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Quest for the Gold: 2012 Olympic Men’s Basketball Preview - Pinwheel Empire
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Quest for the Gold: 2012 Olympic Men’s Basketball Preview

submitted 5 years ago by in NBA

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="385" caption="Image Courtesy of si.com"]US with their gold medals in 2008[/caption]

With the opening ceremonies only a few short days away, it seemed appropriate to preview perhaps the most high profile international basketball tournament in the world, the Olympic tournament.  The US is heavily favored once again but their inability to completely put away opponents like Argentina and Brazil that might be reasonably expected to pose upset threats during their recent warm-up games means nothing is certain.  Even if the US wins, the battle for the silver and bronze should be hard fought, with plenty of quality teams having a shot at bringing home a medal.

 

Some quick notes before we start

 

Tournament set-up:

Beginning with the World Championship two years ago and concluding with the Olympic Qualifying Tournament a few weeks back, 12 teams have earned the right to play in this year’s Olympic Tournament.

 

There are two groups (designated as group A and group B) consisting of six teams each, each team plays all the other teams in their pool.  The top four advance to the quarterfinals, which are single elimination, and to the semifinals and eventually the medal round.  Medal-winning teams will play a total of eight games in just over two weeks.

 

Glossary:

FIBA=Fédération Internationale de Basketball (International Basketball Federation).

FIBA Ranking: A computerized ranking system devised by FIBA in an attempt to rank the top teams in the world.

 

Group A:

 

Argentina:

Qualification: FIBA Americas Champion

FIBA Ranking: 3

Previous Appearances: 5

Total Medals: 2 (1 Gold, 1 Bronze)

Best Ever Finish: Gold (2004)

Last Appearance: Bronze (2008)

NBA Players on Roster: 3 (4 if you count Prigioni, just signed by NY)

Best Player: Manu Ginobili

Summary: Argentina always seems to get up for the big tournaments, medaling the last two times they appeared in the competition.  With this likely to be Manu’s last appearance, Argentina will make one last attempt to climb on the podium.

Prediction: Bronze Medalists, Argentina will do enough to get on the podium but will fall to Spain in the semifinals and settle for bronze.

Did You Know?: Argentina hosted the first-ever FIBA World Championships in 1950.

 

France:

Qualification: FIBA Europe Runner-up

FIBA Ranking: 12

Previous Appearances: 7

Total Medals: 2 (2 Silver)

Best Ever Finish: Silver (1948, 2000)

Last Appearance: Silver (2000)

NBA Players on Roster: 6

Best Player: Tony Parker

Summary: A surprise qualifier out of last year’s FIBA Europe Championships after finishing 13th in the 2010 World Championships, France is making its first appearance since 2000.  With Parker and Batum leading the way, France has the talent to make some noise.  The question remains, are they a complete enough team to survive if either of their stars has a bad game.

Prediction: Quarterfinals, France will probably finish third, at best, in the group behind the USA, Argentina and perhaps Lithuania.  With that comes a likely quarterfinal matchup against the likes of Spain or Brazil, which will probably spell the end of France’s run.

Did You Know?: France has qualified for the European Championship 36 times, more than any other nation, but has never won that (or any other) title.

 

Lithuania:

Qualification: Olympic Qualifying Tournament

FIBA Ranking: 5

Previous Appearances: 5

Total Medals: 3 (3 Bronze)

Best Ever Finish: Bronze (1992, 1996, 2000)

Last Appearance: Fourth (2008)

NBA Players on Roster: 1 (2 if you count Jonas Valančiūnas)

Best Player: Jonas Valančiūnas

Summary: Lithuania has qualified for the Olympics every time since achieving independence and has never finished worse than fourth.  They might not be the most talented team but they seem to get it done when the big tournaments come along. 

Prediction: Quarterfinals, Lithuania may have finally met their match this year as their likely third or fourth place finish in this group pretty much guarantees them one of the favorites in the quarters.  That will probably spell the end of their fourth place or better Olympic streak.

Did You Know?: Lithuania won two straight European Championships in 1937 and 1939, their last two appearances before they became part of the USSR.

 

Nigeria:

Qualification: Olympic Qualifying Tournament

FIBA Ranking: 21

Previous Appearances: 0

Total Medals: 0

Best Ever Finish: N/A

Last Appearance: N/A

NBA Players on Roster: 1

Best Player: Al-Farouq Aminu

Summary: Nigeria shocked the international basketball world a few weeks back when they upset heavily favored Greece in the quarterfinals of the Olympic Qualifying Tournament and then beat the Dominican Republic two games later to secure their place in London.  This is their first-ever Olympic appearance.  Nigeria features Blazer summer team member Ekene Ibekwe.

