While the comparisons between the 2012 U.S. Olympic basketball team and the original 1992 “Dream Team” will likely hang over this competition from start to finish, it shouldn’t distract us from what should be one of the most competitive and talent laden international men’s basketball tournaments we’ve seen.
If you want a little more insight in to men’s basketball at the 2012 Summer Games, here you go.
To start, I should let you know that there are differences between NBA rules and FIBA rules. Some of the more noticeable ones will be:
- Four 10-minute quarters instead of 12-minutes quarters
- Three-point line is a little closer
- Teams get two timeouts in first half, three timeouts in second half, and one per overtime period
- Jump-balls operate similarly to NCAA rules, with an alternating possession arrow rather than an actual jump-ball
- Whereas in the NBA a player fouls out with six personals or two technical fouls, FIBA sees a player foul out with any combination (personal and technical) of five total fouls. Technical fouls also result in stiffer penalties.
- You can find a good rule breakdown here.
The top four teams in each group will advance to the quarterfinals.
Recognizable players: When you’re replacement player is No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis, I don’t think anyone qualifies as “unrecognizable.”
The U.S. could probably field a “B Team” and still be heavily favoured for Gold at this tournament. They’ve blown out good opponents by an average of nearly 30 points in their tuneup games, and yet you could make the argument that they were nowhere near as sharp as they could have been in any of those contests. The one knock on this collection of talent is their lack of size, but this team could probably get away with playing LeBron James at centre against FIBA competition and still coast to gold.
They might be tested for stretches of individual games, and a loss would be a terrific story, but at the end of the day, they’ll end up on the right side of slanted scorelines in almost every game they play. Other countries have developed solid foundations of NBA talent, and there are some pretty good teams in this tourney, but make no mistake, they’re all playing for silver.
Recognizable players: Tony Parker, Nicolas Batum, Boris Diaw, Ronny Turiaf, Kevin Seraphin, Yakhouba Diawara, Nando de Colo, Mickael Gelabale
France will be missing Bulls centre Joakim Noah, but they will still boast one of the better teams in the country’s basketball history. They are among the deeper and more experienced squads in London, and led by star point guard Tony Parker, should consider themselves a serious medal contender. At their absolute best, they are one of the few teams here that have a very slim, puncher’s chance at upsetting the Americans.
Recognizable players: Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola, Carlos Delfino, Pablo Prigioni, Andrés Nocioni
Since the Olympics began allowing professionals in the basketball tournament in 1992, Argentina is the only country outside of the United States to have won gold (2004) in the event, following that performance up with a bronze medal in 2008. They have a rich basketball history and bring a team to London led by some veteran NBA stars. Some see them as an aging team well past their prime, but they’re still plenty good enough to challenge for a medal, and might be inspired by a last hurrah kind of performance at these games.
Recognizable players: Linas Kleiza, Darius Songaila, Jonas Valanciunas, Šarūnas Jasikevičius
You won’t find a more basketball mad country than Lithuania, and this edition of the Lithuanian national team will be looking to end the country’s medal drought in Olympic basketball. After winning bronze in their first three appearances in men’s basketball, (1992, 1996, 2000) they failed to find the podium in 2004 and 2008. Their 2012 hopes were dealt a blow when veteran big man Robertas Javtokas was ruled out with injury, and they’ll now lean on 20-year-old Raptors draft pick Jonas Valanciunas to hold down the fort at centre. Lithuania always plays a good team game that counts on the sum of its parts rather than one superstar, and this year’s team will be no different. They should qualify for the knockout stage and could threaten for a medal, but I still put them behind teams like France, Argentina, Spain and Brazil.
Recognizable players: Ike Diogu, Al-Farouq Aminu
Most will quickly overlook this Nigerian team, but they have great size and beat Lithuania, Greece and the Dominican Republic in the final Olympic qualifying tournament earlier this month, so it’s not like they’ll be out of their element playing against good international competition. No one’s betting on Nigeria to advance past the group stage, but they should beat Tunisia for at least one win in London. The big question will be whether or not they can survive games against the other three teams in this group (not including the U.S. and Tunisia), and if they can steal one of those, Nigeria might just be the surprise of this tournament.
Recognizable players: N/A
Tunisia is by far the weakest team in this tournament, and I’m still trying to figure out how the heck they won the 2011 FIBA Africa championship in Madagascar, beating Angola in the final. 10 of their 12 players ply their trade in the Tunisian Basketball League, with one playing in the United Arab Emirates and one in France. They might stand a chance against some familiar continental competition when they play Nigeria, but other than that, expect some blowouts for a team that’s likely just happy to be here. Keep an eye on 7’1 centre Salah Mejri, who took home MVP honours at the aforementioned FIBA Africa tournament.
Recognizable players: Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Jose Calderon, Rudy Fernandez, Juan Carlos Navarro, Sergio Rodriguez, Victor Claver
They’ll miss Ricky Rubio, but as you can see, this Spanish team isn’t exactly low on talent. The No. 2 ranked team in the world by FIBA and the defending silver medalists return much of the same team that threatened the U.S. in 2008, with the belief that this time, they can get that extra win needed for gold. Besides the Americans, Spain has the deepest team in London and the best balance of talent throughout their lineup. Brazil is good enough to test them, but Spain should win Group B, should cruise to the knockout stage, and barring an upset, should find themselves in a rematch of the 2008 gold medal game.
Recognizable players: Leandro Barbosa, Nene, Anderson Varejao, Tiago Splitter
This Argentinian-coached Brazilian team has the talent, size and international experience required to medal in London, and with their best play, might even be able to upset Spain for the No. 1 seed in Group B, which means avoiding the U.S. until the championship game. Their as well coached as anybody too, as it was Rubén Magnano who guided Argentina to a semifinal victory over the Americans and gold in 2004.
Recognizable players: Andrei Kirilenko, Timofey Mozgov, Alexey Shved
This Russian team qualified through the last ditch tournament earlier in July, going 4-0 against Nigeria, Angola, Dominican Republic and Korea. They’re not quite in the same class as Spain and Brazil, but they have some NBA talent, some nice supplemental talent, and were fortunate enough to land in the weaker group in London. Add it all up, and a 3-2 group record plus quarterfinal berth seems attainable.
Recognizable players:Yi Jianlian, Sun Yue, Wang Zhizhi
The Chinese team doesn’t feature much recognizable talent (outside of Yi, the entire roster plays in China), but take them lightly at your own peril. They play a very organized game and should be in a fierce battle with Australia and Great Britain for the last knockout stage spot from Group B.
Recognizable players: Patty Mills, David Andersen, Matthew Dellavedova
If Andrew Bogut was healthy and playing, I’d expect Australia to win two or three group games, advance to the knockout stages, and maybe even threaten for a semifinal appearance with some bounces going their way. But Bogut isn’t walking through that door (well he might, but it would be in a cheerleading role, not as a player), and what’s left is a team led by Mills and Andersen. Progression past the group stage shouldn’t be ruled out in the weaker Group B, but I can see this team going 0-5 as much as I can see them getting past China and Great Britain.
Recognizable players: Luol Deng, Joel Freeland, Robert Archibald, Pops Mensah-Bonsu
The British team doesn’t have a whole lot of intriguing talent or supporting role players outside of Deng, and they have very little in the form of past international basketball success. So the question becomes is Deng’s presence plus home court advantage plus the weaker group enough to see this underdog team through to the quarterfinals? It may seem like a long shot, but I really don’t see much separation between Great Britain, China and Australia, so I wouldn’t rule any of the three teams out.
Don’t sleep on: France, Argentina, Lithuania
The tournament begins on Sunday, July 29, with games taking place every other day.