Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Olympic Basketball Day 3 Preview:
USA-Greece Headlines Big Day

The Wednesday/Thursday slate of games shapes up to be the best of the prelim stage in Beijing. Sure, everyone is awaiting the USA (2-0) vs. Greece (1-1) matchup, but there are three other enticing games on the Olympic docket.

Germany (1-1) vs. Spain (2-0)
is the other big game in Group B, with interesting matchups like Gasol vs. Kaman, & Dirk vs. Garbajosa. Have to imagine Spain will be tuned in from the opening tap after the scare China gave them.

Lithuania (2-0) vs. Russia (1-1)--always a grudge match given that Lith. is a former Soviet republic--is also a rematch of last year's Eurobasket semifinal, won by Russia. The difference this year is that Lith. has a healthy Saras Jasikevicius, and Russia has a less-than-100% Vik Khryapa. Russia is in a little danger here because they still have Argentina & Australia left to play after tonight.

Finally, Argentina (1-1) faces off vs. Croatia (2-0) in a game that could decide 2nd place in Group A. Croatia is shooting the ball really well & their defense has been stout & physical. Argentina shot the ball better vs. Australia, and their spacing & execution looked like vintage Argentina. Croatia has physical bigs that could get Oberto & Scola in foul trouble; not like those two need help.

Below we explore some things to watch for in the US-Greece game:


- Fully expect the Greeks to try to milk possessions, and make this a physical, defensive affair. The 101-95 semi in '06 was really an aberration for Greece--in every other game in the Worlds (besides the China game), the Greeks preferred to keep games in the 70s, and would do just enough on the offensive end to pull out games.

- Think you will see some zone from Greece, but can't see the 40 minutes of zone that ESPN's Chris Sheridan proposes. Greece takes a lot of pride in their man2man, and has good long athletes on the perimeter who won't necessarily get overwhelmed. Greece played a decent amount of man vs. the US in '06, and really have not seen too much zone from them so far this summer.

- Also, Sheridan alludes to Greece treating the USA bigs like they did Germany's--very physical & extra attention on Kaman & Dirk. But I'm not so sure you will see the quite the same game plan vs. Team USA. Germany's two best players were on the frontline & Greece was willing to let the perimeter players of Germany hurt them. It would not be wise to treat Team USA the same way.

- Though, could see them being physical with Dwight & hacking him when he gets deep post position, and making him work for his points on the free throw line. Greece might look to take fouls when Team USA is ready to bust out in transition. Think in general, Greece will try to muck up the pace, and try to disrupt the rhythm of Team USA.

- Germany's 2x3 was effective vs. Greece early in the 2nd. Zone looks can really put a crimp in the strength of Team Hellas, which relies on the penetration of their three guards. Papaloukas & Diamantidis like to get into the lane to create for their teammates, and Spanoulis is looking to create for himself. That being said, Greeks have shown flashes where they can attack zones in the past, specifically last year vs. Spain, where Spanoulis was an attacking machine. But still think Coach K needs to throw some zone out there to see how Greece responds.

- This is a squad that Team USA needs to be more judicious around with their aggressive defensive play. Can't just full-tilt shoot the passing lanes & jump the ball vs. Greece. Their guards are too good. Though not saying Team USA should not pressure at all. Spain mixed in some extended pressure this weekend & it was effective in spots.

- Who keeps track of Fotsis? Antonis Fotsis has been quiet so far in the Olympics, but otherwise has been playing well this summer, and is Greece's best natural offensive talent. Could be a rough matchup for Melo with his inside/out game. Fotsis can shoot from deep but also can get to the basket where he's a strong finisher. Lebron might be the better defender on Antonis, while Melo can handle Vasiliopoulus, who's a minor offensive option & is out there for his defense. Though sometimes you don't need to worry about Fotsis because he will take himself out of the flow of the game. Head USA scout Tony Ronzone hit the nail on the head when summing up Fotsis to Sheridan:

"The key with him, he's soft," Ronzone said. "But if he's like Carlos Delfino, a guy who if he makes his first two shots, he's on. If he misses, you've got him."

This is something we've always felt was Fotsis' main weakness--he's tends to disappear & is not assertive enough.

- Yeah, yeah, we know pick/roll coverage is important vs. Greece, but there is more to it than that. It's about knowing the other team's tendencies, and Team USA was totally lost last time vs. the Greeks. And if you really don't know the other team's tendencies how do you expect the players to defend the pick/roll properly. What it seems like is Team USA is much better prepared and there is a better line of communication from the scouting department to coaching staff to the players. And this should make Greece's chances of springing another upset unlikely.