Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Olympic Basketball Preview

I'm quite sure that all of you are really psyched for the upcoming Olympics in Beijing. While I don't nessessarily like the decision to have it in China, I'm also psuched for the Olympics. Since this is an NBA blog, I thought it would be only fair to preview the Basketball portion of the games.

First off, lets review who out of the City will be participating in the games:


Yeah, we don't have any players who will be going to Beijing. P.J. Carlesimo coached the practice squad which had Kevin Durant and Jeff Green on it, though. Sear Sene probably plays for Senegal, but they didn't qualify. Francisco Elson (who is technically still on our roster) is Captain of the Netherlands team, but if Elson is your Captain, you probably don't make it very far in international play. (He's the second best Dutch basketball player ever, next to Rik Smits.) The last international player we have is Johan Petro, who is not good enough for the French national team, which is itself not good enough for the Olympics.

Now that we have that out of the way, lets discuss format.

12 teams are split into 2 groups (A and B) who play the other teams in the group once each. The teams ending up in the top 4 of each group will be seeded into a tournament single knockout format, in which the teams knock each other out until they compete for the gold. Confused? Click here for further Wikipedia explanation.

Now, I'll break down each of the teams rosters, followed by predictions.

Group A: Argentina
NBA Players: Manu Ginobili, Andres Nocioni, Luis Scola, Fabricio Oberto, Carlos Delfino

Argentina is probaly the best South American team, and a powerhouse in international basketball. They won the gold in the last Summer Olympics, and there's no reason to think that they can't do it again with many NBA players at the peak of their prime. And don't think that the rest of their team is a pushover, either. They have many vets from Euroleague and local teams, and their roster is largely intact from their 2004 run. A certainly formiadale team that has been together for a while.

NBA Players: Andrew Bogut (Patrick Mills plays for Saint Marys College)

Contrary to popular belief, Australia does have it's own basketball league, and it is actually quite popular. Sadly, it really isn't that good. For comparison, Mark Price (my homeboy) went over to Australia to coach an expansion team (the South Dragons), and brought former teammate Todd Fuller to play with him. Fuller, considered an NBA failure with the Golden State Warriors, averaged 18 points and 9 rebounds for the team in 6 games, before getting sacked by Shane Heal, who had also just sacked Mark Price, citing "lack of work ethic". Reguardless, the Australian team used to be one of the few teams who could hold a candle to the United States "dream teams", but they frequently got beat by 20-30 points. But this is not the Australian team of old, as they no longer have Australian Legends Shane Heal (yes, the same Shane heal who sacked Mark Price and Todd Fuller) and Andrew Gaze. It remains to be seen whether the Australian team can live up to their former potential.
NBA Players: Roko Ukic (He plays for the Raptors)

This is a total Euroleague team, and a bit of a wildcard in the Olympics. To be honest, I don't know much about them except for the fact that Toni Kukoc used to be their best player. But, I wouldn't expect this team to win a medal with the extremely fierce competition that's been going on lately.

NBA Players: None

Iran has no NBA players, and no shot at a gold. Honestly, they only got in because they're the best in Asia, which doesn't say much in the Basketball world. I mean, if I played them, I'd probably get owned, but on this high scale, they don't stand much of a chance.
NBA Players: Linas Kleiza (Sarunas Jasikevicus is a former Warrior and Pacer)

A usually pretty good basketball team that is looking below par this year. They do have good players in the Lavrinovic twins, Jasikevicus and Kleiza, but they are missing a lot of good players in Zyundras Ilgauskas (who couldn't play because the Cavaliers wouldn't let him), Arvydas Macijauskas (a former Hornet and Euroleague superstar who had a back injury), and Darius Songaila (also has a back injury). There are other players I could name, but the fact of the matter is that in a weak group A this team will most likely advance, but don't expect them to get far. If you need proof, look at their 30-40 point exhibition blowout against the USA.
NBA Players: Andrei Kirilenko (J.R. Holden is a former Bucknell star who went directly to Euroleague)

After the Soviet Union dissolved, it remained to be seen if the Russian National basketball team would remain as a force in international basketball after the loss of players from Soviet Republics. Well, they certainly weren't as good as their former self, but they were pretty damn good, and this year they look better than ever. With several strong players from local Euroleague clubs CSKA Moscow, Dynamo Moscow, and Spartak St.Petersburg that won them the 2007 European Championship, this team looks to be a strong contender in the Olympics and a virtual lock for the tournament.

