Anything less than a gold medal will be seen as a failure by Team USA in London. So, no pressure. Just the American basketball legacy on the line.
But in reality, the pressure doesn’t ramp up until the final eight — the three knockout-round games. First, there is the group stage. There are 12 teams in the Olympic basketball tournament divided into two groups (the USA is in Group A). Each team plays five games of group play, the top four teams from each group advance to the lose-and-go-home final tournament.
So, what do Team USA’s Group A opponents look like? Well, the USA should go undefeated, but it’s not going to be a peaceful stroll through Hyde Park. Here’s a look at the American’s opponents (in order).
France (USA plays Sunday, 9:30 am ET): France is a team with medal aspirations, although they are going to have to play over their heads a little to likely land the bronze. And by “they” I really mean Tony Parker, who is the best player on their roster and the offensive catalyst. France has traditionally been a good defensive team that just needs to score, at EuroBasket last year Parker got them scoring but they will miss Joakim Noah for the games. They do have some NBA talent in Nicolas Batum, Ronny Turiaf and Boris Diaw on the roster.
Tunisia (USA plays Tuesday, 5:15 pm ET): The winners of the African tournament last year, they will be fortunate to win a game in this group. It was a huge win for them last year to upset African power Angola and win a trip to London. They are the “just happy to be here” team and have no NBA players on the roster.
Nigeria (USA plays Thursday 5:15 pm ET): They got to London out of the second chance Olympic Qualifying tournament last month, upsetting Greece to punch their ticket. They have a couple NBA players in Ike Diogu and Al-Farouq Aminu, and they bring a team with pretty good size and athleticism. We’d say they will not make it out of the group stage, but nobody expected them to beat the Dominican Republic or Greece to get to London.
Lithuania (USA plays Aug. 4, 9:30 am ET): This is a team that can score, with NBA players Linus Kleiza and Jonas Valanciunas (the fifth pick of the Raptors in the 2011 draft). This is a team that passes well and moves off the ball, things that will test the American’s pressure defense. This is going to be a high scoring affair when they face the USA.
Argentina (Aug, 6, 5:15 pm ET): They are a legit medal contender — and they are the team I’m rooting for to get the bronze. This is the last run for the “golden generation” of Argentinean ballers — Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola, Carlos Delfino and more — a group that won the gold in 2004. They play a pretty brand of basketball, with crisp passing and player movement. Against the USA, they knew how to grind the game down and make it close (Team USA won 86-80 in a recent friendly). They likely finish second in the group.