Prediction: Group stage, Nigeria is completely overmatched at this level.  They will likely, at most, win one game vs. Tunisia.  For them, making the Olympics at all is a huge accomplishment.

Did You Know?: Despite being born in Lagos, Nigeria, Hakeem Olajuwon never played for his native country, instead the hall of famer played internationally for the USA.

 

Tunisia:

Qualification: FIBA Africa Championa

FIBA Ranking: 32

Previous Appearances: 0

Total Medals: 0

Best Ever Finish: N/A

Last Appearance: N/A

NBA Players on Roster: 0

Best Player: Salah Mejri

Summary: Tunisia is another team just happy to be here, qualifying for the first ever Olympics following their first-ever African title last summer after ending Angola’s run as the dominant team in the region.  They feature no NBA players and indeed only one player who plays anywhere in Europe.  They will be hard pressed to win a game. 

Prediction: Group stage, success for Tunisia may be avoiding a blowout by margins that would make one recall Angola’s thrashing at the hands of the Dream Team in 1992.  They may be the least talented team in the field this year.

Did You Know?: Tunisia finished dead last, 24th out of 24, in their only FIBA World Championship appearance in 2010, losing all five of their games by double digits.  

 

United States:

Qualification: FIBA World Champions

FIBA Ranking: 1

Previous Appearances: 16

Total Medals: 16 (13 Gold, 1 Silver, 2 Bronze)

Best Ever Finish: Gold (1936, 1948, 1952, 1956, 1960, 1964, 1968, 1976, 1984, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2008)

Last Appearance: Gold (2008)

NBA Players on Roster: 11 (12 if you count Anthony Davis)

Best Player: LeBron James

Summary: They may not be the Dream Team but they are still extremely talented.  This US squad lacks depth at center due to a seemingly endless parade of injuries to American big men but beyond that they are deep, talented and will simply overwhelm almost every team they face with sheer talent alone.  If they play as they are capable, they are probably impossible to stop.

Prediction: Olympic Champions, while it is certainly possible that a team like Spain, Argentina or Brazil could knock the USA out on the right day, if the Americans play as they are capable, or indeed anywhere close to that, they should ease to yet another gold medal.

Did You Know?: Despite being by far the most successful squad on the Olympic stage, the US has only won the World Championship four times, and only twice since professionals were allowed to play (1994 and 2010).

 

Group B:

 

Australia:

Qualification: FIBA Oceania Champions

FIBA Ranking: 9

Previous Appearances: 13

Total Medals: 0

Best Ever Finish: Fourth (1996, 2000)

Last Appearance: Quarterfinals (2008)

NBA Players on Roster: 1

Best Player: Patty Mills

Summary: It is perhaps an indictment of the FIBA Ranking system itself that a team like Australia, which has no real hope of winning a medal, is somehow ranked in the top ten in the world.  Be that as it may, Australia continues their tradition of qualifying for the major tournaments, but it would be shocking if they went far this year.

Prediction: Group Stage, Australia is better than China, but probably no one else in their group.  Their game vs. team GB will likely be for a quarterfinals spot but I’m giving the edge to the host nation here.

Did You Know?: Every single FIBA Oceania Championship in which Australia has competed (all except 2000 due to their automatic qualification as host nation), they have faced New Zealand in the finals.

 

Brazil:

Qualification: FIBA Americas Runner-up

FIBA Ranking: 13

Previous Appearances: 15

Total Medals: 3 (3 Bronze)

Best Ever Finish: Bronze (1948, 1960, 1964)

Last Appearance: Sixth (1996)

NBA Players on Roster: 4

Best Player: Nene Hilario

Summary: If there is a dark horse in this year’s field, it is most likely the Brazilians.  Having failed to qualify since 1996 due to the US and Argentina taking the two qualifying spots every year since, Brazil is a tricky team to face.  They have size inside, can hit outside shots and generally hang around perhaps long enough to pull the upset.

Prediction: Fourth place, the Brazilians are probably, in fact, the second best team in this group.  That should be good enough to get them to the medal round before they fall just short of a medal against Argentina.

Did You Know?: Brazil’s head coach Ruben Magnano, was the head coach of the gold-medal winning 2004 Argentina squad.

