To describe Tuesday's matchup between Tunisia and Team USA as a showdown between David and Goliath might actually be doing a disservice to the legacy of kings against Philistines everywhere.
Tunisia, a small North African nation better known for setting off the Arab Spring of 2011, is in the midst of its first appearance in the Olympic basketball tournament after claiming last year's FIBA Africa Championship. Head coach Adel Tlatli's squad opened its trip to London with a 60-56 loss to fellow African newcomer Nigeria.
The Americans, on the other hand, are seeking the country's 14th gold medal in 17 trips to the Olympics, including a second straight under head coach Mike Krzyzewski. They opened their campaign for the podium with a rousing 98-71 win over up-and-coming France on Sunday.
And while USA Basketball's roster sports 11 NBA All-Stars and another (Anthony Davis) who was the No. 1 pick in June's draft, the closest connection the Tunisians have to the world's best basketball league is Salah Mejri, who played in the Orlando Summer League with the Utah Jazz this July.
The real intrigue with this game, then, isn't in which team is on which side of the outcome, but rather how massive the final margin is.
And, in turn, how many vicious fast breaks Team USA turns out with its Flying Death Machine of turnovers and sky-scraping dunks.
Time: Tuesday, July 31 at 5:15 p.m. EDT
TV: NBC Sports Network
Location: Basketball Arena, Olympic Park; London, England
Record of Each Team: USA 1-0, Tunisia 0-1
|Guard||Chris Paul||Kobe Bryant||Deron Williams||Russell Westbrook||James Harden|
|Forward||LeBron James||Kevin Durant||Carmelo Anthony||Kevin Love||Andre Iguodala|
|Center||Tyson Chandler||Anthony Davis|
|Guard||Marouan Kechrid||Nizar Knioua||Mourad El Mabrouk||Marouan Laghnej|
|Forward||Makrem Ben Romdhane||Mehdi Hafsi||Mohamed Hdidane||Amine Rzig||Youssef Gaddour|
|Center||Salah Mejri||Radhouane Slimane||Mokhtar Gyaza|| |
Key Storyline to Watch For: Taking Care of Business
Whether they say so publicly or not, the Americans are undoubtedly aware of just how heavily favored they are against the Tunisians. Coach K has enough talent at his disposal to presumably put Tunisia out of its misery without so much as batting an eye.
As such, the challenge for Team USA will be one of feigning interest long enough to demoralize Tunisia and allow "scrubs" like Anthony Davis and James Harden plenty of time on the floor in mop-up duty.
If the Yanks don't come out of the gate looking to make a statement and, instead, decide to let the three letters across their chests do the talking, they may well have to duke it out with their North African adversaries for a couple of quarters. That was the case at the 2010 FIBA World Championship, though USA Basketball ultimately pulled away for a 92-57 shellacking.
But if the Americans devote themselves to the task at hand from the opening tip, they should be able to coast to their second victory in as many tries against Francophone opponents.
Key Matchup: Marouan Kechrid vs. Team USA's Ball Pressure
Makrem Ben Romdhane may be Tunisia's best player overall, but Marouan Kechrid remains its most important. The 5'10" point guard is the engine that makes the Tunisians go, and will be asked to do what even NBA All-Star Tony Parker couldn't accomplish—run the show against America's pressing defense.
Of course, Kechrid will be lucky to do that much, assuming he'll be able to get the rock across half court more often than not first. He failed to register a single assist and turned the ball over twice against Team USA in 2010.
And lest you think Kechrid's problems are purely American-based, he registered more turnovers (four) than assists (three) while playing all 40 minutes in a loss to Nigeria on Sunday.
If Kechrid couldn't handle Nigeria's defense, how can he hope to do so against Team USA's? More importantly, if he can't operate against America's perimeter pressure, how can he expect to get the ball inside, where Tunisia actually has some size?
Such queries have been tantamount to the prospects of Team USA's opponents this summer, most notably Spain, which managed to hang tough by getting the ball inside before a rash of forced errors allowed the Americans to pull away:
Kechrid's ability to answer those same kinds of questions with his play will determine how handily Tunisia succumbs to Team USA.
The Game Will Be Close If...
Team USA comes out flat and Tunisia is able to outhustle and outmuscle the best squad in the tournament.
As mentioned earlier, USA Basketball's biggest challenge may well be overcoming its own sense of superiority and getting up for a game that, for all intents and purposes, should be over before it even begins.
The Tunisians, though, are an entertaining and experienced bunch that plays hard and with plenty of passion. It'll take a heavy dose of those intangibles to keep Tunisia within arm's length of the Americans.
But those particular qualities will prove more effective if Team USA comes out with its collective guard down. Some solid work inside by Salah Mejri and Makrem Ben Romdhane here, a few outside shots by Nizar Knioua and Mohamed Hdidane there, and the Tunisians will be in business.
It Will Be a Team USA Blowout If...
The Americans are firing on all cylinders from the get-go. And even if they aren't, they have more than enough talent and depth to wind up winning by 30 points or more simply by wearing down the Tunisians over the course of the game.
Player the U.S. Has to Contain: Amine Rzig
Amine Rzig has long been the most frustratingly Jekyll-and-Hyde player on Tunisia's roster. That is, Rzig is a talented player whose inconsistency on the court is as breathtaking at times as it is maddening.
He almost single-handedly lifted Tunisia to victory against Nigeria, pouring in 18 points (on 7-of-9 from the field) in 24 minutes off the bench, albeit in what turned out to be a defeat. Team USA must make sure that Rzig doesn't catch fire on Tuesday.
Otherwise, Coach K may have to sound the alarm to keep Tunisia at bay.
X-Factor: Three-Point Shooting
The FIBA line has been a boon to Team USA's cause and may be the only thing that gives Tunisia any hope.
Both teams nailed eight treys in their respective openers. For the Americans, though, those eight shots from deep served to create a comfortable cushion between themselves and Les Bleus. For the Tunisians, on the other hand, their ability to go bombs away prevented Nigeria from pulling away from them.
As such, a hot shooting night for Team USA would likely portend an easy victory, while the same for Tunisia may create cause for concern on the American sideline.
Prediction: USA 97, Tunisia 60
At the end of the day, Team USA is still the best in the Olympics, while Tunisia is arguably the worst. Expect the final score to reflect as much.