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After yesterday we had a look at Group A of the London 2012 Men’s Olympic basketball tournament, it’s time to see which teams were drawn in Group B, are there any favorites and who are the underdogs that might cause a surprise or two.
So, the six teams in Group B are Australia, Brazil, China, Great Britain, Russia and Spain. At least on paper, the favorites in this group are Spain, Russia and Brazil, while the other 3 should fight for the last place that will take them to the knockout stages.
Spain won the 2009 & 2011 European Championships, the 2006 World Cup and finished as runners-up in Beijing four years ago. At the 2008 Olympics the Spaniards lost to just one team- the USA, but they did it twice- in the group stage and in the final. However, the last 6-7 years have been really good for Spanish basketball. Led by their Italian head coach Sergio Scariolo and brothers Marc and Pau Gasol, there has hardly been a competition that this team hasn’t won. Except the Gasol brothers, who are NBA Superstars, there are a couple of other players who play for teams from across the Ocean. Jose Calderon has been with the Toronto Raptors since 2005, Victor Claver just signed for the Portland Trail Blazers, and Congolese-Spanish power forward Serge Ibaka has been a regular for the Oklahoma City Thunder since last season. Apart from those guys, all other players play in the domestic championship, and it’s interesting to note that only one of them doesn’t play for either Barcelona or Real Madrid- Fernando San Emeterio, who is part of the very strong team of Caja Laboral.
The situation in Spanish basketball reminds me a bit of the situation in Spanish football. This is a very strong team, with a very good coach and lots of talent both on the court and on the bench. I wouldn’t be surprised if the final at these Olympics is the same as the one 4 years ago in Beijing. Only this time I’m not so sure the Americans will be the ones celebrating in the end.
Taking a look at Brazil’s roster, you’d think that they definitely should manage a top 4 performance. In reality, not everything is as perfect as it seems, or at least results in recent years haven’t been very satisfactory. True, in South America their only real competition comes from Argentina, but when it comes to Olympics or World Cups, we see that things are not that rosy at all.
This will be the first Olympics since 1996 that the Brazilian men’s team will be participating, as they missed out on the previous three. They haven’t managed a top 5 position in the final standings at a World Championship since 1990, and most recently, in 2010, they finished 9th out of 24 participating teams.
As I said earlier, Brazil have some very decent players in their team, but NBA trio Nene-Anderson Varejão- Leandro Barbosa will be expected to lead the team to glory. Barbosa especially is a very good shooting guard, who seems to be underrated in the NBA, as he has rarely been named in the Starting 5 for any of his teams so far. Another very good player is point guard Marcelinho Huertas who plays for Barcelona, while the backup center is also an NBA star- Tiago Splitter from the San Antonio Spurs.
Well, they’ll make it to the knockout stages for sure. If the draw is kind to them, they might even progress to the semi finals, but they are not going to win a medal from these Olympics, that’s for sure.
Russia is one of the teams that almost always seem to underachieve. With a very strong Starting 5 and a great head coach in the face of Israeli David Blatt, you’d expect them to win tournament after tournament. However, their first, last and only title as an independent state so far is the 2007 European Championship. They won the bronze last year, but in 2010 their performance at the World Cup wasn’t really spectacular, as they finished 7th. In Beijing 2008 they didn’t make it past the group stages, winning just one of their five games (against complete outsiders Iran).
The roster for London includes some very decent players though, so hopefully for them and their fans, they’ll manage a better performance compared to the one 4 years ago. Timofey Mozgov plays in the NBA for the Denver Nuggets, while Alexey Shved just signed for the Minnesota Timberwolves. The team’s best players however are former Utah Jazz man Andrei Kirilenko and his current CSKA Moscow teammate Viktor Khryapa, who also spent some time in the NBA. Another player that was close to a move in America is Alexander Kaun, but the center was unlucky that he turned out to be the last draft pick in Seattle Supersonics’ history before the franchise moved to Oklahoma City.
Given the talent they’ve got and the relatively easy draw, Russia should do well at these Olympics. Again, I don’t expect them to win the gold, but a decent performance (unlike the one in China) is on the cards.
The battle for the 4th place in the group should be between Australia and China. The big problem ahead of the Chinese still remains Yao Ming’s retirement, which he announced in 2011. The only really famous player on the current roster is Dallas Mavericks power forward Yi Jianlian. All other players play in the national championship, although Sun Yue and veteran Wang Zhizhi had short spells in the NBA as well.
The Australians, on the other hand, have a better team, at least on paper, with many of their players playing either in the NBA or in very strong European teams. Well, that’s not entirely true, because the only player who’s part of an NBA team as of now is point guard Patrick Mills, who plays for the San Antonio Spurs. Matthew Dellavedova plays college basketball in America, he’s part of the Saint Mary’s team. Watch out for shooting guard Joe Ingles- he plays for Barcelona in Spain and is supposed to be really good.
And, last but not least, the hosts from Great Britain. What can we say about British basketball? Well, this sport isn’t really huge there, as the locals even prefer netball to it. However, they’ve still got Chicago Bulls superstar Luol Deng in their team, plus new Portland Trail Blazers signing Joel Freeland. Andrew Lawrence from the College of Charleston seems like a decent prospect as well, but all in all Team GB will be lucky if they even manage to win a game at the Olympics.
With this we wrap-up the men’s basketball competition preview. Who will win it? Should be the USA, but let’s wait and see- sometimes big surprises might occur…