Basketball: Men's Basketball Team by Team Previews
The 2012 edition might not cut the same imposing shadow over the tournament as previous rosters have, but the United States enter the London Olympics as highly regarded and justified favourites. Currently the defending Olympic and World Champions are posted at odds of 1.19 at Pinnacle Sports to again claim Gold in 2012 and any pundit will be hard pressed to argue against their legitimate claim as the worlds best basket-balling nation.
The US will enter the Olympics missing three key players – Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose and Dwayne Wade. Normally such a loss of talent would be devastating to any squad but while the U.S would no doubt enjoy the talents of this trio come London late July, it's one nation that doesn't have to look too far for more than serviceable replacements. Their third placed finish in 2004 saw a change in philosophy for the national team and selection has since been primarily about how the squad will cohere as a team rather than merely throwing together a team of champions and expecting such an almost arrogant approach to reap rewards.
Despite the loss of Dwight Howard which may cause the Americans some headaches when up against their main challengers Spain who boast the tandem tall talents of Marc and Pau Gasol, it's the sheer athletic ability that the U.S exhibits that distinguishes them from any Olympic rival. When you consider that for the U.S to fail to win Gold, any challenger will somehow have to overcome the natural gifts of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Deron Williams. Sure, stop one. But hopes of stopping two or three is pure fantasy.
But then most of the teams competing in London will boast NBA talent of their own and international basketball is it's own different animal, something the NBA rich U.S squad will have to quickly adjust to. Coach Mike Krzyzewski knows his team is deep in talent, but he also is aware of the challenge that both the Olympic spot-light presents and the task of melding such talent into a cohesive unit. This and this alone is the only real challenger to the U.S' ambition of another Gold medal performance.
If the U.S can't find the chemistry to claim another Olympic gold, then it will perhaps be Spain to take their place as the worlds number basketball nation. After qualifying for the London Olympics following their 2011 Eurobasket victory, punters can back the Spanish to claim gold at odds of 6.00, not a bad price when you consider the talent that will take the court in London.
Boasting a front court of Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, the Spaniards are the only true challenger to the U.S in terms of overall talent. Add to the talent up front a back-court featuring NBA players the likes of Jose Calderon and Rudy Fernandez, not to mention former NBA player, the much adored 'La Bomba' – Juan Carlos Navarro, you begin to see why some are talking up Spain's chances of causing the upset and knocking over the U.S for the gold.
Unfortunately Spain will go into the tournament without Ricky Rubio who suffered a tear of his ACL. Although the masterful passing talents of Rubio will be sadly missed, Spain were able to win the 2011 Eurobasket tournament without him.
Spain should move through the group stage comfortably and should advance to a re-match with the U.S in the gold medal game. Despite the U.S' favouritism and the absence of Rubio, don't be surprised if the basketball teams adds more international glory for Spanish sports fans this summer.
Argentina will land in London as 3rd favourite behind both the U.S and Spain to claim the Gold in 2012. Currently seeking attention in the 30.00 range, the Argentine squad boast genuine NBA talent in the likes of Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola, Carlos Delfino and Andres Nocioni. Add to that centre Fabricio Oberto and you've got a line-up that is capable of matching with any unit on the planet, including the U.S.
Can Argentina continue their great tournament form of the past decade? They should definitely find themselves in medal considerations. Having beaten the U.S back in the 2002 basketball world championships, claiming gold at the 2004 Olympics and securing a bronze at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, this is a nation with the basketball history to give their fans plenty of hope heading into London 2012.
The real question however is, does such an ageing line-up, as successful as it has been, have enough left in the tank to push the likes of Spain and the U.S? Despite their age, Argentina's recent success has been more reliant on ball movement and sound basketball fundamentals rather than brute athleticism. If they can stay healthy and focused, this familiar and experienced group can perhaps expect to make another appearance deep into the tournament. If not, London 2012 might be one tournament too many for an undersized and ageing line-up
The French can set their targets for the medal rounds, that is, if Tony Parker and Nando de Colo can get them there. While the Spanish have one of the more imposing threats to U.S dominance in the front court, the duo of Parker and de Colo comes into London as one of the more talented guard combinations.
