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Saturday, 6 August 2016

#BetweenTheRings: Men's Basketball Preview
Can anyone stay close with The Dream Team?


It's The Dream Team vs. The World at Rio 2016.  Many question whether any nation can even keep a competitive game going with Team USA let alone asking if anyone can actually beat them.  Team USA seems to be the runaway choice to score another Olympic gold medal...and why not given the roster they are bringing to the XXXI Olympiad.  But it can't be that simple of a slam dunk can it?

Here is a quick #RioRewind on Men's Basketball:

  • Men's basketball has been contested at the Olympics since 1936.
  • The USA will be making their 18th appearance in Rio, leading all nations.  Brazil is second with 15 and Australia is next with 14.
  • There will be no debut nation competing in Rio.  Nigeria and Venezuela will be making only their 2nd Olympic appearance.  Nigeria's first being 4 years ago in London and Venezuela made their debut back in 1992.
  • The 1972 gold medal final remains one of the most disputed and controversial events in the sport.  With the Soviet Union trailing Team USA, the Soviets were able to inbound the ball from their end, head up the court and score the winning basket at the buzzer.  While not completely unheard of, the controversy arose because the Soviet's inbound play was initiated three different times, all due to officiating errors.  The US protested the outcome but the result stands.  The US players refused their silver medals and, to this day, the medals remain with the IOC.
  • Up to 1988, amateur athletes competed and represented their country at the Olympic level.  However, a decision was made in 1989 by FIBA to allow professional athletes to compete, beginning with the 1992 Summer Olympics.  The first Dream Team made their appearance known in 1992, winning the gold medal decisively winning their games by an average of 44 points per game.
  • In the history of the Olympiad, only 4 nations have won a gold medal in men's basketball: USA, Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Argentina.  Argentina won their sole gold medal in 2004 after defeating USA in the SF and Italy in the final.  This is still considered one of the biggest upsets, and Team USA disappointments, in Olympic history.
  • The past two Olympics has seen the USA defeat Spain for the gold.  In London, Spain kept the final close only losing by a final score of 107-100.

Let's get to the breakdown of the pools and the #TwineTime predictions.


Pool A

USA (1) - The clear favourites.  The two-time defending champions.  Loaded with professional players and talent.  Should there really be any reason to doubt this team?  Well....MANY of the top American players have decided to skip the event, including Lebron James, Steph Curry, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, James Harden Blake Griffin and others.  The last time so many of the best players skipped the Olympics was 2004...when the Americans were upset in the SF and only won a bronze.  The US qualified automatically by winning the 2014 FIBA World Cup.

France (5) - The Tony Parker-led Les Bleus are considered the only real challenger for the USA in the pool.  Utah Jazz 7'1 center Rudy Gobert also will help lead France in a push for the podium.  France did have to win a last-change qualifier event to qualify for Rio, beating Canada in the final.  France will want to have a strong finish in the pool and hope to avoid Spain in an elimination game for as long as possible.  Spain has been the thorn in the side of France hearts for many years, eliminated Les Bleus at the 2012 Olympics and 2015 EuroBasket.

Australia (11) - The dark horse team in this pool.  Qualifying for the Knockout Stage is expected but a podium push is not.  However, this is a strong team and could surprise a few teams along the way.  They qualified by winning the 2015 Oceania championship.  The question is how far can Andrew Bogut and Patty Mills take this team?

Serbia (6) - The runner-up at the 2014 World Cup to USA, just missing automatic qualification.  The Serb's were then forced to go the long road to make Rio, having to win a final qualification tournament at home in July.  The team will be led by Denver Nuggets product Nikola Jokic.  Expected to advance out the pool but a podium could be a bit of a reach.

China (14) - The poor first victim for Team USA...not the way you want to start your Olympic tournament.  However, at least they get the worst game out of the way early and perhaps can catch USA off guard a bit to start.  This team won the Asia championship to qualify here and could be in tough to advance out of the group.

Venezuela (22) - If you want to cheer for a true dark horse in this pool, rally behind Venezuela.  Who doesn't like a good upset story?  Interestingly enough, in exhibition games this team actually played the USA the closest losing by only (Only!!) 35 points.  Venezuela did qualify here by winning the America's championship, besting stronger teams Argentina, Brazil, Canada and Mexico.

#TwineTime Projected Standings:  1. USA  2. France  3. Australia  4. Serbia  5. Venezuela  6. China

Pool B

Spain (2) - The back-to-back Olympic silver medalists are hoping third time's a charm in Rio.  They lost 2008 by 11 points and 2012 by 7 points.  Are they finally closing the gap on the rival Americans?  This could be the last-ditch effort for this line-up as their main players Pau Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro and Felipe Reyes are 36yrs old and doubtful for another Olympic push.  They will be tested in their pool against a few very strong teams, more tested than USA will get in their pool.  But a battle tested team who should still win the pool could be more dangerous than a team not challenged in winning their pool.  Spain qualified here by winning EuroBasket 2015.

Lithuania (3) - Speaking of EuroBasket 2015, Lithuania finished runner-up to Spain at that event earning them an automatic qualification spot here in Rio.  As an avid Olympic fan, every year I always get excited for a USA - Lithuania men's basketball match up.  I always have that feeling in my heart Lithuania can post the upset and knock off the USA.  Perhaps this is the year?  Jonas Valanciunas will be the leader of this team.

Argentina (4) - We could really almost say see Spain above for the preview of Albiceleste.  The current crop of players is probably playing their last Olympics and the last shot at winning gold with all-stars like Ginobli and Scola.  Argentina qualifier by finishing runner-up at the America's championship.  Remember nobody expected them to win gold in 2004 though, can lightning strike twice?

Croatia (12) - Probably one of the biggest surprise nations to have qualified to be here.  Croatia had to go through the last-chance qualification tournament, winning against favourites Italy and Greece in Turin.  If Croatia was in the other pool, perhaps they would have an outside shot to qualify.  Given the strength of pool B though, it could be too tall of an order to ask.

Nigeria (25) - Poor Nigeria.  Making only the 2nd Olympic appearance, they received a draw of death for them.  Had they been lucky enough to be joined with Venezuela and/or China, they actually would be considered a QF dark horse team.  The African champions however will be in tough to collect wins against their pool B opponents.  No African nation has ever advanced from the group stage in men's Olympic basketball history but Nigeria could be one of the strongest African teams to ever qualify.  They could possibly post at least an upset.

Brazil (9) - So Brazil qualified as the host nation, explaining perhaps their dismal performance at the America's championship.  Expect a much stronger line-up on the home court and in front of the home fans.  If they can find the same magic that got them to the QF stage of the 2014 World Cup, a similar performance is not out of the question.  They will have a HUGE amount of pressure on them though.

#TwineTime Projected Standings:  1. Spain  2. Argentina  3. Lithuania  4. Brazil  5. Croatia  6. Nigeria

Knockout Stage

Quarterfinals

USA over Brazil
Argentina over Australia
Lithuania over France
Spain over Serbia

Semifinals

USA over Argentina
Spain over Lithuania

Bronze Medal 

Lithuania over Argentina

Gold Medal

USA over Spain

#TwineTime Medal Picks

Gold - USA
Silver - Spain
Bronze - Lithuania

Stay up to date on all the #BetweenTheRings #Rio2016 Previews below:

Welcome to Rio 2016
Women's Football Preview
Men's Football Preview
Tennis Preview
Rugby Sevens Preview

Also, don't forget to have YOUR voice heard on what sport(s) you are most excited about watching during the XXXI Olympiad by voting on the #TwineTime homepage.