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Group B Preview: Croatia slight favourites going into open pool
SEVILLA (FIBA Basketball World Cup) - Croatia not only tip off Group B play against the Philippines, but the Europeans are also seen as the slight favourites in a Sevilla group that is considered quite open.
But Croatia, who finished fourth at EuroBasket 2013, go into Spain 2014 as the team expected to top Group B when it's all said and done - even among at least one of the other teams in Sevilla.
"If you look at the talent of the players on the roster I think Croatia is the top team in the group," said Argentina veteran playmaker Pablo Prigioni.
"I think they have the best team, the best players. For me, the favourites in the group."
Croatia have a lot of weapons, including Bojan Bogdanovic, Ante Tomic and Dario Saric. But there is a lot more to Jasmin Repesa's team with Roko Ukic, Oliver Lafayette, Damjen Rudez, Krunoslav Simon and Luka Zoric. The Croatians also come into the World Cup having finally gotten past the Quarter-Finals hurdle in Europe last summer.
The other European team in Sevilla is Greece, who reached the World Cup via a wild card. Fotios Katsikaris's team is missing leader Vasileios Spanoulis as well as Kostas Koufos but have added the ultra-dynamic Giannis Antetokounmpo to a group of veteran leaders who make Hellas a darkhorse podium contender.
The versatility of Antetokounmpo gives Katsikaris so many different options offensively and defensively. But the team is not expecting him to take over leadership duties, given that the Milwaukee Bucks talent still hasn't turned 20 years old.
"What Giannis can give us is a freshness. He's a young player, very ambitious, very athletic. We don't have this type of style or profile as a player. He's a guy who can help us in many areas - defense, rebounding. Mostly it's about the energy he brings with the team," Katsikaris said of Antetokounmpo.
Instead, Katiskaris will call upon veterans such as Nikos Zisis and Giannis Bourousis to be the leaders while Kostas Papanikolaou gives Greece a huge presence as well.
Argentina - who finished third at the 2013 FIBA Americas Championship - meanwhile find themselves in the middle of a major transition. Back for another go-around are Prigioni, Andres Nocioni, Luis Scola and Walter Herrmann but the team will also feature youngsters such as Facundo Campazzo and Marcos Delia.
"I don't think we have enough potential in the team to think in the top four," said Prigioni.
Puerto Rico will be led by the guard duo of Carlos Arroyo and J.J Barea but will also need strong performances from Ronaldo Balkman and Daniel Santiago.
Senegal are back at the World Cup for the first time since 2006 and the Africans are hoping to at least improve on their showing from Japan, where they went 0-5 in first round play. Minnesota Timberwolves center Gorgui Dieng and power forward Mouhammad Faye key an extremely athletic Senegal side, which will need to excel defensively to have a chance to advance to the knockout stage.
Philippines, appearing in FIBA's flagship event for the first time since 1978, start Group B as the underdogs with a small line-up who love to run up and down the floor. The addition of naturalised player Andrey Blatche gives the Gilas group some size in the paint, but the Asians will have to live on their heart and passion as well as long distance shooting.