Add to that the defensive talents of Joakim Noah and the deft skills of Boris Diaw, hopes of a French semi-final appearance begin to rise. Complementing this group will be Ronny Turiaf and Mikael Pietrus. The main issue for France however, is that while they have the talent close to the court, it's in the front court where they will struggle to create a presence.
Can the play of Parker et al compensate for this inadequacy in the front court? Maybe. But despite their roster of NBA talent, only Parker and Noah can be considered close to the same class as those in the U.S squad. Not that the French should entrain thoughts of a gold medal match-up with the U.S, they will have more than enough to deal with should they meet the Spanish along the way. Spain's front-court will be far too much for the French to handle. Unless Noah and Parker can have the tournament of their lives, the best France can hope for will be playing for bronze come tournament end.
The Boomers as they are affectionately known, head to London as priced at around 101.00 to claim Gold. The team from Down Under qualified for the Olympics as winners of the 2011 FIBA Oceania Championship, which essentially came down to a best of three series against their only legitimate challengers, New Zealand.
The Australian's might be an even shorter priced prospect to contend in London if their undoubted best player, NBA centre Andrew Bogut is available to play. With Bogut up front, the Aussie's ventured all the way to the quarter-finals during the 2008 Olympics. Since that time Bogut has struggled with a series of back and shoulder injuries.
Bogut is not the only international talent who will be looking to line-up this Olympics. NBA reserve guard Patrick Mills will handle the ball while European internationals Aleks Maric and Matt Nielsen will be certain starters.
Australian basketball fans will no doubt hold high hopes of a return to medal considerations in 2012. Those hopes will either fade or be encouraged by Bogut's availability. But even if the big man is able to have an impact, the green and gold will struggle to match it with the likes of Spain, Turkey and of course, the United States.
For the Brazilians, appearing in the Olympics is an achievement all in itself. It's been 16 years since their last appearance, in 1996 where they were eventually eliminated by the U.S in the quarter-finals after posting a 2-3 record through group play .
If you're looking for a wild-card this Olympics, then the Brazilians might just be the ticket. Their line-up not only boasts four NBA players, but complementing that core are a group of hungry and experienced veterans of the international basketball stage. NBA talent Leandro Barbosa, Nene, Tiago Splitter and Anderson Varejao will provide the core of the Brazlian line-up.
Although the British team was granted an automatic qualification for the 2012 Olympics, they were still required by FIBA to prove that their squad was worthy of competing against the worlds best. Fair enough too. Nobody would have wanted to see a host nation embarrassed in such a way.
While the British team are currently trading at odds of around 201.00 to claim Gold (which even at that generous price do seem a touch optimistic) the squad will boast NBA talent in the likes of Chicago's Luol Deng, Detroit's Ben Gordon as well as former NBA prospects Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Joel Freeland and Eric Boateng.
Despite this respectable list of talent, Great Britain will struggle and shouldn't considered to reach anywhere near the medal rounds, even with home court advantage. Their warm up against Team USA showed that they are still far from challenging for medals however the spirits are there to fight on. The home team looks very likely to put on their best show which a host nation should.
It seems a long time since the 2008 Olympics for Chinese basketball fans. Since the departure of Yao Ming, the performance of the Chinese basketball team has been mixed at best. Although qualifying for the London games via their FIBA Asian Championship victory, their last appearance on the broad international stage was an abysmal showing at the 2010 World Championships where they finished 16th.
Who will the Chinese hang their hopes on in London? Dallas Mavericks forward Yi Jianlian is the only NBA player the Chinese roster boasts. The 7-footer will have it all to do in London if China is to make any dent at all in the tournament. If he can then perhaps China can get out of group play and make a quarter-final appearance. This however seems overly optimistic.
Qualifying via the Afrobasket tournament, Tunisia are the team that most fans will romantically be hoping the best for but who are likely to be more than overwhelmed at this level of competition. If the Tunisians can manage to post a couple of wins during group play, they can come away from London feeling they've exceeded expectations. They may have upset Angola at Afrobasket, but the step up in class against the likes of the U.S, France and Argentina in group A play.
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