Olympic Basketball 2012: Countries USA Men's and Women's Teams Should Fear Most
The United States has long been a powerhouse in both men's and women's Olympic basketball competition, and the 2012 London Games are no different.
There's a reason why the 2012 men's squad has drawn comparisons to the 1992 Dream Team. Whether these comparisons are warranted may depend on one's era and opinion, but there's no doubting the ability of the 12 NBA players under Mike Krzyzewski's watch.
The U.S. women will be led by University of Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma. The legendary coach will have the advantage of boasting a roster that includes Candace Parker, Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Maya Moore, Tamika Catchings and Diana Taurasi.
Despite the talent gap on paper, both teams have Olympic rivals that will be looking to dethrone the Americans at the top of international basketball.
Here are the three most challenging teams that the Americans will face in London—starting with the women.
USA Women-Great Britain
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The United States women revolve their entire game around out-rebounding their opponents and turning the advantage on the glass into increased shot opportunities.
Geno Auriemma's squad out-rebounded China by 18, Croatia by 21 and Turkey by 19. The only team that the Americans had a problem down low with was Great Britain, as they only held a four-rebound advantage.
Maya Moore led the way in that exhibition matchup with 18 points, and the U.S. still won by 25 points, but the dominance that we had seen earlier was not there.
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Russia's women's national basketball team is ranked No. 3 in international basketball, per FIBA.com, and it will be looking to make a case for No. 2 in London.
The team won the 2011 European Championship Final by a score of 59-42 against Turkey, and was led by Elena Danilochkina who led her team in scoring four times and was named the tournament's MVP.
Igor Grudin's club has compiled quite the collective resume, winning the bronze medal in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics.
Danilochkina and company are also one of the only teams to have triumphed over the dominant Americans, with the upset coming in the form of a seven-point victory in the semifinals of the 2006 World Championship.
In that same tournament, Russia lost in the final to the next team on this list.
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The Australian women are the closest team to the United States in terms of both skill level and ranking. Officially tied for the No. 2 ranking (per FIBA.com), the Aussies have met disappointment in three consecutive Olympics at the hands of the American women.
Carrie Graf's bunch has a slight height advantage over the Americans among key players thanks to Liz Cambage, who is 6'8", and Lauren Jackson, who is 6'5".
Sylvia Fowles and Candace Parker will need to be the catalysts for the USA should the two teams meet in London, as they have the height and skill to combat the aforementioned Australians.
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Any team that has size is going to give the American men a scare at the 2012 London Olympics.
When Brazil came to the United States' capital for an exhibition against America's finest, it out-rebounded the home country by a margin of 38-30.
Brazilian point guard Marcelo Huertas, who gave the U.S. fits all night, racked up 11 points and 13 helpers as the facilitator. Anderson Varejao and Nene did most of the damage down low, combining for 20 points and 19 rebounds.
There are some really solid players on Ruben Magnano's roster, and the U.S. had to play some impressive defense to score an 11-point win.
The second-quarter was the difference in the exhibition, as the U.S. outscored Brazil 20-5, but that differential might not be so great if the two teams meet in London.
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The Argentinians gave Mike Krzyzewski and the U.S. men their closest game of any team in exhibition play.
There is some solid NBA talent on the Argentina roster, and the three-pronged attack worked well against the Americans. Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola and Carlos Delfino combined for 52 points in the warm-up, but there wasn't much else help.
Andres Nocioni will be one of the key players when the two teams meet when it counts on August 6 (never thought you would hear that, right?). Argentina knows what it will get out of its three best players, but Nocioni is the X-factor for this team.
Kevin Durant went 7-of-11 from three-point land to save the Americans from pre-Olympic disappointment in Barcelona. Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook and LeBron James all reached double-digits, but virtually every other player was a non-factor.
If that doesn't change, a gold medal might not be within reach.
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The Spanish national team didn't play the Americans to the closest point differential, but it exposed the weaknesses of the No. 1-ranked team in the world.
In the United States' final practice game before the real deal in London, Spain showed that the Americans are going to have a huge problem protecting the paint.
Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka had their way down low for the most part. Tyson Chandler got into foul trouble early and later fouled out of the game, Kevin Love showed how ineffective he can be on a team of superstars and Anthony Davis didn't see action until the outcome was no longer in doubt.
A 100-78 loss is nothing to write home about, but Spain can take consolation in the fact that Marc Gasol didn't see the floor. With another seven-footer in the interior, the United States is going to have a much tougher time getting second opportunities.
It will be high-pressure half-court defense that decides this prospective matchup, as the U.S. needs that to spring its fast break offense.