The 2013 edition of the FIBA Americas Championship just became a lot more unpredictable, as some teams formerly considered invincible were dealt shock defeats, and some surprise teams suddenly enjoyed the limelight in Caracas.
José Juan Barea of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Puerto Rico
The first round saw Canada at second in their group with a 3-1 record. However, despite their bevy of NBA talents, they lost three games in succession. In contrast, Mexico, which was beaten by Canada on Sept 5, won their next three games to advance to the semifinals on Tuesday.
Dominican Republic, with two wins and two losses to their name in the group stage, won four straight games to make it to the semifinals. Argentina did just enough, winning two games in the second round.
This leaves us with the four best teams: Mexico, Argentina, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. All of them have already qualified for the 2014 FIBA World Cup, but there's nothing better than proving that they are the best in the Western Hemisphere. And there's no better stage than the Poliedro de Caracas.
Semifinal 1: Mexico vs. Argentina
Say whatever you want: Argentina just coasted along in the second round, they do not have the benefit of playing Andres Nocioni and Manu Ginobili, and they are a shell of their former selves. However, they did lead Group A in the first round, beating Mexico black and blue, 98-78; and while they were at it, stepped up just as they were on the brink of elimination.
There is one match-up everyone is looking at: the frontcourt showdown between Mexican Gustavo Ayon and Argentinian forward Luis Scola. They have contrasting styles of play, with Ayon getting his points on hustle and Scola posting up his opponents. However, fans should not overlook the impending showdown between guards Facundo Campazzo of Argentina and Orlando Mendez of Mexico, as both have shown the ability to light it up from long range.
Prediction: It will be a lot tighter, but Argentina will advance to the finals, defying expectations.
Semifinal 2: Puerto Rico vs. Dominican Republic
Once the leaders of the pack, Puerto Rico is no longer the odds-on favorite in this tournament. One reason is their loss to Dominican Republic on September 6, one that was decided by a pivotal fourth-quarter run anchored on Jack Martinez. They also had a scare against Venezuela, winning by one point in overtime before dropping their game against Mexico.
However, Puerto Rico can be a good team once they get themselves together. Their backcourt, featuring Larry Ayuso, JJ Barea, and Carlos Arroyo, is one of the best on the planet, and with Renaldo Balkman starting to dominate in the paint, the Boricuas have the upper hand. They will be met with stiff opposition from the equally tall Dominicans, who boast two 6'11" players and Houston Rockets forward Francisco Garcia.
Prediction: It will be an exciting game, with both sides trading the lead. In the end, the steadier backcourt wins. Puerto Rico by 5.
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