 

China:

Qualification: FIBA Asia Champions

FIBA Ranking: 10

Previous Appearances: 8

Total Medals: 0

Best Ever Finish: Eighth (1996, 2004, 2008)

Last Appearance: Eighth (2008)

NBA Players on Roster: 1

Best Player: Yi Jianlian

Summary: China may have broken through in many other sports but basketball has eluded them.  With Yao retired, they really don’t have a whole lot left. 

Prediction: Group Stage, any team whose best player is Yi Jianlian is not very good, it will be a quick and painful exit for China this year.

Did You Know?: China has never advanced past the quarterfinals of either the Olympics or the World Championship.

 

Great Britain:

Qualification: Host Nation

FIBA Ranking: 43

Previous Appearances: 1

Total Medals: 0

Best Ever Finish: Twentieth (1948)

Last Appearance: Twentieth (1948)

NBA Players on Roster: 1 (2, if you count Freeland)

Best Player: Luol Deng

Summary: Team GB was re-formed for this year’s Olympics after decades of each part of the UK (England, Scotland, etc.) fielding its own international team.  They were not originally granted automatic qualification due to FIBA concerns that the team would only last through the 2012 games.  However, the British have promised to keep the team in place for the longterm.

Prediction: Quarterfinals, team GB is clearly not among the top three in the group but given them a little bump from the home crowd and they should be able to finish fourth before bowing out to the US.

Did You Know?: In their only other appearance in the Olympics in 1948, team GB was outscored 298-103 in five games in group play.  They did, however, defeat Ireland in their first consolation game before falling to Egypt 50-18.

 

Russia:

Qualification: Olympic Qualifying Tournament

FIBA Ranking: 11

Previous Appearances: 2

Total Medals: 0

Best Ever Finish: Eighth (2000)

Last Appearance: Ninth (2008)

NBA Players on Roster: 1 (2 if you count Shved)

Best Player: Andrei Kirilenko

Summary: The Russians haven’t been the same since they were forced to field their own team following the breakup of the USSR.  They won two straight silvers in the 1994 and 1998 World Championships and a surprise European title in 2007 but have yet to make much noise in the Olympics.  This year doesn’t figure to be much different although this young squad may be worth looking out for in 2016.

Prediction: Quarterfinals, Russia is probably the third best team in the group.  They’ll make the quarters, then bow out to Argentina.

Did You Know?: Ex-Blazer Victor Khyrapa was a member of the 2007 European Champions.

 

Spain:

Qualification: FIBA Europe Champions

FIBA Ranking: 2

Previous Appearances: 10

Total Medals: 2 (2 Silver)

Best Ever Finish: Silver (1984, 2008)

Last Appearance: Silver (2008)

NBA Players on Roster: 4 (5 if you count Claver)

Best Player: Pau Gasol

Summary: If any team has a chance to dethrone the US juggernaut it is doubtless Spain.  The Spanish team is loaded with talent and arguably only getting better.  Led by the Gasol brothers, Spain has the size the US arguably lacks.  Perhaps it will be Spain that, this time, is on the right end of a thrilling gold medal matchup, such as we had four years ago.

Prediction: Silver medal, Spain is a very good team but the US is a great one.  While an upset is possible, it is more likely the Spanish fall one step short for the second time in a row.

Did You Know?: Pau Gasol will have the honor of carrying Spain’s flag into the Opening Ceremonies on Friday.

 

Prediction Summary:

 

Group A:

  1. USA
  2. Argentina
  3. Lithuania
  4. France
  5. Nigeria
  6. Tunisia

 

Group B:

  1. Spain
  2. Brazil
  3. Russia
  4. Great Britain
  5. Australia
  6. China

 

Knockout rounds:

Quarterfinals:

USA d. GB

Argentina d Russia

Brazil d. Lithuania

Spain d. France

 

Semifinals:

USA d. Brazil

Spain d. Argentina

 

Medal Round:

Gold: USA d. Spain

Bronze: Argentina d. Brazil

 

What do you think? Make your predictions below.

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skywaker9 (David) is a Portland native and passionate Blazers fan. He currently works as a University fiscal analyst for the Higher Education Coordinating Commission. He also has a PhD in Public Affairs and Policy at Portland State University. David is a former political activist who chose to focus on sports because they made him happy. He primarily writes previews for PWE and one of his primary goals is to inform Blazer fans everywhere about those players on other teams they may not have heard of but should (such as Nikola Vucevic).