FIBA World Cup USA vs. Slovenia preview: Is the USA finally tested?


On Aug. 26 Team USA played Slovenia in the final exhibition for both teams before the start of the FIBA World Cup. Slovenia had no answer for the big men of the USA with Anthony Davis finishing with 18 points, nine rebounds and five blocks, while Kenneth Faried had 14 points and eight rebounds. Kyrie Irving added 13 points, Derrick Rose had 11. The Americans led by six after a quarter, 13 at the half and blew it open in the third quarter. The Americans won by 30.

Is Tuesday going to be any different?

Well, it will be a little closer, but the outcome will be the same.

The USA and Slovenia meet in the quarterfinals of the FIBA World Cup in Spain Tuesday (3 p.m. ET, ESPN). They meet now because Australia tanked a game against Angola to get on the other side of the bracket and avoid the Americans (then the Aussies promptly lost in the round of 16 to Turkey, well done).

Slovenia is the best team the Americans have seen since the start of the World Cup and they have the tools to follow the blueprint Turkey put together to slow the Americans down. Expect a lot of back cuts, for one thing, and we’ll if the USA defenders wake up to those plays.

Also, expect a lot of pick-and-roll with Goran Dragic, who is averaging 16.5 points on 58.8 percent shooting plus adds 4.3 assists a game in the World Cup. (He went 3-of-11 in the exhibition meeting against the USA, expect that to improve and the Suns guard to finish better.) His brother Zoran Dragic can knock down shots and is shooting 45.8 percent from three this tournament on his way to 13.2 points a game (he had 16 against the Americans last time).

What’s more, the Slovenians have seen the Americans and their athletic, pressure defense before. That will help them adjust to the blitz this time.

That will be enough to keep Slovenia close for a half, but in the end the Americans will pull away.

The biggest problem for Slovenia is their ultimate game plan is to get create pressure to throw off the opposing backcourt then get out in transition — but they don’t want to get into a track meet with the USA. The Americans are more athletic and deeper, their big men run the floor better and when the tempo goes up the Americans play better. They will win out that way.

But Team USA will need to play a little better than they have so far to continue the run of easy wins (Turkey came the closest so far and lost by 21). Which is what the Americans need — they need to tighten up the defensive rotations, they need to find ball movement in the halfcourt now, because Spain is still looming in the gold medal game and still looks like a team that could well beat the Americans if the USA isn’t playing better than it has up to now.