Before the buzz of the Olympic men’s basketball tournament comes the sting of the qualification.
Three tournaments – in Belgrade, Turin and Manila – with only the winners of each advancing to Rio.
And while hosts Serbia should be a lock on their home court, it’s worth a close look at the rosters to decide where your money goes.
Group A: Serbia, Puerto Rico, Angola
Group B: Czech Republic, Latvia, Japan
It’s hard to see the Serbs blowing this chance to go to the Games next month. Even without Timberwolves forward Nemanja Bjelica, they have experience in abundance and proven performers led by Milos Teodosic that should see them blitz their first round group.
The Czechs will be favoured to be their eventual finalists ahead of Latvia but the hosts can coast.
Forecast: Serbia 1.15
Group A: Greece, Mexico, Iran
Group B: Italy, Croatia, Tunisia
With Spurs assistant Ettore Messina in charge, you’d expect the Italians to lose a little of their occasional frailty and tune into the task at hand. In Marco Belinelli and Danilo Gallinari, they should have an offense that will be difficult to match.
Croatia, ever unpredictable, have brought in nine newcomers from last summer’s EuroBasket when they self-combusted but a lot will fall on presumed Sixers signing Dario Saric.
Greece will be powered by the two Giannis, Antetokounmpo and Bouroussis, and they have a habit of delivering under pressure. Defensively, they will cause even the hosts a problem.
Mexico, without late withdrawal Gustavo Ayon, are done and might even succumb to improving Iran. The overall victor could come down to a test of nerve.
Forecast: Greece 2.25
Group A: Turkey, Canada, Senegal
Group B: France, New Zealand, Philippines
The biggest unknown became a certainty when Nicola Batum confirmed his availability for France in the wake of signing his mammoth new NBA contract in Charlotte. With that, Les Bleus are practically at full strength in their quest to reach Brazil and give Tony Parker the international send-off he covets.
If they had all their talent, Canada might have run them close. After blowing an open shot at qualifying last summer, the losses of Andrew Wiggins and Nik Stauskas will leave them short of offense – and quality. But a 4-1 record on their European warm-up tour suggests they will look to hold opponents in check defensively while pushing for points in the paint.
Turkey, as they always are, will be arduous if they can overcome their poor showing at EuroBasket 2015. New Zealand will battle hard but Senegal and the Phillipines are out of the mix.
Forecast: France 1.40
Best bet: Go under 150.5 total points in Turkey-Canada