The 2012 London Olympics are right around the corner, and it is time to take a look at the group stage of the men’s basketball tournament.
Group A – (USA, Lithuania, France, Argentina, Nigeria, Tunisia)
USA are the clear-cut favorites in the group, and will most likely go undefeated. France, Argentina and Lithuania are the three teams that should give USA a run for their money, but the team is just too good and I don’t see anyone withstanding 4 quarters against USA. They struggled a little bit in the exhibition against Argentina, but the skill gap between USA and any other team in the tournament is too significant for them not to bring back the gold medal.
France is looking strong and will probably be aiming at the second seed of the group. France has NBA players like Seraphin, Batum, Parker, Turiaf and Diaw. Joakim Noah suffered an ankle injury in the 2012 NBA playoffs, and his absence will be felt. Even so, Tony Parker is coming off arguably the best season of his career, and having Batum by his side, they should definitely be in contention for medals.
Tunisia will serve as the punching bag of the group. Without any outstanding talent on the roster they will most likely get blown out by everyone, with the possible exception of Nigeria.
Lithuania has a great history in the Olympic tournaments. Ever since their independence, Lithuania has finished top 4 in every single Olympics that they participated in (5), grabbing 3 bronze medals. After the disappointing early exit in EuroBasket last year, two key players have returned off injuries in Kleiza and Maciulis. Robertas Javtokas was the captain of the team, as well as the defensive anchor, but picked up an injury and will certainly be missed as a paint presence. Lithuania have been looking shaky in exhibition games, and lost to Nigeria in the group stage of the qualification tournament in Venezuela. Toronto Raptors 5th overall pick in the 2011 draft, Jonas Valanciunas, will play big minutes, and it will be important that he avoids foul trouble. Lithuania has a tendency to struggle in exhibitions, but play better in tournaments, and it will be interesting to see how they will manage in this tough group. Kleiza is the biggest star, but the team has some solid veterans in Jasikevicius, Kaukenas, Jasaitis and Songaila, two of whom have played in the NBA. Pocius is the most athletic player on the team and will have to ignite the offense when it gets stagnant.
Argentina were the Olympic champions in 2004, and even though the team is a shell of what it was, they are still a force to be reckoned with. Scola and Ginobili are the biggest names on the roster, but the team also has other solid pieces in Delfino, Nocioni and Prigioni. Argentina are playing Lithuania in the first game of the tournament, and it will be a pivotal game for both sides, as the seeding of the group will obviously have a major impact further into the tournament. If Scola and Ginobili play as solid as they usually do in international play, there is no reason to doubt that Argentina will be in contention for medals.
Nigeria impressed everyone in the Olympic qualification tournament, beating Lithuania in the group stage, and eventually beating Dominic Republic and earning a spot in the tournament. The team has a great deal of athleticism and the New Orleans Hornets’ forward Al-Farouq Aminu. Ike Diogu, who has played for 6 different NBA teams, had an exceptional tournament in Venezuela, leading his team in points per game (16.6) and rebounding (10.8). Nigeria should be able to beat Tunisia, but it’s hard seeing them getting through the group stage.
All in all, the group has a clear front-runner in USA, while the other 3 spots are most likely going to go to France, Argentina and Lithuania. Lithuania is kind of a dark horse in the group, with the potential to beat both France and Argentina if they play well, but being an underdog against both teams. The most exciting games will definitely be the ones between these 3 teams.
The group B preview will be up tomorrow.