FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament 2012: Why Russia Can't Be Ignored in London
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In Rocky IV, Ivan Drago was the bigger, badder and stronger fighter while the American Balboa had to play the scrappy underdog.
Not so on the men's basketball docket at the 2012 London Olympics.
The steamroller that is USA Basketball is an overwhelming favorite, but the Americans are also capable of falling asleep on an opponent and opening the door for an upset. Right now, it looks like No. 11 Russia is a team ready to run through the door if it opens.
Led by former NBA All-Star Andrei Kirilenko and his creepy back tattoo, the Russians were the only undefeated team in FIBA's Olympic Qualifying Tournament, showing qualities needed for an upset-capable squad as their average margin of victory against Korea, the Dominican Republic, Angola and Nigeria was over 18 points.
Russia is a relentless team when it comes to rebounds and loose balls. They showed an ability to make highlight-reel plays in Saturday's win over Nigeria, and they spread the offense well.
While Kirilenko earned Player of the Game honors with 19 points, eight boards and four steals, guard Alexey Shved dropped in 22 points to lead all scorers.
The Russians are well-coached by David Blatt, and they have size in the paint. Six-foot-11 center Alexander Kaun scored in double figures in all four FIBA tourney games although averaging just 20 minutes. They also have 7'1" Denver Nuggets center Timofey Mozgov, yes, the guy whose last name was turned into a verb ("Mozgoved") by Blake Griffin, and a host of capable guards who bring a lot of height to the table.
Depth is also a strength for them, as evidenced by the fact that the Russian player receiving the most minutes per game in the tournament was Shved with 28...that's tied for 18th-most minutes among tournament players.
Hot shooting is also a key to upsets, and Russia led the tournament with 33 three-pointers, shooting at a very respectable 38.5 percent. They were 51.3 percent from the field over the four games, and led the tournament in assists with 25 per game.
Make no mistake—it would be a monumental upset if the Americans don't win gold, but if it happens it may very well be at the hands of the big, deep, well-coached Russian squad.
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