The seven things we learned from previous FIBA 3x3 World Tour Finals

3 Dec 2020

JEDDAH (Saudi Arabia) - It's been a crazy year but we've just about made it to the biggest prize in 3x3 with the World Tour Final in Jeddah on December 18-19.

The showpiece event combines everything that we love about 3x3 - upsets, unpredictability and endless entertainment. After reflecting on the eight previous memorable editions, here are the seven things we have learned from 3x3's grand spectacle.

Never discount Novi Sad

These Serbian superstars live for the big stage. The four-time World Tour Final champs (would have been five if not for Bogdan Dragovic slaying the dragon in 2017) are looking for a three-peat in Jeddah. It doesn't matter what state they're in or their ranking, the title goes through Novi Sad.

Heading into last year's Utsunomiya Final in a form slump, Novi Sad turned it up when it mattered most with a stunning performance during the knockout stages en route to repeating as champions.

It was their sweetest victory but this might be the hardest challenge of them all without No.1 player Dusan Bulut. Novi Sad struggled in Hungary by their mighty standards but still made two semis and showed glimpses of their best.

You get the feel that they can flip the switch because they've done it countless times before. But their aura of invincibility is fading and opponents aren't intimidated. Opponents, however, need to remember an important lesson when playing Novi Sad on their personal playground.

You come at 3x3's kings, you best not miss.


There's room for surprises

Rankings and form can almost be thrown out the window at the World Tour Final because it all comes down to who can best handle the two-day pressure cooker.

There have been some unforgettable upsets and surprise champions. As mentioned above, Zemun stunned Novi Sad in an epic decider when Dragovic hit surely the greatest shot in 3x3 history to prove miracles do come true.

The Serbian showdown had seemed like a mismatch with Novi Sad having won 11 straight title deciding games, while Zemun had never won an event on the World Tour (and still haven't since then!!!). It's one of the biggest upsets in 3x3 history. 

In the previous year's World Tour Final, Japanese team Hamamatsu also had a fairy tale run to finish runners-up in a campaign made memorable by their shock semi-final victory over Novi Sad.

The 11th seed fell short in the final against Ljubljana, who also had a surprisingly dominant unbeaten title run.


The dunk contest is always a must watch

Everyone's favorite event always goes into overdrive at the World Tour Final. Last year, baby-faced Isaiah Rivera proved his dunks were fully mature when he claimed the dunking title.

The dunk contest had previously been dominated by two of the best to ever do it - Rafal 'Lipek' Lipinski and Vadim 'Miller' Poddubchenko. Lipek absolutely owned the event in the early years winning the first four title and added the 2017 crown to his crowded trophy cabinet.

The Pole has wowed the crowd with a slew of amazing dunks, including his unforgettable throwdown over four people standing on a chair while wearing a White Men Can't Jump t-shirt. 

It was Miller Time in 2016 when the Ukrainian incredibly dunked over two people and a motorbike. He also won in 2018.

Rest assured, this year's dunk contest will raise the level to even new heights.


The #1 seed has not won the final since 2015

Perhaps the pressure of being top dog suffocates the No.1 seeds. Since Novi Sad's win in 2015, it's been a curse for the team with top billing.

In 2016, Novi Sad were stunned by Hamamatsu 21-14 in the semis and the Serbs fell one year later to Zemun in that insane final.

In 2018, No.1 Liman could not handle the expectations as they disappointingly exited in the quarters to Riga. But one year later it was Riga's turn to suffer the top seed jinx as the Latvians lost a tough semi-final to eventual champs Novi Sad.

This all does not bode well for No.1 seed Liman, who will be determined to end this strange trend.


The MVP curse?

Speaking of curses, do teams with the regular season MVP also have one too? Just because a team boasts the best player in the regular season does not necessarily guarantee success.

It worked in 2018 when MVP Dusan Bulut led Novi Sad to the Utsunomiya Final title. But Novi Sad were literally unbeatable that season with every member of the team absolutely firing. 

Stefan Stojacic won the 2017 regular season MVP but Liman had a tough World Tour Final with just one win from three games and a quarter-final exit. Last year, Dominique Jones aka 'Disco Domo' was the best player during the season but NY Harlem were thrashed in the quarters by compatriots Princeton.

Maybe you don't want to be named MVP after all.


The semi-final is often the final before the final 

It's a common quirk in sports - often the semis is the best game of the tournament. The final before the final. That has proven true on a couple of occasions at the World Tour Final.

In 2015, Novi Sad and Trbolvje played a classic semi-final. The Serbs looked in big trouble trailing by two with just seconds left but Dejan Majstorovic showed why he is the maestro with a clutch two-pointer to force overtime. Then it was Bulut time with Mr Bullutproof going bang from deep to seal Novi Sad's dramatic victory.

Last year, during an epic semi against Riga, Mr Bullutproof once again unloaded when it mattered most with a huge two-pointer as Novi Sad came from behind to win 21-18.

Keep an eye out for the semis - no matter the matchups.


Don't pay too much attention to what happened on Day 1

Here's a tip - don't get carried away with Day 1 results. Top teams often pace themselves early before going for broke in the knockouts. We've seen slow starts from eventual winners before.

In 2014, Novi Sad were stunned by No.7 seed Denver in their opener but it didn't matter in the end.

They started off even worse in 2019 after being completely embarrassed by Princeton 19-10 and were on the verge of being knocked out on Day 1 against old foes Zemun. But they managed to squeeze out victory in OT and the rest is history punctuated by sweet revenge against Princeton in the final.

Similarly in 2017, Zemun looked like their bags were packed after losing to Piran and then struggling in a must-win game against Saskatoon. They managed to win a thriller, which fueled their historic campaign capped off by an upset for the ages over Novi Sad in the final.

Don't be overhyped on Day 1 because there are many more twists and turns ahead at the World Tour Final.