Group B Angola
NBA Players: None

Angola is probably the most screwed team here. They sneak into seemingly every Olympics and FIBA tournament because they're the best team from Africa, but on a golbabl scale they're pretty bad. They did defeat Panama, Japan, and the New Zealand Tall Blacks (lol) in the most recent FIBA tournament, but against most of the other teams they hardly stand a chance. Put that fact on top of the fact that they are in an extremely powerful Group A, and I'd expect an 0-5 record.

NBA Players: Yao Ming, Yi Jianlian (Wang Zhi Zhi used to play for the Mavericks, and Sun Yue was drafted by the Lakers)

China is usually a moderately strong team, but if you look beyond the four players listed above, the team is pretty bad. China is a factory athlete-wise, but if you think about it, Asians aren't the best basketball players, just by natural ability. Now, I'm not being rascist, but, on average, Asians are much shorter, so there you go. So, really only a lucky few are actually good on this basketball team, while the rest of them like to run around and brick 3s like Marco Bellinelli. If you think about it, a former Liberty Center (who they like to call Jason) is an All-Star in the Chinese Basketball League, whereas here he'd be a D-League scrub. So, this team will be good (and probably would have soundly beaten Iran had they not automatically qualified as host), but it will be extremely hard for them to advance out of a powerhouse Group A.

NBA Players: Dirk Nowitski, Chris Kaman

This team is lead by the twin towers of Nowitski and Kaman. Historically, Germany has always had a few good players from their team, and this year is no different. Beyond the twin towers, they're good, but not great. They'll probably duke it out with China for the final spot in the tournament. Rookie Guard Bobby Brown, a NBA reject, lead ALBA Berlin to the German championship, and will be fighting for a roster spot in the NBA this year. They're really only here because of Kaman, and probably won't get beyond the first round of the tournament.

NBA Players: None

Greece may have no NBA players, but these are cream of the crop Euroleague players, and they've been playing together for a long time. They defeated the United States in the 2006 FIBA Championship Semi-Finals before losing to Spain in the finals. There's not much else to say other than the fact that they play a really good European brand of basketball together, and are cetrainly Gold Medal contenders.
NBA Players: Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, Jose Calderon, Rudy Fernandez (Juan Carlos Navarro used to play for the Grizzlies)

Spain is a recent powerhouse. They defeated Greece without Pau Gasol in the finals of the 2006 FIBA tournament, so this team is for real. With an almost perfect mix of NBA vets and certainly capable European players, this team looks to be a certain title contender.
United States
NBA Players: All

Well, there's not much to say about these guys that you don't already know. The've been together for 3 years now, they're big, they're bad, they're ready to play. However, the team and it's marketing has been incredibly cocky about how certain they are that they'll win and return to the "glory days" of "The Dream Team". What do I have to say to that? Dream on. The world is good at basketball now, and they're here to stay. Hopefully they'll realize this and stop being so nationalistic.

Alright, so now lets see how they'll finish in Group A:
1. Argentina
An easy choice for #1. By and far the best team in Group A.
2. Russia
Somewhat of a distant 2nd to Argentina, this team is still pretty good.

3. Australia
This is where the Questions start for Group A, and no one would be surprised to see any of the 4 remaining teams in 3rd. So I'll go off on a limb and say Australia will get 3rd, since they're pretty unified as a team.

4. Lithuania
Any other year, this team would be duking it out with Argentina. Still, with so many injuries, they'll barely scrape into 4th.

