Offseason basketball is in full swing and the 2023 FIBA World Cup is finally upon us. While most fans will be tuning in to see if Team USA can reclaim their spot at the pinnacle of the basketball world, Chicago Bulls fans should also be following along with Montenegro, as their star center Nikola Vucevic showcases just what he can do as the top option on a team looking to surge up the standings.
I’m aware that these games are not entirely indicative of how the tournament will go, but the fact Montenegro went 2-3 in these friendlies — including a narrow 4-point loss to 8th-ranked Slovenia, and an 11-point loss to 3rd-ranked France — Vucevic has proven that this team is not here to play around.
Although these friendlies don’t officially count for wins and losses, Montenegro’s strong performance in the exhibition games convinced doubters that this team has a real shot. Montenegro leaped up four spots to the No. 17 slot in the latest edition of their World Cup power rankings. Here’s what they had to say about the Bulls’ center Vooch and his home country surging up the boards.
"“There was something different about Montenegro as they arrived in Manila. The vibe wasn’t about just being here, the vibe was about feeling like they are the favorites to advance, like they’ve been through enough events and Qualifiers’ thrillers to feel like a family, to feel like Montenegro could be among the 16 best teams in the world.”"
Bulls star Nikola Vucevic and Montenegro are rocketing up the World Cup power rankings, but there’s still work to be done.
You won’t have to wait long to catch some meaningful basketball either, as arguably Montenegro’s most important game will be tipping off on day one of the event tomorrow morning. They’ll be taking on a battle-tested Mexico team, where whoever emerges the victor will have dramatically increased odds of advancing to the round of 16.
"“[Montenegro’s] very first game will probably be an indicator how far they could go, because… that first day of competition will see Montenegro facing Mexico! It’s the first game of the first day in the Mall of Asia arena, and Mexico love putting early dents into bigger teams.”"
If they manage to make it that far, it will be a rare feat for this Montenegrin team. They’ve only qualified for the World Cup two times, once before in 2019 and now in 2023. Since becoming an independent country back in 2006, this has become a great way to establish Montenegro on the international scene once again.
Unfortunately, Vucevic and Montenegro posted a lowly 1-4 record last year, placing 25th and missing the single elimination tournament portion of the event outright. Pitted against Lithuania, Mexico, and Egypt, here’s how each member of Group D fared in the power rankings.
- No. 13 – Lithuania
- “They are the group favorites, and they will like their chances against teams like Greece, New Zealand, or Jordan if/when they make the Second Round”
- No. 16 – Mexico
- “Mexico knows how to play against big teams, no better reference than the fact they’ve beaten the USA three times over the last five years.”
- No. 17 – Montenegro
- “Imagine that, a country with a population of 600,000 having a legit feeling they belong in the Second Round. “
- No. 27 – Egypt
- “Egypt’s recent run puts them in a position of a major underdog in the group, especially when you consider their last World Cup win happened in Canada 29 years ago.”
It certainly won’t be an easy go of things, but with no consensus top-10 team in their group, you have to think that Montenegro believes they can realistically win any game in this division. If they manage that feat, their first-round matchup in the World Cup would become that much easier, potentially paving the way for not only their first-ever tournament qualification, but also their first World Cup bracket win.