Team USA will be the heavy favorite to win the gold medal in men's basketball at the London Olympics. Are there any teams that could upset the team on the quest for gold?
Realistically, there are two teams that have a chance: Argentina and Spain.
Argentina won the 2004 Olympic gold medal, 2008 Olympic bronze medal, 2009 FIBA Americas bronze medal and 2011 FIBA Americas gold medal. This is the third Olympics that the bulk of this team has played together. So their experience as a team makes them a formidable competitor in this year's tournament.
Argentina is led by three players familiar to NBA fans: Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola and Carlos Delfino.
If the game were played three-on-three, we might expect them to have a shot at Olympic gold this year. But it is not, and the lack of depth will keep them out of the final. One starter, Andres Nocioni, spent the NBA season buried on the 76ers' bench. Whichever USA forward matches up against him will surely have a substantial advantage. Just think about Kevin Durant or Lebron James going one-on-one against Nocioni.
And at point guard, Pablo Prigioni would not seem able to stop the point-guard trio of Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams and Chris Paul that the USA will send out.
In a recent exposition game, Argentina lost to USA 86-80. If Scola had not missed six free throws, the outcome might have been different. This is a good team, which I see winning the bronze medal.
The team most likely to face the USA in the final game is Spain.
Spain would seem to have the best frontcourt in the tournament with Pau and Marc Gasol along with Serge Ibaka. They have a solid backcourt in Rudy Fernandez and Jose Calderon. But the spark of their team is La Bomba, Juan Carlos Navarro, who scored 27 points in their Eurobasket victory over France.
When Spain has the ball, I believe that Team USA will figure out a way to slow down La Bomba on the wings. It will probably take Andres Iguodala to do it. But I think that Spain's frontcourt on offense will cause Team USA to quickly accumulate personal fouls, and I don't like the centers that will have to play when Tyson Chandler sits. Kevin Love can be great in scoring and rebounding, but I don't think he can be effective on defense against Argentina.
On defense, I can see Spain packing the box and forcing Team USA to shoot from the outside. Since Ibaka led the NBA this year in blocks per game, he is well-suited for this strategy. Team USA will start to get antsy, then Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant will gladly oblige and throw up a few bricks at critical times in the game.
USA will have competitive Pool A games against France and Argentina, and maybe Lithuania for a half. On the other hand, Spain will probably only break a sweat in one game against Brazil. So we can expect Spain to enter the medal round a little bit more rested than the USA team.
You probably won't read this anywhere else, but I am going out on a limb and say that Spain will win the gold medal, in a buzzer-beater shot from Marc or Pau Gasol.