2012 London Olympics Men’s Basketball Quarterfinal Preview
- Updated: August 7, 2012
Start time: 5:15 p.m. Eastern, Wednesday August 8
United States (5-0, #1 Group A) vs.
Australia (3-2, #4 Group B)
Winner faces Argentina/Brazil
HOW THEY GOT HERE: The U.S. responded from a scare against Lithuania by blitzing Argentina in the second half on Monday and cruising to a 126-97 win. Team USA has to be pleased with its preliminary play, but it doesn’t matter anymore, because any loss from here on out would be catastrophic. The Australians finished group play by knocking off Group B winner Russia on a Patrick Mills three at the buzzer. The Aussies have played well throughout the Olympics, having pounded Great Britain and China and suffered narrow defeats to Brazil and Spain.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The United States will look to stop speedster Patrick Mills of the San Antonio Spurs, who has stepped up as Australia’s leader and best player in these Olympics. Mills has played well against the U.S. before, putting up 20 points in the 2008 quarterfinals in Beijing, which the United States won, 116-85. He’s pretty much the only chance for the Aussies to remain competitive in this game.
SUCCESS FOR THE U.S. WOULD BE…Defensive improvement. The Americans allowed Lithuania to shoot 58 percent on Saturday and let Argentina shoot 56 percent in the first half on Monday. You can believe that Mike Kryzyzewski will be all over his guys about not allowing Australia the same luxury. The United States needs to impose its will on defense, pressuring opponents and forcing them to take tough shots. Bringing the intensity early against Australia should allow the Americans to breeze into the semifinals.
SUCCESS FOR AUSTRALIA WOULD BE…Remaining competitive. The Aussies are going to need to rely on lights-out shooting and hope that Team USA has an off night. Australia likes to play an up-tempo pace, which is not a good strategy against the Americans. It’s a tough draw for the men from down under, but this team has the talent to hang in there in the second half if it can catch fire early and take the U.S. off of its game.
PREDICTION: United States 122, Australia 79. The Aussies simply can’t guard the Americans, and don’t have enough firepower to out-gun them the way other teams can. The U.S. will be focused defensively and eager to redeem itself for a sloppy six quarters of play against Lithuania and Argentina.
Start time: 3:00 p.m. Eastern, Wednesday August 8.
Brazil (4-1, #2 Group B) vs.
Argentina (3-2, #3 Group A)
Winner faces United States/Australia
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Brazil showed some national pride and went all Herman Edwards (“You Play to Win The Game!“) on Spain, thrashing the Spanish with a 31-16 second half run and earning the No. 2 seed in Group B. The win means Brazil will be on the same side of the bracket as the United States in the semifinals, but at least they stepped up like men and won their way there. That alone should earn them a medal. Brazil also defeated Australia, Great Britain and China, and lost to Russia on a buzzer-beating three. Argentina was demolished in the second half by the U.S. on Monday, and also lost to France. The Argentines crushed Lithuania, Tunisia, and Nigeria in group play.
KEY PLAYERS- BRAZIL: Brazil has an impressive collection of talent, with Pacers guard Leandro Barbosa, Cavaliers forward Anderson Varejao, Wizards center Nene, and Spurs center Tiago Splitter all on the roster. Argentina will have to find a way to slow down Barbosa, who has played extremely well and went off for 23 points against Spain. Point guard Marcelinho Huertas is leading all Olympians in assists per game (6.2).
KEY PLAYERS- ARGENTINA: Manu Ginobili is all but an international legend and seems to will Argentina to wins in these types of games. The 2004 Gold Medalists have reached at least the semifinal round in every major tournament since 2002. Luis Scola (20.2 ppg) leads the Argentines in scoring, and sharp-shooter Carlos Delfino and slasher Andres Nocioni will be tough covers.
KEY TO THE GAME: Brazil will need to capitalize on a major advantage inside. The combo of Splitter, Varejao and Nene will be tough for Argentina to defend. If Luis Scola and a score of backups can hold their own inside, the Argentines will have enough offensive punch to survive.
PREDICTION: Argentina 80, Brazil 78. Argentina’s A-game is just a little bit better than Brazil’s, and the team’s experience in big international games should help it pull through. Still, this is no cakewalk. Argentina is going to have to score from the perimeter and control the pace of the game if it wants to emerge victorious. Don’t discount the fact that this is a major South American rivalry, and neither team wants to lose to its neighbor.
Start time: 11:15 a.m. Eastern, Wednesday, August 8.
France (4-1, #2 Group A) vs.
