knockout stage would be shorter, while only Africa’s tournament would add more than one game.
In a future article, I think I will have proposal for fixing each of FIBA’s tournaments so that the teams that make the big tournaments are the best teams who deserve to go there. Until then, thank you for reading, and please comment.