The Canadian senior men's national basketball team is entering the 2011 FIBA Americas Championship with high hopes of qualifying for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.
Unfortunately for Team Canada, the road to London is shaping up to be a daunting task.
The overwhelming favorite in the group is Brazil followed by the Dominican Republic and it's unlikely Canada will be able to compete for those top two spots in the group. The Canadians' main focus should be the other two teams as they match up more evenly with Cuba and Venezuela.
In order to make it into the quarterfinals of the FIBA Americas Championship, after the initial round-robin group stage, the top-four teams in each group will be selected to advance, meaning all Canada has to do to get into the knockout stage is to simply finish any place but last in its group.
With the team as healthy as it is now, there shouldn't be a repeat of last summer's disastrous World Championship campaign, and the team should advance to the quarters with little difficulty.
The knockout stage will prove to be a completely different animal, however, and Canada will more than likely have to look at the classification rounds that happen afterwards, if the country hopes to qualify for the London Games.
In order to earn a spot for the Olympics, the top-two teams will be given an automatic berth, with the third-to-fifth placed nations granted one last chance to qualify in a final Olympic qualifying tournament taking place a few months just before the Games begin next year.
Since it isn't likely the team will be making the finals of the FIBA Americas tournament, it is pivotal for Canada to get into that final tournament.
Canada has an outside chance of making the bronze-medal game, but gunning for fifth place should be the goal, and this is where the classification rounds come into play. Even if Canada is eliminated in the quarters, it will still have to go through a second playoff bracket where the prize will be fifth place.
From a pure talent perspective, the Canadian roster is the fifth best and getting into the final qualification tournament is certainly possible. However, the problem this Canadian squad has faced all summer long has been getting the most out of its talent.
Canada's 3-8 exhibition record leading up to the FIBA Americas Championship is not good and even though it lost to some quality teams like France and Brazil, it has also lost to inferior teams such as Bulgaria and Macedonia.
The problems that Canada has encountered in its exhibition play have mostly been because of the team's poor offense. Oftentimes, Canada has kept itself in games because of its defense, but as soon as that starts to crack a little, the team's offense hasn't been able to make up the deficit.
This will be a problem in the tournament, as evidenced by the last three warm- up matches Canada played against Brazil, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. All it took from each team to beat Canada was one breakout quarter and then Canada wasn't able to recover because of how pedestrian the offense has looked.
Defense is a very important aspect of basketball and with Joel Anthony as the anchor, Canada does boast one of the strongest defenses in the tournament and that will give the team a chance in every game it plays.
When it all comes down to it though, the ball still needs to get in the hoop. And because of how inefficiently Canada's been doing that all summer long, even fighting for a last-ditch effort to qualify for the Olympics will be a long, hard road. However, Canada should at least be able to capture a fifth- place finish, although it wouldn't be all that surprising if that didn't happen either.