With Spain gone, who can stop Team USA?

With Spain now out of the picture, will Team USA coast to the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup title? AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos

BARCELONA, Spain -- I wanted it.

You wanted it.

On a lot of levels, I suspect even Team USA wanted it.

So many of us dribbleheads, after weeks of hype and promises and what can now only be labeled as foolishly premature assumptions, were hoping to see Spain versus Team USA in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup championship game.

For at least two good reasons.

1. To see how vulnerable this American roster weakened by numerous high-profile absentees really is.

2. To see whether the two best teams in the world could produce a spectacle good enough to siphon some of the oxygen away from an NFL Sunday back home.

So now what? How do we properly mourn?

More importantly: Who's next?

From where on the map will a new, sustained threat to the United States' hoop supremacy come after this?

Answers were scarce late Wednesday night after the Spaniards -- who have served as the lone, lasting rival for USA Basketball since Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski showed up to revamp the program in 2005 -- bowed out of the tournament in stunningly limp fashion. To cap a thoroughly depressing summer for World Cup host countries, Spain suffered a 65-52 quarterfinal defeat to a Tony Parker-less France, despite having throttled Boris Diaw & Co. by 24 points in pool play.

With its strongest roster ever, as well as home-court advantage and the prospect of squaring off in the final with the youngest team of American pros to wear the red, white and blue in the Dream Team era, Spain had an undeniably healthy opportunity to finally avenge its narrow losses to Team USA in the Olympic finals of 2008 and 2012.

As one NBA general manager put it this week, neatly summing up sentiments I've heard from folks with various teams in the weeks building up to Sunday's title game in Madrid: "LeBron and Carmelo and those guys barely beat Spain last time, and they didn't have to play 'em in Spain. With the [Americans'] current roster, if they played 10 times, I think it would be 5-5. Or if it was a seven-game series, I think it would have gone seven. But Game 7's at their place."

None of that is a worry any longer for Jerry and Coach K. They'll surely have to guard against their young squad getting complacent heading into Thursday's semifinal against Lithuania (3 p.m. ET, ESPN), but Spain's wholly unexpected exit makes winning this World Cup considerably easier for the Yanks.

It also turns this inaugural World Cup -- sporting that new name FIBA hopes will lend the event more stature -- into a tournament that will likely be remembered as the end of an era for not one but two international powers: Argentina and those very same Spaniards.

It's hard to imagine Pau Gasol, Jose Calderon and Juan Carlos Navarro coming back to the national team for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil ... especially after the hell they'll catch for failing to deliver this time when hopes were so high. It's also fair to wonder how much they'd be able to offer at that point even if they did return. It thus seems safe to suggest that Spain, even if it can still field Marc Gasol, Rudy Fernandez and Ricky Rubio in Rio, will no longer be the same force Team USA has come to expect (and respect) since Spain won the 2006 World Championship in Japan.

The future in Argentina, meanwhile, is far bleaker, with an even older squad than Spain's and, sadly, virtually nothing in the pipeline to succeed Manu Ginobili's generation. All those great Argentinean players, born in the late '70s and early '80s, have curiously spawned no heirs of any note.

Who, then?

Who is going to stand up to the United States to generate some intrigue in international roundball?

France has firmly established itself as Europe's new powerhouse by breaking through to win the EuroBasket tournament in 2013 and then humbling the Spaniards in this manner with no Parker or Joakim Noah. The trouble is Parker and Diaw will both be 34 at the Rio Olympics in two years. The end is near for both of France's most influential players even if they reunite for one last samba in Brazil as expected.

It's fun to fantasize about Canada's ceiling, too, should Andrew Wiggins prove to be the real deal and if all of his promising young countrymen develop as they should. But you can see we're already reaching. Traditional powers like France and Spain appear headed for an unavoidable dip, Argentina is bound for a full-fledged nosedive ... and it figures to take our neighbors to the north until the 2020 Olympics at the earliest to emerge as a real factor.

Spain's demise, then, is an undeniable disappointment, both for Americans who were eager to see the toughest possible test for this fledgling squad and for everyone else hoping to see the game continue to grow internationally. The sudden exit of the team that, as recently as a week ago, fully deserved its promotion to the top of ESPN.com's FIBA Power Rankings, after its brilliant play in Group A, certainly gift wraps this World Cup for what is bound to be labeled as Team USA's third-string squad.

Which only figures to discourage the rest of the world further.

You actually start to fear, after studying what we've seen in Espana, that the gap between the United States and the chasing masses is actually widening as opposed to shrinking.

Don't think anyone here wanted to see that.