After blowing out their first two opponents in the preliminary round, China and Venezuela, by a combined score of 232-131, USA Basketball has cooled off considerably. They were forced to turn on the jets late against a tough Australia squad, who led 72-70 at the start of the final quarter. Two nights later, they held on by a thread to beat Serbia 94-91. Lastly, they fought down to the wire once again against France, narrowly escaping defeat 100-97. Despite being 5-0 in the preliminary round and the only undefeated team in the tournament, it may be time to ask: should we be worried about this team going forward?
Beginning with the game against Australia, the narrative of Team USA Basketball quickly shifted from the unbeatable powerhouse to rich, underachieving NBA players not caring enough. That Australia team, led by the likes of Patty Mills, Andrew Bogut and Matthew Dellavedova, gave the American team a run for their money that they haven’t seen since the disastrous 2004 Summer Olympics, where USA finished Bronze behind Argentina and Italy.
USA Basketball is perhaps the only team in history who can go 5-0 and still face well-deserved criticism. How could they not? Theoretically, they are an NBA All-Star team and most of the world isn’t even as good as the 76ers. Therefore, when they go through stretches such as this, winning back-to-back games by just three points, a lot of questions come into play. Are they lazy? Do they just not care? Additionally, the sting of medaling bronze in the 2004 Summer Olympics is still fresh, all these years later.
The truth is, Team USA Basketball is like playing Madden on rookie settings. It’s fun, but only if you’re scoring every time you touch the ball, and the other team can’t even get a chance to be productive. We like watching USA Basketball because they’re supposed to dunk all over players from China that we’ve never heard of, and we have a good laugh at how much the rest of the world sucks. Therefore, when Team USA stops doing that, we get pretty pissed. Instead of turning off our Xbox or playing something else, we turn off our TV because, well, this isn’t interesting enough. The tricky thing about this team, however, is knowing whether or not they are disinterested or just warming up.
Looking ahead, they will play Argentina in the quarterfinals. While this might bring about horrific flashbacks for USA fans (USA lost to Argentina in the 2004 Semifinals), it doesn’t appear on paper like this will be a problem. Even with the media buzzing about how USA has underachieved, Argentina is nothing. While they still have Manu Ginobili and Luis Scola, they are hardly the threat they once were back in Athens. I anticipate USA to advance to at least the semifinals with relative ease.
It’s hard to tell who the biggest threat will be in the final rounds for Team USA. While France and Serbia played them close, in an elimination situation it’s hard to bet against USA. Perhaps the stakes just aren’t high enough in these rounds. I think it would be more likely that USA blows out each of their final opponents by 20 or more than lose a game. However, if you’re looking for a team to play potential spoiler, look no further than Australia. With NBA talent (if that’s what you want to call Matthew Dellavadova), and size with the likes of Bogut, Australia is certainly a formidable opponent and one that could catch Team USA off guard. One thing is for sure; Coach K isn’t going to let them lose that easy, and it all starts tomorrow at 6 when they take on Argentina.