Wednesday, August 08, 2012

2012 Olympics: Quarterfinals Preview (Part II)

Part II of our Olympic quarterfinal previews will focus on the evening slate of games. Brazil meets Argentina in the battle for South American supremacy at 8pm (London time). At 10:15, Australia faces Team USA and winners of each game meet in the semis on Friday.

Check out Part I of our Quarterfinal preview.

BRAZIL (B-2) vs. ARGENTINA (A-3)

Will Ruben Magnano have a hand in ending the run of Argentina's "Golden Generation"? Would be weird if the man who was the architect of the "Golden Generation" put it out to pasture.

The last few meetings between these rivals have produced intense, competitive games. At the 2010 Worlds, these two teams engaged in a classic in the Round of 16 where Luis Scola carried Argentina to a 93-89 win. (No Manu or Nene in 2010)

At FIBA Americas, Brazil beat Argentina by two in the second round, then a few days later Argentina held off Brazil in the finals, 80-75. Though take into account Argentina was at full-strength (at home) while Brazil had no Nene, Barbosa or Varejao.

Argentina is playing with a thinner rotation this summer and might be in even more dire straits if Pablo Prigioni can't play because of kidney stones.

Brazilian have more depth, more size, younger legs and more athleticism. But Argentina has tremendous chemistry and more big-game experience than Brazil. Plus, they have Manu.

This game could get ugly in spots because these teams know each other's individual and team tendencies so well. For example, both teams like to use cross-screen action to set-up quick post-ups or lay-ups. This is Magnano's influence (flex offense) on both teams.

Leandro Barbosa (15 ppg on 47%) has done a solid job in his return to the Brazilian lineup after last summer's absence. Sure there are some forced shots and forced plays in transition, but Barbosa has done a nice job going at the rim.

Marcelo Huertas (9.2, 6.2 apg, 1.8 TOpg) has cooled off a bit after a strong start. He has caused problems with his ability to change direction swiftly with his dribble, going back-n-forth through ball screens. He been one of the best passers in the Olympics. He just can't find the mark on his jumpers or his patented floater (39% overall).

The trio of Brazilian NBA bigs have been solid for Brazil. Tiago Splitter (11.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 49%) has been productive in his 23 minutes of floor time. Tiago can't find the touch on his post attempts but has done a nice job rolling/cutting. Huertas-Splitter pick-n-roll combo has worked well once again, but think Brazil needs to go to more often.

Nene and Anderson Varejao are only playing around 20 minutes a game but both have been productive with their floor time. Both are averaging around seven rebs/game and both have been strong defensively.

Varejao has been a constant motion machine as usual and had been great crashing the offensive glass (4.2 off rpg). Both Varejao and Splitter have been terrific scoring on put-backs.

Nene is only averaging 6.5 ppg but then again Nene only has 14 shot attempts total. We mentioned this after the Russian game, but Brazil really needs to get Nene more post touches.

We thought Marcus Vinicius Viera (8.6 ppg, 50% on 3PA) could be an x-factor for Brazil as he adds much need length on the perimeter and he has performed well in 20 minutes/game. Viera has been Brazil's most reliable deep shooter and he has the ability to make plays in isolation.

Brazil's offense hasn't performed quite as well as expected. Brazil needs to get its outside shooting on track (32.3% on 3PA). Marcelo Machado has been disappointment so far only hitting 4-for-19 from deep.

Brazil has covered up for their subpar offensive play with a strong defense. Holding teams to 43% overall and .84 points per possession (according to Synergy Sports), which is only second to Russia. Not only are they allowing just 13 3PA/game, but their opponents are only shooting 27% on 3pts. (best in the Olympics).

So something has to give as Argentina has been one of the best offensive teams in London. Argentina has shot 49% overall and 38% from behind the arc (3rd-best in group play) Their offense has produced 1.055 PPP, only second to Team USA.

Manu (20 ppg, 6 rpg, 4.8 apg, 2 spg, 2.2 TOpg, 51% FG, 46% 3PA) is playing at a higher level than he did last summer. He has been Argentina's best player this year and in contention for tourney MVP.

Manu has been knocking his jumpers, snaking his way to rim, getting out in transition, running the offense, lacing sweet passes, forcing TOs and rebounding. You know, normal Manu things.

Luis Scola (20.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.2 apg, 57%) is converting at high rate in FIBA play once again. Though wouldn't say he's been without fault. His rebounding should be better and he's failed to box out too many times. He hasn't been great scoring on his post-ups, but has been great on cuts. Watch for Luis getting a flex screen early in possessions.

It will be interesting to see if Argentina can get Scola working in pick-n-pop action. Since Prigioni has went down, Scola's pop game has lessen and Scola away from the basket might work better vs. Brazil. This is where Prigioni's absence could hurt Argentina: Scola's mid-range game could suffer.

