Don't let the results of the exhibition basketball game between the United States and Spain on Tuesday afternoon in Barcelona fool you. This Spanish national team has plenty of firepower from top to bottom, and they will be the toughest out for the United States in true Olympic play.
Led by five NBA players and a slew of other former and current prospects who aspire to play in the best league on the planet, this team has the cohesiveness, international experience and overall talent to play with, and ultimately rise to the top of the 12-team bracket in London.
The scariest thing about the Spanish team might be who isn't playing. Ricky Rubio, the Spanish youngster who turned heads as a teenager in the gold-medal game in Beijing in 2008, who now plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves, is out due to injury.
He won't play in these London games after suffering and ACL tear last year. Rubio's presence will be missed, but the rest of the roster has the ability to pick up the slack and challenge the rest of the world on any given day.
Here's a look at the roster Spain will take to London this week:
Jose Calderon (Toronto Raptors)
Juan Carlos Navarro (formerly of the Memphis Grizzlies, FC Barcelona Basquet)
Rudy Fernandez (spent last season with Denver Nuggets, Real Madrid)
Sergio Rodriguez (drafted by Portland Trail Blazers, Real Madrid)
Sergio Llull (Real Madrid)
Victor Sada (FC Barcelona Basquet)
Rafa Martinez (Valencia BC)
Pau Gasol (LA Lakers)
Serge Ibaka (OKC Thunder)
Felipe Reyes (Real Madrid)
Victor Claver (just signed with Portland)
Fernando San Emeterio (Caja Laboral Baskonia)
Marc Gasol (Grizzlies)
Head Coach: Sergio Scariolo
Assistants: Juan Antonio Orenga, Quim Costa
Trainers: José 'Pepiño' Casal, Ignacio 'Nacho' Coqu
After looking at the roster, you can see the kind of talent Spain is working with. Imagine if Rubio was on this team, and how Spain would potentially be looking like one of the favorites, even with the U.S. in contention.
With both Gasol brothers and Ibaka protecting the paint, they'll have a distinct size advantage over most in group play. Throw in Calderon and Fernandez, both seasoned NBAer's, and a very underrated player in Navarro, and this team likely could have beaten half the NBA last season.
Here's a look at all five of Spain's pool play games in Group B of the Olympic bracket for men's basketball, including a time for each event.
(Note: All times for these events are Eastern Standard (ET), and will be on the NBC family of networks.)
Sunday, July 29: vs. China, 11:45 AM
Tuesday, July 31: vs. Australia, 6:15 AM
Thursday, August 2: vs. Great Britain, 3 PM
Saturday, August 4: vs. Russia, 6:15 AM
Monday, August 6: vs. Brazil, 3 PM
Wednesday, August 8: Quarterfinal Round (Top 4 of each pool-8 total)
Friday, August 10: Semifinal Round (4)
Sunday, August 12: Bronze Medal Game - 6 AM
Gold Medal Game: 10 AM
Player to Watch
The big man will have to be a force for Spain to have a shot at the title, especially against the Americans, when he'll try to expose Tyson Chandler and Kevin Love as one of the weaker backcourts in these games.
If Gasol doesn't perform well, it doesn't bode well for the guards or wing players, who will need his inside-out game to draw double teams and open up shooting lanes in the flow of the offense.
Spain expects to be in the gold-medal game come August 12. They were there in 2008, but didn't seal the deal. That's certainly on the minds of Gasol and Co. in preparation for this year's global games.
Since the United States is in Group A, it's unlikely the two teams would meet again until one of the final rounds, presumably the gold-medal game. Spain isn't assured of anything in their pool, though, having to take on a tough Chinese squad and a Brazilian team that gave the Americans some trouble in an exhibition game earlier this month.
They should, and will be, playing on August 12th. But the outcome will mirror that of 2008, and the Americans will once again be on top of the basketball world in London.
All in all, this is shaping up to be one of the most exciting groups of men's basketball in recent memory. Each team in groups A and B have NBA talent, and it will be exciting to see if anyone can unseat the United States in Group A, while Spain looks to breeze through Group B.
Spain just gave us a tease of what kind of international squad they can be. If their level of play and team chemistry connects like it did in 2008, anything can happen once the elimination round hits. As a fan of the game or a fan of a particular Spaniard, keep a close watch on these next two weeks in London.