5. Croatia
These guys haven't qualified for the World Championship in a long time, and usually finish around 6th-10th ish in the European Championships. I think Lithuania still has the man power to beat them.

6. Iran
They've had a recent run of success in the Asian Games....but that's the Asian games. With such a weak division they could advance, but don't put your money on it.

Now, on to Group B.
1. United States
This team has been together and really developed chemistry. They've played simply amazing in exhibition games so far.

2. Spain
I just think that this team loses to the United States head-to-head.
3. Greece
3rd place is something to be proud of in Group B, and this team will have chances to get revenge on Spain while also trying to re-defeat the US. They'll do neither, since both Spain and the US have improved since their last meetings.
4. China
Mark it down on your calendar: August 16th, 8 PM China Time. Why? Nowitski/Kaman vs. Yao/Yi. A Twin Towers battle of epic proportions, and it's a shame that only one of the pairs can go to the next round. Yao and Yi are probably a bit worse, but they'll get relief from jump shooting big man Wang Zhi Zhi, and have the hometown crowd on their side.

5. Germany
The odd team out in this group. When the groups were selected, they didn't have Chris Kaman, so that's they're fault. Once they can develop some additional guard talent, they'll make it, and they certainly could've made it in Group A.

6. Angola
Oh, what can I say, dear Angola? You might've had a chance in Group A, but in Group B, you're, quite simply, screwed.

So, the bracket would play out like this:

A2 Russia vs. B3 Greece B1United States vs. A4 Lithuania B2 Spain vs. A3 Australia A1 Argentina vs. B4 China

Without further ado, lets break 'em down:
Russia vs. Greece - Russia
Probably the most even matchup of the first round. Both are pretty good teams in their own right, and it will be awesome to see Kirilenko and Papaloukas go at it. Reguardless, I'll go with Russia in a slight upset. They did win the European Championships in 07, after all!
United States vs. Lithuania - United States
If you saw the exhibition game between these two and the 2006 FIBA game between them, you'd know that this is an old-fashioned blowout. The United States team is simply too quick and too athletic for the Lithuania big slowpokes.
Spain vs. Australia - Spain
This is another no contest matchup. Spain is just too talented for Australia. They might have a bit of a Bogut-Gasol battle, but Spains guards should easily outplay Australia.

Argentina vs. China - China
If you want to pick a big upset in the first round, here's your chance. Chinas anti-drug is swift, quick, and athletic big men (Since Yao, Yi, and Zhi Zhi are all really slow and plodding). Argentina is not that anti-drug, focusing on scoring forwards and guards. The closest thing they have is Luis Scola, who is Yaos teammate. Now, China has pretty poor guard play, which is what Argentina will most likely take advantage of. But if China can focus on total domination on the inside, they can win this game, and I'm banking on that. Plus, hometown crowd!

So, our Semifinal matchups are
United States vs. Russia
Spain vs. China

Lets break 'em down!
United States vs. Russia - Russia
Ah, the classic matchup. A lot of people are going to call me a hater for picking Russia, but this team is looking powerful. They beat Lithuania, Greece, Spain, France, and Croatia at the latest Eurobasket. This team is good. So is the United States. This game will be probably one of the best in recent memory, and I'm sure neither team will dissapoint.
Spain vs. China - Spain
And Chinas cinderalla run comes to a crashing end. Gasol domination, not much else to say.

So, we have a Finals matchup of:
Russia vs. Spain

and a Bronze Medal matchup of:
United States vs. China

First off:
United States vs. China - United States

This will probably go down as one of the most one-sided brinze medal games in Olympic history. China really doesn't belong this far up in the bracket.

And now, the FINAL!:
Russia vs. Spain - Russia

This is a tough one, it really is. They each one once against each other in the last Euroleague, with both games being nail biters. Russia is 2007 Eurobasket champions, and Spain is 2006 World Champions. This will be an excellent game, and if it does happen, I'd LOVE to see it. But, I'm going to go with Russia. Why? I don't know, intuition?

And there you have it. Please, enjoy the 2008 Summer Olympic Games!!!!