Follow the World Cup on Facebook
Group H: Lithuania, Australia, Canada in fierce battle for supremacy
DONGGUAN (China) - 'If all wishes were horses, all beggars would ride'. In this specific case, all Group H teams would make it to the Knockout Phase of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 except only two slots are available.
The old Scottish proverb holds some water as three table leaders in the Qualifiers in their respective regions - Australia, Canada, Lithuania and second placed Senegal eye a chance to be on the podium ultimately and at the high table of excellence.
Dubbed the Group of Death, Group H will certainly bring out the best in all the sides, even though it would be easier for them to tone down their expectations heading into an extremely tough Group Phase challenge.
Team to beat: Lithuania
The 2014 Semi-Finalists have been mentioned as an outside contender for the title and they do not shy away from this label. More than ever, this seems like their time to shine, especially with the field looking a slight more open than before.
Head coach Dainius Adomaitis has put together a well balanced outfit with a touch of experience and yet a display of youthful exuberance that is showing signs of positive anxiety to do the job at the big stage but most importantly to cross that line and qualify for their first Final at this level.
With five players returning from the 2014 edition where they finished fourth, the Baltic Giants will be looking to use that exposure to further force their way onto the high table of world basketball.
In Jonas Valanciunas, they have a very experienced rim protector whose rebounding numbers on both ends of the court are expected to give Lithuania a fierce look when they come up against the big boys.
Along with World Cup debutant Domantas Sabonis and Mindaugas Kuzminskas, the Lithuania paint will be somewhat a battleground more inclined to the Green Machine if their preparation games are anything to go by.
Overall, Lithuania's back court led by veteran point guard Mantas Kalnietis will make for a good sight especially in the face of quality opposition.
Now is the time for Lithuania to make a big announcement no matter their opponents along the way. At least that is what they believe - to take one game at a time.
Another team to beat: Australia
Yes, that makes it two teams to beat - it's the Group of Death after all. After defeating USA in a friendly game, the Boomers are definitely walking around with a bounce and one cannot blame them.
With an in-form Patty Mills, the domineering Andrew Bogut looking great and Matthew Dellavedova unapologetically dominating on both ends of the court, Australia look like the deal. Joe Ingles completes the scoring merchant lineup for the Boomers core setup but they do have their work cut out.
With a squad averaging 30 years at this event being one of the oldest and for all the talent they have produced over the years, this is easily one of their best squads assembled in recent years.
FIBA World Ranking, presented by NIKE
Key matchup: Lithuania v Australia
Lithuania's biggest threat is expected to be in the form of Australia. The Boomers have a 2-1 win ratio against the Baltic Giants at the World Cup with the latest coming at this competition back in 2014 at the Group Phase level.
However, a lot has changed in the past five years and Lithuania look ready to effect revenge this time round especially when a lot is on the line. The winner of this tie will go a long way in determining who will emerge as the table leader ultimately.
Canada are not far off in terms of the quality of opposition they will bring to the table. In Kevin Pangos, the Road Warriors will be looking to live up to their name and record their best performance at the World Cup by chasing for the podium places.
Pangos, who won two Lithuanian championships while plying his trade for Zalgiris, will be coming up against familiar foes and just when they look thin, he has proven he will fit into this void and deliver at least as per the preparation games.
Senegal may look like outsiders in this Group of Death but with the leadership of Maurice Ndour and Hamady Ndiaye, they maintain a chance to upset the big boys.
Star of the group: Jonas Valanciunas
To put it simply, Valanciunas is a man-mountain. One inch short of being a seven footer, the Lithuanian center poses a real threat to anyone trying to score against his side. No other player commands such presence in Group H as him.
His numbers last season with the Memphis Grizzlies in the NBA speak of a man that means business. He knows what is at stake and understands what it means to wear the hopes of a nation on his shoulders. He has been there, done that at junior level.
Averaging 19.9 points and 10.7 rebounds per game for the Grizzlies sent out an early warning that when he gets to the court in Dongguan, it will be nothing but to protect Lithuania's rim and to make every possession count.
Top prospect: Domantas Sabonis
When your father is a member of the FIBA Basketball Hall of Fame, standards tend to be very high back at home and the chase to leave your father's shadow defines you for a lifetime. Domantas is on such a journey. His father Arvydas Sabonis was inducted in 2010 when he was 14 years of age but as Domantas embarks on a promising road to define himself, the China edition presents a perfect opportunity.
In a weird turn of events, so much is expected of a World Cup debutant than never seen before. The left-handed center whose exploits at junior level have produced more than sparks for Lithuania is expected to replicate the same form at senior level. He showed that already at the FIBA EuroBasket 2015 as well as the Rio 2016 Olympics. He has since grown in leaps and bounds and the World Cup in China presents a perfect opportunity to do his magic and take the world by storm at the biggest stage.
Familiar face: Maurice Ndour
As the captain of the Senegal team, Ndour will be leading the West Africans to their fifth appearance at this stage. Playing at his second World Cup, the 27-year old is coming to China with massive experience having led by example during the African Qualifiers. If not for his contributions on the statistics sheet then it will be for his dreadlocks that make his standout from the rest of the crowd.
His leadership skills have already been tested during the preparation for China and he has passed the test already. At 2.06m (6ft 9in) , Ndour will provide cover in the paint and has what it takes to deal with the other big men in their opponents camp.
His personality makes for a true fighter - one who is ready to die for his country even literally but most notably is that he has mastered the art of bringing his teammates together even though they have had less than a month to prepare for the biggest basketball showpiece in the world.
While Ndour may have a larger role to play in China for his team, no one in Group H can match Lithuania's Paulius Jankunas in terms of World Cup appearances, with the 35-year-old power forward entering his fourth edition of the flagship event, each under a different coach.