They will run Carlos Delfino (15 ppg, 50% FG, 36% on 3PA) through a phalanx of screens and he has done a good job hitting his jumpers off screens or spotting up. Argentina will run Manu off screens as well.

Andres Nocioni has been his typical spazzy self and has knocked down his jumpers. But Noce has underachieved rebounding the ball (3.4 rpg) and Argentina desperately needs him to crash the glass.

Argentina has had to go deeper into their bench they would have liked in London. Diminutive 21-year-old Facundo Campazzo has been thrust into the starter role with Prigioni's illness.

Argentina's defense hasn't been that great. They're holding opponents to 43% overall but are getting hurt by the deep ball at a 37% clip. Their transition defense has been a bit a shaky and that could be a problem vs. Brazil.

What's always been an underrated factor about Brazil is their affinity to push the pace. 16% of their offensive possessions have come in transition (according to Synergy), which is roughly the same as last year. The issue for Brazil is they don't always make the best decisions in transition (particularly Barbosa and Garcia).

Brazil has a distinct advantage on the boards and this could be the deciding factor. Scola, Nocioni and Delfino have to hit the glass harder than they have vs. Brazil.

The hardest game to predict of the four quarterfinal games. Sounds corny, but Argentina won't go out without a fight. Could see Manu taking over and putting up 25+ points to push Argentina to victory. Also, Scola always seems to play big vs. his South American rival.

This game is a toss-up. We're going to need a tiebreaker to decide this one. That tiebreaker is an unhealthy Prigioni which should give the slightest edge to Brazil.


USA (A-1) vs. AUSTRALIA (B-4):

The last time these two teams met in international competition was in the 2008 Olympic quarterfinals, where Team USA throttled Australia, 116-85. Don't expect it to be quite that lopsided this time, but the Aussies don't have much of a chance.

Team USA hasn't looked perfect (particularly defensively) but their margin for error is so huge it doesn't matter if there are minor flaws.

You are plenty familiar with what Team USA is capable of doing, so we'll focus on what to possibly expect from the Aussies.

Australia is a relatively deep team, with experience playing together--pretty much the same roster that advanced to the 2010 Worlds quarters (seven players remain from the '08 Olympic team)

Australia is a tough, physical team that will probably send the Americans to FT line a lot. Expect Australia to really muck up this game and make it choppy. Expect plenty of fouls to be given when Team USA is trying to get out transition. "No easy baskets allowed" edict in effect.

Even though Australia likes to get out in transition (especially Patty Mills), have to imagine they will try slow the pace down vs. the US.

Imagine Coach Brett Brown (SA Spur asst.) will go with the pack-the-paint philosophy and make the US beat them from the outside.

PG Patty Mills has been one of the toughest guys to contain in London and currently is tied for first in scoring with Pau Gasol (20.6 ppg). He's been attacking the rim at will, especially in transition. He's just hasn't been able to knock down his jumpers (42% overall, 33% on 3PA).

Overall, Australia's offense hasn't been impressive. They are shooting 43% from the floor (worst among playoff teams) and only get to FT line 13 times a game. They chuck up a ton of 3-pointers but only hit them at a 32.3% clip. Usually they're better than this.

They're able to stay competitive because of their hard-nosed defense. They held their opponents to 43% shooting and .864 PPP (3rd-best). It might bode well vs. the US that the Aussies' transition defense is very good (must be a Spurs thing).

Multi-skilled forward Joe Ingles (14.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.8 apg) has been a reliable second option for the Aussies. His nice ball skills lets him create shots for his teammates or himself on pick-n-rolls and isos.

Australia's frontcourt rotation is solid and has good size (four quality guys in the 6'11 range). Australia is strong on the boards and could hurt the US on the glass.

Former NBAer David Andersen (12 ppg, 6.4 rpg) has had a nice tourney and he can score inside and out. Andersen is a capable post option who can hit turnarounds over both shoulders. He's also a pick-n-pop threat out pass the 3pt. line.

Aron Baynes (8.2 ppg, 3 rpg, 73%) and Aleks Maric are big, strong dudes who will use all their five fouls. Baynes and Maric aren't particularly skilled, but they can bull their way to some points in close.

Matt Nielsen is another decent veteran upfront who makes plays in the post (good post passer) and at the high post (sneaky driver).

Australia has gotten a nice boost from the reigning WCC Player of the Year, Matt Dellavedova (8.2 ppg, 4.6 apg). The St. Mary's senior-to-be has given Australia another reliable ball-handler next to Mills and Ingles.

Dellavedova is probably the best pure shooter on the team and plays with aggression on both ends of the floor. Dellavedova and Baynes run the pick-n-roll well together and watch for alley-oops.

If Australia keeps this game within 15-point margin they should be lucky.

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