Four teams still have a chance at a medal at the World Championship of Basketball - the United States, Croatia, Russia and Greece.
One is expected to win decisively, one is given a very slim chance, one has proven it belongs and one has already done better than it ever had before.They have a combined 19-1 record and will play six games among themselves in three days, culminating with Sunday's gold medal game.
The semifinal pairings will be decided by tonight's final quarterfinal games - Dream Team II, the U.S. entry and prohibitive favorite, plays Russia, while Croatia meets Greece, the only semifinalist to have lost a game.
The winners and losers criss-cross in Saturday's semifinals with those winners playing for the title and the losers meeting for the bronze medal.
Dream Team II has a 40-point average margin of victory and is on a three-point-per-minute pace. It's roster of NBA stars ranges from Reggie Miller of the Indiana Pacers averaging 20.2 points on 60 percent shooting (21-for-35) from 3-point range to Shaquille O'Neal of the Orlando Magic averaging 19.2 points per game, most on highlight film dunks that have even had opposing benches gawking in amazement.
Croatia is the team the rest of the world is banking on to give the United States at least a scare. Dino Radja of the Boston Celtics has averaged 22.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, while Toni Kukoc of the Chicago Bulls has dominated from his point forward position with 11.0 points and 9.6 assists per game, the latter number extremely impressive in international basketball where assists are not handed out liberally.
"I don't know if even they think they can beat the U.S.," said Canada forward Rick Fox, Radja's teammate at Boston in the NBA season, "but if you had to put a team from here up against the U.S. you'd want Croatia."
Russia entered the tournament on a down note, having finished fourth in the recent Goodwill Games it hosted. The 20.4-point average margin of victory has erased those thoughts as first-year coach Sergei Belov, the first international player elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame, has molded a young team with little international experience into a balanced inside-outside unit.
Sergei Bazarevich, a two-time Olympian and the only player on the team with World Championship experience, leads the scoring at 16.6 per game, while backcourtmate Sergei Babkov averages 16.0.
Greece is the lone surprise among the final four and it is guaranteed its best finish in a major international tournament. Greece was sixth in the 1990 World Championships and has never qualified for an Olympics.
What makes its 4-1 record even more impressive is that the team arrived at this tournament with a new head coach who had taken over less than two weeks earlier.
Greece, which lost to Puerto Rico in the opening round, has been led by three former NBA draft picks - Panagiotis Fassoulas (Portland, 1986), Fanis Christodoulo (Atlanta, 1987) and Panagiotis Giannakis (Boston, 1982).