The FIBA World Championships may have started over a week ago, but really the tournament is just beginning. The group stage is now over and the teams have started the NCAA style win or go home portion of the championships. We’re now at the point where any slip up will mean an early return flight. And for Team USA, it’s time to really prove if they have what it takes to compete at the highest level even though many have labeled them underdogs and the “B” team. A few thoughts on the road ahead for this particular group.
*Today’s match up versus Angola really shouldn’t be a test at all. With memories of the original 1992 Dream Team floating in my head, I recall what Charles Barkley said when that juggernaut faced the west African nation – “I don’t know anything about Angola, but I know they’re in trouble”. In the past 18 years, not much will have changed. The US will field an infinitely more talented team with advantages all over the court. The US will surely use their pressure defense to create turnovers and generate open court offense. We’ll likely see plenty of dunks from Rudy Gay, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durnat, and every other Team USA player (save Billups and Curry as I’m not sure they can dunk). I expect a 25+ point win and that will be that.
*But beating an overmatched Angola team isn’t really what this tournament is about. Despite the US coming in as an underdog to Spain, it’s about winning the entire thing. And in order to accomplish that, Team USA will have a tricky road to navigate. While the match ups aren’t set in stone, the U.S. will likely face Russia in the next round and if they advance into the semi-finals a rematch with Brazil or a date with long time foe Argentina awaits (neither of which would be a cake walk). In the Finals either Spain or host nation Turkey will be waiting for whoever comes of out the bracket the U.S. hopes to control. Basically, if Team USA wins this tournament, they will have earned it against some very strong competition.
*Speaking of strong competition, the team that looks the best right now is probably Turkey. Kurt explains over at Pro Basketball Talk:
The USA may prefer Spain right now. For two reasons.
One is Turkey has proven to have the best front line in the tournament. They start Omer Asik (coming to the Chicago Bulls), Ersan Ilyasova (Milwaukee Bucks) and Hedo Turkoglu (Phoenix Suns). Then they bring in soon-to-be Celtic Semih Erden.
Turkoglu had not impressed through the group stage of the tournament but broke out in a big way against France scoring a game high 20 and hitting 4 of 7 from deep. Basically 2009 in Orlando Turkoglu showed up. If he does that will be hard for everyone else to stop. Meanwhile Ilyasova has averaged 15 points and 8.2 rebounds a game through the tournament and is hitting 56 percent of his threes.
Basically the undersized USA would have to take on a long, skilled front line — Turkey’s strength is the USA’s weakness.
I know depending on a consistent Turkoglu isn’t exactly money in the bank, but Turkey is the host nation and will have all the fan support they’ll need to put on a major run to win this thing. And with every other major contender missing some of their best players (besides a watered down U.S. team, Nene, Pau, Ginobili, and several other NBA players are missing from their respective teams), Turkey may just put it all together.
*In one of these games Lamar Odom is going to need to put on one of his classic performances to put the U.S. team over the top. It won’t be needed against Angola and probably not even Russia. But it would be nice if LO gave one of his vintage “wow, this guy really is good” performances against either Brazil or Argentina or in the Finals (should Team USA advance that far). This tournament has been mixed bag for Odom as he’s shown flashes of his all court game but never quite put together a complete performance. Lakers fans know better than most that he’s got it in him to do something special. Will he show the rest of the world? I think we’re all hoping to see it.
*Lastly, I’ve not seen as much of these championships as I would have hoped. I DVR the games and watch the U.S. team, but I have not gotten to see as much of the other countries as I’d like. However, as with the regular season there are some great writers and sites doing some fantastic work covering the tournament. Go check out what The Painted Area is doing on a daily basis. Visit NBA Playbook for break downs on plays, offensive and defensive sets, and individual players. Follow the updates from John Schuhmann on his twitter page with everything that he’s writing about this tourney. Really, you can’t go wrong following these folks.