#Rio2016: Is there a surprise package in the house?

*This first appeared on FIBA.com.

An Olympic basketball always has the favorites, but there are also usually the odd surprise or two.

Which team or teams that have not be flying high in recent times might get on a roll and get to the knockout round? International basketball experts Jeff Taylor, David Hein, Dimitris Kontos, Enzo Flojo, Julio Chitunda and Paulo Kennedy offer some thoughts.

Jeff: Venezuela were a huge surprise last year when they won the FIBA Americas Championship. Croatia stunned a lot of people when they won the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) in Turin. Well, I've been underwhelmed by Brazil's performances more times than not over the years but there was a real glint in the eye of Marcelo Huertas on Thursday. I think that despite missing Tiago Splitter and Anderson Varejao, with the crowd behind them, the hosts may just get it going so they're my pick.

Dimitris: Australia have experience and fighting mentality in abundance and if Andrew Bogut is in good enough condition to make a significant impact, there is no team they could not beat on a good day - except the USA. Lithuania maybe lack depth but they are always, always better than the sum of their parts, so no matter how far they end up going in the tournament, nobody will feel genuinely shocked. The real surprise could then only come from Croatia, because although they impressed at the OQT in Torino and they have amazing talent, they have yet to prove they are consistent enough to deliver in a big event according to their potential.

Enzo: I think Croatia will be dangerous. They have a lot of up-and-coming young talent that’s ready to surprise but somewhere down the road, they will probably fall short of reaching the top four. Australia may also be a sleeper. The Boomers will be led by several NBA players, and on any given night, they will be very tough to contend with. With a few lucky breaks here and there, the Aussies may just be able to break into the top four. Brazil, of course, will be buoyed by their home crowd, and they have the potential to pull the rug from some opponents, too.

Julio: Venezuela and Nigeria are little known to fans worldwide and the fact that both are the lowest ranked among the 12 teams in Rio could play in their favor. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain. The Nigerians have learned from the London Games that they need a disciplined mindset to succeed. Will Voigt, the coach, is respected by his players. If they can reach the Quarter-Finals, then they would have achieved their unprecedented goal although that is now going to be harder following the announcement that Al-Farouq Aminu won't be playing. I really love underdogs, and last summer, against the odds, the Venezuelans won the FIBA Americas Championship without Greivis Vasquez. They'll have to show the same determination and belief because Vasquez will unfortunately be missing this year, too.

David: Serbia showed they can go far in a big tournament by reaching the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup Final. And they show their class again by reaching the Semi-Finals - where they again are defeated by the United States. Brazil also play an excellent tournament and finish third in Group B after some strong games against the Europeans. But the hosts will bow out in the Quarter-Finals against France. 

Paulo: This Brazilian team has made a habit of losing close games that leave them falling just short, but with this tournament on their home soil, the late-game situations could fall in their favor. They love playing physical defense, and if their rabid fans help them to get away with that little bit more, they will be very tough to score against. Nigeria is a team that could really throw a spanner in the works with their athleticism and free-styling ways. After a taste of international ball in 2012, maybe they can pinch a big scalp in Rio? Losing Al-Farouq Aminu hurts, but let's hope they put their best foot forward and show the African champions are once again world class.

FIBA.com experts' picks:
Jeff: Brazil
Dimitris: Croatia
Enzo: Croatia, Australia and Brazil
Julio: Venezuela and Nigeria
Dave: Serbia
Paulo: Brazil and Nigeria




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