It’s not the size of the test — although this will be a pretty good one for the USA — it’s the consequences of failure.
This is the round of eight — lose and go home. Early. Hearing from the home front about the failings of the youngsters of USA Basketball. Just like the Spanish team is doing right now.
The USA are the favorites, but the Russians bring some things to the table that should give the USA pause. This is not Angola or Iran — this is the best team the USA has seen since Brazil.
How Russia wins games is defense — a pressure matchup zone. (As The Painted Area points out, they actually run several variations of it.) It will almost look like a man-to-man because once you step into a zone the man is on you fast. This is not a simple zone to just shoot over the top of.
Opposing teams have shot just 40.8% overall and 28% from three in this tournament against Russia. That’s not an accident.
The USA needs to get its points two ways. One is how they always get points — force turnovers and get out and run. Russia will want to slow it down, if the tempo is up and the USA gets easy baskets in transition Russia cannot keep up.
The other is to use dribble penetration or passes to flashing bigs in the paint — but get the ball inside. Attack from the inside and open up outside shots on kickouts. Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant and Chauncey Billups should be able to get inside off the dribble. The USA cannot just settle for jumpers.
The other thing Russia brings to the party is size.
They have former Kansas Jayhawk Sasha Kaun at 6’11” (11.5 points, 6.5 rebounds), and he is usually subbed out by incoming Knicks center Timofey Mozgov at 7’1″. The Russians also have 6’11” Alexey Zhukanenko and 6’9″ Andrey Vorontsevich.
The strategy will be pretty obvious — pound the generally smaller USA team inside. The USA’s bigs are more athletic but Lamar Odom, Kevin Love and Tyson Chandler need to stay out of foul trouble, and they have to limit offensive rebounds and second chance points.
Russia is a bit shorthanded. Their two best players — Andrei Kirilenko and J.R. Holden — did not come and their best player here, Vik Khryapa, likely will not play due to injury.
Without them Russia does not score well. As you might expect from USA born, Princeton playing Russia coach David Blatt, they run the Princeton offense. Lots of cuts, back screens, backdoor cuts, and moves along the baseline, etc. If the USA falls asleep on defense Russia could get easy baskets. If the USA is focused the Russian guards should struggle with the ball pressure. Meaning the fast break points the USA thrives on.
This is a good Russian team, but not on the level of the USA. Unless the USA lets them be. And if so, this could be a stiff text. Complete with stiff consequences for failure.