Finally, we are done with the “everyone gets to play” portion of Olympic basketball. Time to get on with it.
Eight teams remain in the win-or-go home medal round tournament starting Wednesday. The matchups are set after Brazil knocked off Spain (with Spain sitting key players in the fourth) and a surprise that didn’t matter (Australia over Russia).
Here is a quick look at what is to come:
USA vs. Australia: This is a game the USA should win handily. Not Nigeria handily, but more like France handily. Australia is led by everyone’s favorite underdog Patty Mills, who hit the game-winning three against Russia Wednesday. Mills led St. Mary’s to college the NCAA tournament and has played in Portland and, last season, San Antonio. He’s fun to watch, and has averaged 20.6 points per game during the Olympics, but overmatched in this one. Australia has had a good Olympics, especially considering Andrew Bogut couldn’t play. They upset Russia and made it out of the group stage. That’s going to have to be enough.
Brazil vs. Argentina: Two South American rivals that know each other very well and this likely is the best game of the next round. Brazil has real size with Nene (who missed the team’s last game with more plantar fasciitis, which bothered him last NBA season, too) and Tiago Splitter. But their best player the last couple of games has been Leandro Barbosa, who is trying to get an NBA contract. Argentina has a lot of NBA talent — Manu Ginobili has been amazing through the games and Luis Scola is outscoring him — but they have been inconsistent — they lost to France, they struggled against Nigeria and they had a terrible second half against the United States Monday. I’d say which Argentinian team shows up will determine the outcome.
France vs. Spain: France has been underrated good — Tony Parker has played into his conditioning and is scoring 15.8 a game while controlling the offense. Nicolas Batum has been dropping 16.8 per game and playing good wing defense. Other guys like former Sonic Mickael Gelabale and Nando De Colo have stepped up at key spots. They have been a good offensive team. But they are not as talented as Spain who roles out Pau Gasol (20.6 points per game in the Olympics), Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Juan Carlos Navarro, Rudy Fernandez and other stars. But from the tune-ups through two losses in group play (although they kind of mailed in the end of the Brazil game, some might say tanked) they have just not been right. If Spain can find their old groove they will win this one, but if they are just half a step slow France is playing very well.
Russia vs. Lithuania: Russia won Group B and looked very good, maybe the second best team in the games, so we’re willing to write off the meaningless loss to Australia Monday. Andrei Kirilenko has averaged 18.2 points per game, and fellow soon-to-be Timberwolves player Aleksey Shved has averaged a dozen a game. But Lithuania is the kind of veteran team that can make a real contest of it if Russia is not focused — just like Lithuania did against the United States. There is a chance of an upset, but the Russians are going to have to help cause their own doom.