Thursday, August 16, 2007

Olympic Qualifying - Updates

Hi folks. A couple weeks ago, we posted an Olympic qualifying preview, and with the FIBA Americas tournament (starts Aug. 22) and the Eurobasket '07 (starts Sept. 3) getting closer, we wanted to offer some updates.

Here we go:
U.S. TV SCHEDULE SET: Pretty much the entire tournament will be aired on a combination of NBA TV, the ESPN networks and Fox Sports Net. All of the U.S. games will be aired live on one of the networks in the ESPN family. Good stuff. Here's the whole schedule. Hopefully, NBA TV will offer similar blanket coverage of Eurobasket '07.

Remember that the key games to watch are the semifinals, as those will determine the two teams which earn trips to Beijing. Those will be on Sat., Sept. 1 at 4 p.m. ET (ESPN Classic) and 10:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2).

The USA-Brazil game on Sun., Aug. 26 (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2) is the most notable preliminary game to watch.

BOSH OUT; U.S. THIN?: With Chris Bosh withdrawing from the team due to injury, Team USA is dangerously thin up front, with just D. Howard, A. Stoudemire and T. Chandler being interior players. I wonder if Nick Collison is now an option to make the team as the 12th man, just to provide depth up front.

VAREJAO STATUS?: The U.S. may catch a break regarding its thin frontline because some of the other contenders are dealing with potential depletions as well. Puerto Rico's Daniel Santiago has decided to retire from international play, which is a blow to that national team, as he's a savvy, physical vet with lots of international experience.

As far as Brazil (probably the Americans' toughest foe in this tourney) is concerned, I'm having trouble finding information (any updates, Flavio?) about whether Anderson Varejao and Rafael Araujo will be playing.

Neither is on the roster for the squad that's currently playing in a four-team tournament in Puerto Rico. Both players are currently unsigned, and I'd be surprised if either played unless they ink a contract before the tournament starts.

MEXICO IS A SLEEPER: I did not list Mexico as one of the contenders to at least get a bid to next year's qualifying tournament, but that's only because I didn't realize that Nolan Richardson is their coach (see link for good story from USA Today).

I've always thought that Nolan was a damn good coach, and once he unleashes "Cuarenta Minutos de Infierno" (thanks to Jay Aych for that one), I think Mexico's going to be a handful. Nolan coached Panama in 2005, and led the team - hardly a world power - to a berth in the 2006 Worlds. Don't know if they'll make it to Beijing, but I'll bet they overachieve in Vegas.

SCOUTING: WHAT A CONCEPT: As an American, it was quite reassuring to read the True Hoop post about how international scouting guru Tony Ronzone is heading up the Team USA scouting efforts, and appears to be digging in deep.

I thought that the lack of awareness of the strengths and weaknesses of the Greek players was a MAJOR reason that Team USA lost in the Worlds last year. If you'll remember, the U.S. essentially lost the game because they got decimated by Greece's pick-and-rolls in the second half. Knowing individual strengths/weaknesses is such an important part of how to guard a pick-and-roll and Team USA appeared to have no idea how they should be guarding each individual Greek player differently.

KOBE KNOWS: Along the same lines, I think that a lack of knowledge about and respect for their competition has been a big reason that Team USA has struggled in international play this century.
So, it may be a small thing, but I thought it was heartening that, when Jimmy Kimmel asked Kobe if there was a country that could challenge the U.S., he was immediately able to name what should be the top three challengers in Beijing: Argentina, Spain, and Greece. It may not seem like much, but I think it's a hell of a lot better than players on the underachieving teams of '02 and '04 could have done a year ahead of their competitions.

GROVER GONE VEGAS: Check the header of the official site for the Americas tournament for what may be the most ridiculous-looking mascot in sports history, which I know is saying a lot. It looks like Grover, after he's had a good run at the slots on a vacation in Vegas.

PRE-TOURNAMENT RESULTS: There have already been several games between top European contenders, but all that's been proven is that - while Spain (already qualified for '08 due to their 2006 Worlds win) is a big favorite - the other two open Olympic berths appear to be completely up for grabs.

Some samples:
- While one needs to take these friendlies with something of a grain of salt, Spain did defeat Lithuania (a tournament contender) 95-75 tonight, even though Sarunas Jasikevicius connected from 90(!) feet:

- Four contenders - Greece, France, Serbia and Slovenia - played in a tournament in Strasbourg last weekend. Here's what happened:
* France (with Tony Parker, but without Boris Diaw) was crushed by Greece (74-55), but then defeated Serbia 93-87 in OT and beat Slovenia 80-60.
* After the impressive win over France, Greece lost to Slovenia 65-54 and was clobbered by Serbia 93-62.
* It was an impressive showing by Serbia and Slovenia, who are both without some of their prominent NBA players this summer. Slovenia won 79-66 when the two teams matched up.

- Turkey has been up-and-down, too. Italy, however, has been pretty consistently strong so far.

SPURS' NIGHTMARE SCENARIO: As we've noted, there will be a qualifying tournament next summer for 12 teams who come up short this summer.

Looking ahead to the '08-09 season, one would think that the Spurs are watching this summer's results nervously. Argentina and France are both on the bubble in terms of qualifying this summer. If they fall just short, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili could end up logging especially long summers next year, having to compete in the Olympic qualifying tournament in July and then potentially the Olympics themselves in August. Assuming that San Antonio has another long playoff run in '07-08, Tony and Manu could really be in jeopardy of breakdown in '08-09 in this scenario. Also, players like Oberto, Udrih, recent signee Ime Udoka (Nigeria), & Brazilian Tiago Splitter (who's scheduled to join the Spurs in '08) could have a busy summer as well.

GARBO'S RETURN?: There's been some talk about whether Jorge Garbajosa will be cleared by the Raptors to play in the Eurobasket. At the very least, it seems like good news for Raptors fans that Garbo should be ready for the '07-08 NBA season after suffering a gruesome ankle injury last season.

NEW LIFE FOR KIWIS: As a reminder, the Oceania qualifying tournament consists of a three-game series between Australia and New Zealand. We tabbed the Aussies as the favorites, but considering that Andrew Bogut and three other key players are hurt and will miss the series, this one's looking a lot more like a tossup.

AFROBASKET UNDER WAY: The African qualifying tournament started on Wednesday. Angola still looks like a prohibitive favorite.

IRAN IS IN: Many of you may have seen that Iran has qualified following an upset win over Lebanon.

I would be exceedingly surprised if Iran is able to win a game in Beijing, but it's a great accomplishment for them just to get there, and there will at least be some hubbub if there's a USA-Iran matchup (payback for the '98 World Cup? um, yeah).

Lebanon and Korea earned berths for next summer's qualifying tournament (12 countries competing for the last three spots).


At 3:12 AM, Anonymous Simos said...

I think that Greece will be much worse this summer and this suddens me to say since i am Greek. Sofoklis Schortsianitis will not be attending and he was the best weapon in the pick and roll offense that the greek team uses. Perhaps Lithuania with Jaskevicius will be much more dangerous than Greece

At 4:55 AM, Blogger John said...

I've just completed an article on the Argentina's squad. It's a player profile and an overview on the whole team briefly. Please do check it out at the following link

At 2:04 PM, Blogger Flávio said...

Varejão can't settle for a solution with Cleveland and won't play. Neither will Araujo (not a problem to me). Brazil's frontcourt rotation will be Nene, Splitter, JP Batista (ex Gonzaga player) and Murilo (just signed with Macabi Tel Aviv).

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