August 9, 2012
By Luka Papalko
After 6 games played for the teams still left, the Olympic Men's Basketball portion has reached the Final Four. Team USA will be taking on Argentina while Spain will be facing Russia on Friday. The four teams now will be fighting for a chance to medal for their respective countries. USA, Spain and Argentina were all expected to make it this far but Russia was the surprise in the group. Ranked #11 in the FIBA rankings, Russia finished first in their group and beat #5 FIBA ranked Lithuania to advance. Here's a further look at the matchups for Friday's games.
The first game of the semi-finals will put Spain up against Russia at 12PM (ET). Spain, ranked #2 by FIBA, has surprisingly struggled some in the tournament with 2 losses and not looking like the clear-cut 2nd best team like most expected. While Russia has been the exact opposite, surprising everyone by finishing atop their group and even beating Spain in their group play matchup.
In their first matchup, Russia and Spain played a very close game with Russia able to execute down the stretch to pull put a 77-74 win. Russia was able to shut-down Spain's other weapons around Pau Gasol while Russian guard Vitaliy Fridzon had a big game with 24 points. Spain's guard play has been inconsistent throughout the tournament, as the Spaniards have missed Ricky Rubio's presence and playmaking ability.
Russia will try to use a similar gameplan against Spain in their 2nd matchup during the tournament. Russia's strength is their defense and ability to execute in the half-court setting, so slowing the game down will be what Russia will look to do. They were able to do that to Spain and it ultimately won them the game. While Andrei Kirilenko has taken on the main scoring role, they don't have a true go-to scorer. They rather rely on a good team play and execution on offense.
The key for Spain will be getting scoring help for Pau Gasol and consistent play from their guards. Spain's talent level is much better than what they've shown thus far. They've managed to squeak by so far but they will face a Russian team that has their number and knows how to attack them. They will need to play to their potential if they want another shot at Team USA for the gold medal.
Team USA versus Argentina will be the second game played of the semi-finals at 4PM (ET). The two countries faced each other in group play just three days ago. Previous to that, Team USA also played an exhibition game against Argentina. So both teams are very familiar with each other, which should make for another good matchup.
The previous matchup saw Argentina play Team USA very tough and physical, with Argentina being only down by 1 at halftime. The turning point in their last game was the 3rd Quarter in which Team USA outscored Argentina 42-17. Team USA was able to hold Luis Scola and Manu Ginobli in check, as the two only combined for 27 points.
If Argentina wants to beat Team USA, they will need their two best players to play their best games. The other problem for Argentina has been defensively, where they allowed the 3rd most points against in group play. Despite that, they still had a positive point differential in due to their excellent scoring ability. The real key for Argentina will be holding their own defensively, as scoring hasn't been a problem for them.
For Team USA, while there have been some occasional rough patches they're still the best team in the tournament and the odds-on favorite to win the Gold medal. There simply hasn't been a team able to match their offensive output with all the talent they have on that side of the ball. Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony have been carrying the scoring load while LeBron James has been playing a very solid all-around game. While Team USA has good individual defenders, their lack of size down-low has hurt their defensive efficiency. Their points against is in the middle of the pack which is a bit surprising considering their talent level.
Ultimately, it looks like Spain could face Team USA once again for the gold medal with Russia taking on Argentina for the bronze medal game. In the 2008 Olympics, USA finished with the gold medal, Spain finished with the silver and Argentina finished with the bronze. The 2012 Olympics could very well play out in the same way.