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Olympic basketball groups set for new tournament format

Olympic basketball

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 09: A detail view of the ball going through a hoop during a preliminary round basketball game between Spain and Brazil on Day 4 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Carioca Arena 1 on August 9, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Andrej Isakovic - Pool/Getty Images)

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At the 2019 FIBA World Cup, the U.S. men’s basketball team was knocked out of medal contention by France en route to its worst-ever major tournament result of seventh place.

Its first opponent at the Tokyo Olympics on July 25: France.

The U.S. women and men learned their groups for the Tokyo Games as FIBA held its draws on Tuesday.

The top-ranked U.S. women, winners of their last 49 Olympic games (48 by double digits) are grouped with France, Japan and their first opponent, Nigeria, on July 27.

France is the only nation other than the U.S. to make the last two Olympic women’s semifinals. The French player pool includes a former UConn standout who could have succeeded Sue Bird as the next great American point guard.

The U.S. men are grouped with France, Iran and the winner of a last-chance qualifying tournament in Victoria, B.C., potentially Canada.

Canada and France have the most NBA players after the U.S. Canada last qualified for the Olympics in 2000 and last played the U.S. at the Games in 1988, the final Olympics before NBA participation.

In a change, the Olympic basketball tournaments will each have three groups of four teams. In the past, it was two groups of six teams.

The top two teams from each group, plus the two best third-place teams, advance to the quarterfinals.

The U.S. women seek a seventh consecutive Olympic title to match the basketball record held by U.S. men’s teams from the first seven Olympic tournaments from 1936-68.

Dawn Staley is the new head coach, succeeding Geno Auriemma, with the usual overflow of talent in the player pool. A roster of 12 should include four-time gold medalists Diana Taurasi and Bird.

Gregg Popovich succeeded Mike Krzyzewski as men’s head coach. Roster options are up in the air given the tight turnaround from the NBA season.

A potential NBA Finals Game 7 would be the day before the July 23 Opening Ceremony.

USA Basketball hasn’t announced parameters for player selection, but those on teams that make the conference finals could be ruled out of Olympic consideration altogether given a training camp is expected earlier in July.

So far, no NBA superstar has publicly committed to or ruled out accepting a U.S. Olympic roster spot if offered.

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