Coming into the 2016 Summer Games, the United States Men’s Basketball team was supposed to run through their competition for another easy gold medal. However, even though they escaped the group phase undefeated, they showed that they are beatable. Could they realistically lose out on gold?
Defense-lacking in the first unit
Since their domination of the Venezuelan and Chinese teams, the United States has played some pretty poor defense, especially in the first unit. The USA is giving up 93 points per game in their last three games and when you consider that an international game is a full eight minutes shorter than an NBA game over the entire contest, that’s pretty bad.
Sure, the USA scores a lot, which has always been their calling card. However, no longer can they just rely on their scoring to win them every game. Australia and Serbia showed that in the group stage and in the other group Argentina is also proving that continuity and moving the ball can win games too.
The USA has a lot of defensive talent, but it is all on the bench. When you start DeMarcus Cousins, Kyrie Irving and Carmelo Anthony in the same starting five, the defense is going to suffer. While this won’t kill them, they need to start playing better defense.
The end of games has also been a problem. These players are pretty much all scorers and they all want to take over the ball at the end of games, instead of playing for one another, working the ball around and getting the best shot.
This can also be fixed, but Mike Krzyzewski has his work cut out for him. Kevin Durant is easily the United States’ best scorer, but the team has a wealth of offensive talent if they can make the right pass. The United States women had assists on 40 of their 46 baskets in their domination of China the other night. They are the ones that look unstoppable. If the men can start to do something similar, they won’t have to have crucial possessions at the end of games, because they will be ahead by so much already because of better defense and better passing.
Don’t panic yet
Even with a couple of scares in the group stage, Team USA is still going to be seen as a huge favorite betting pick. They were the only team to come away from group play undefeated SU, they scored 80 more points over the next highest team in their group, Australia and they have the deepest team by far. With three full days to rest and practice time to work out the kinks, whoever gets the fourth seed in Group B will be a huge betting odds underdog in Wednesday’s game.
The United States has to be hoping they play Brazil and not the Spanish or Croatians. All three teams are fighting for the final spot in Group B after poor group play, but Brazil has already won to move to seven points, but a loss Monday night for both Spain and Croatia would mean that Croatia advances due to the fact that they beat both the Spanish and Brazilians already in this tournament.
For the US, the first knockout round matchup isn’t as important as the later ones, but if it is, in fact, Croatia, Team USA could once again be overvalued. Most don’t know that the Croats are pretty good, whereas the Brazilians and Spanish have more known players, seemingly giving them more of the public’s money. If the Croats face Team USA, look for them to be undervalued in the betting odds.