On Thursday (5:40pm UK) in Recife, Brazil, the knockout stages of the 2022 FIBA AmeriCup commence. In one of four single-elimination quarterfinals, Team USA takes on Puerto Rico, with a spot in the tournament’s final four on the line.
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The FIBA AmeriCup (previously known as the FIBA Americas Championship) is a once every-four-years tournament, involving national basketball teams from throughout of the Western Hemisphere (North America, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean, to be precise). The FIBA AmeriCup has admittedly lost some luster in recent years, as, since 2017, the tournament ceased to take place every two years and, far more importantly, ceased also served as a qualifier for the FIBA World Cup and the Summer Olympics. Nonetheless, there’s still plenty of talent on hand, and plenty at stake for the sides involved.
The current 2022 FIBA AmeriCup was originally slated to take place in 2021, before being postponed due to COVID, has concluded its group stages, and now tips off its single-elimination knockout stage. The action commences on Thursday in Recife, Brazil, with the first of four quarterfinal contests between Mexico and Canada, with a spot in one of the two September 10 semifinals (against the winner of Brazil and the Dominican Republic) on the line. Immediately afterwards, the United States and Puerto Rico will square off, vying for a spot in the semifinal spot on the other side of the bracket, against the winner of Argentina and Venezuela.
While this version of ‘Team USA’ conjure images of the superstar- and legend-laden rosters to which we’ve grown accustomed in the Olympics in the FIBA World Cup, there’s no shortage of proven NBA experience and quality, including the likes of Langston Galloway, Quinn Cook, Norris Cole, Patrick McCaw, Jodie Meeks and Jordan Bell. Under head coach Alex Jensen, Team USA has largely impressed this summer, with comfortable wins over Uruguay (105-71) and Colombia (95-77) in qualifying, for this tournament and victories by 30 and 52 points, respectively, over Panama and Venezuela in group play. A notable hiccup on this run, of course, came in the side’s FIBA AmeriCup opener against Mexico, in which they shockingly fell by six points.
Opposite the US is a Puerto Rico side that has faced more of a roller coaster ride this summer. In their two qualifying games, Puerto Rico narrowly defeated Brazil (75-72) before falling by eight (78-70) to Uruguay. Since arriving in Brazil, Puerto Rico has defeated the Dominican Republic by six and the United States Virgin Islands by three, with a 13-point loss to South American powerhouse Argentina sandwiched in between.
Though Puerto Rico doesn’t boast the same NBA pedigree as does the USA, this team boasts arguably the best and most impactful player across both of these rosters in New Orleans Pelicans guard Jose Alvarado. Alvarado is coming off of a solid rookie season in the NBA, in which he averaged six points and nearly three assists in 15 minutes per game in the regular season. Where he really made his mark, however, was in the playoffs. In the Pelicans’ battling six-game opening round loss to the top-seeded Phoenix Suns, Alvarado, in an expanded upped his scoring (to eight points), his efficiency (48.5% shooting, 37.5% on 3-pointers) and, most notably, hounded and frustrated the Suns’ star point guard and future Hall of Famer Chris Paul on defense. Whether or not he ever consistently stuffs the stat sheet, Alvarado’s combination of grit and relentless effort on defense suggest he’s got a long, solid NBA career head of him.
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There’s a good bit to like about the Puerto Rico team. Led by the hard-nosed defense of Jose Alvarado, this team has every hope of making life difficult for Team USA. However, given the sides’ showings against common opposition in recent days and weeks, the superior depth of Team USA’s roster, and the greater consistency in their recent performances, it’s tough to see a result other than a Team USA win. Now, whether they can post that victory by the 15-plus-point margin that the oddsmakers expect is more of an open question…