Spain (3-2, #3 Group B)
Winner faces Russia/Lithuania
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Spain is widely considered the biggest threat to the Americans in their push for Gold, but the team lost to Russia and Brazil in group play to fall to the No. 3 seed. The Spanish may have gone all badminton on Brazil in order to avoid ending up on the U.S. side of the bracket before the Gold Medal game, so take that loss with a grain of salt. Still, the Spanish were less than impressive in a 79-78 win over lowly Great Britain and did not dominate in wins over China and Australia. France was perhaps the biggest surprise of Group A, posting wins over Argentina and Lithuania and finishing 4-1.
KEY PLAYERS- SPAIN: The Spanish have an incredible front line; arguably the best in the Olympics (that includes the United States). Pau Gasol leads all Olympians in scoring (20.6 ppg) and leads the Spaniards in rebounding (6.0 per). Brother Marc Gasol was a breakout star with the Memphis Grizzlies this season and is second on the team with 11.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per. The fact that Oklahoma City Thunder enforcer Serge Ibaka comes off the bench for this group tells you all you need to know.
KEY PLAYERS- FRANCE: Obviously, point guard Tony Parker leads France, and has shouldered most of the scoring load, averaging 19 points per game. But France has plenty of other NBA talent, with Portland Trail Blazers guard Nicolas Batum, who is leading the team in scoring at 16.8 ppg, Miami Heat big man Ronny Turiaf, and Parker’s Spurs teammate Boris Diaw. Guard Nando de Colo has been excellent for the French in the Olympics and will also play for Le Spurs next season. The Wizards’ Kevin Seraphin has also been a key player on this team.
KEY TO THE GAME: France needs to impose its will on offense and keep the Gasol brothers in check down low. That’s easier said than done, and forwards Boris Diaw and Kevin Seraphin are going to have a lot of pressure on them to step up defensively. If Diaw and Seraphin can neutralize the Gasol brothers in the paint, the French will win this game. If not, it’s going to be tough, given Spain’s firepower on the perimeter.
PREDICTION: Spain 80, France 75. The Spanish have been playing with fire, easing up in games like a sprinter approaching the finish line in a preliminary heat. Still, the 2006 World Champions appear to have too much firepower to fall before reaching the medal round. Spain defeated France, 98-85, in the 2011 European championship. The result should be the same this time around.
Start time: 9:00 a.m. Eastern Wednesday, August 8.
Lithuania (2-3, #4 Group A)
Winner faces Spain/France
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Russia was the surprise winner of Group B, toppling both Brazil and Spain and blowing out Great Britain and China. The Russians would be unbeaten if not for a a buzzer-beater by Australia’s Patty Mills in their final preliminary game on Monday. Lithuania had a much tougher draw, losing to Argentina, France, and the United States.
KEY PLAYERS- LITHUANIA: Former Missouri forward and current Toronto Raptors reserve Linas Kleiza has been the key cog on this Lithuanian squad, averaging 18.8 points per game and shooting 52 percent from the field. His Raptors teammate Jonas Valanciunas was the No. 5 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft and is expected to make a huge impact when he joins the Raptors next season. ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla has said that Valanciunas would have been the second overall pick behind Anthony Davis had he come out this year. Point guard Sarunas Jasikeviciusis Lietuva’s emotional leader and also spent time in the NBA, as did former Wake Forest star and Dallas Mavericks forward Darius Songaila. Martynas Pocius spent time at Duke, and sent a message to his former coach, dropping 8 points and 6 assists on his former coach on Saturday.
KEY PLAYERS- RUSSIA: Russia is led by former Utah Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko, current Denver Nuggets center Timofey Mozgov, and sharp-shooting guard Vitaliy Fridzon, who drilled a crazy, falling-down game-winning three with four seconds left to beat Brazil, 75-74, in the third game of the Olympics. Fridzon scored 24 points in the Russians’ win over Spain. Former Kansas Jayhawks center Sasha Kaun is another familiar face.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Lithuania will look to use stingy defense and timely scoring to dispatch the Russians. It wouldn’t be a shocker if Lithuania pulled the upset, although Russia is more talented from 1 to 15. Both teams lean on the leadership of their guards, Russia with Vitaliy Fridzon and Lithuania with Linas Kleiza.
PREDICTION: Russia 85, Lithuania 75. This may be one of the toughest games to predict as the Baltic rivals play similar styles. Russia got the better of Lithuania in the European championships in 2011, but the Lithuanians have had a much better Olympic history. The deciding factor may be Vitaliy Fridzon and his spectacular play down the stretch of games.