Olympic Basketball 2012: Power Ranking the USA's Toughest Competition
Other than a dominating victory over France, Team USA has looked completely beatable. Their lack of size is catching up to them, and the rest of the world is simply getting better at basketball.
Brazil kept it close, losing by only 11 points. Argentina came even closer in a six-point loss. Spain led in an exhibition match for much of the first half, and even though Team USA won all of those games, it would only take one slip-up to cost them the gold medal.
So who poses the biggest threat to Team USA? Here are the five teams best suited to challenge the Americans.
No. 5: France
Team France would probably be No. 4 on this list if they hadn't just been embarrassed by Team USA in a 27-point thrashing, but on paper they are still a dangerous team.
Most international squads don't have a star like Tony Parker. In the Spurs point guard, France has someone capable of carrying the offense against Team USA.
They also have some very solid depth. Nicolas Batum is a future star for the Portland Trail Blazers, Boris Diaw and Ronny Turiaf are both at least rotation-level players in the NBA, and keep an eye on Washington Wizard Kevin Seraphin.
He's who I'm most interested in seeing from Team France. He's a relentless energy player and defender who seems poised to make a big leap this winter. The Olympics might really help him do that.
I don't think France can realistically beat Team USA, but they have a star in Parker who can at least carry the team in a close game. They also play solid perimeter defense, which is key against Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and LeBron James. On the right day they could absolutely lose to Team USA by only five or six points.
No. 4: Lithuania
Lithuania isn't loaded with NBA talent, but they have a couple of players who could really attack Team USA.
Sarunas Jasikevicius, a former Indiana Pacer and Golden State Warrior, is an international star playing in potentially his final Olympics. Outside of Parker and potentially Jose Calderon, he is the best foreign point guard in this field.
He'll be able to attack the American defense in ways few guards can. That will leave them vulnerable to the No. 5 overall pick of the 2011 NBA draft: Jonas Valanciunas.
Valanciunas is the rare European big man who plays like a classic center. He's strong and physical, completely capable of dominating Team USA's small-ball lineup.
The Valanciunas-Jasikevicius (say that five times fast) combination is what Lithuania will rely on against Team USA and throughout these Games. They aren't a major threat, but they're at least contenders for a medal.
No. 3: Brazil
Brazil's major advantage against Team USA is size.
Nene Hilario is a borderline NBA star. Anderson Varejao is one of the league's most underrated players, and Tiago Splitter plays for the Spurs, meaning he's automatically at least solid.
Brazil will likely have two of the three on the floor at all times. They're going to need to pound the ball inside to their star big men as much as possible. They need to slow the game down and turn it into a slugfest.
When they do need a perimeter scorer, Leandro Barbosa is up for the challenge. He's the ultimate change-of-pace guard and can take over an offense for five minutes when necessary.
Those are the four guys who will have to lead Brazil. They played Team USA very closely in their first matchup, but if they want to win, all four of them need to have huge games.
No. 2: Argentina
I strongly considered putting Argentina ahead of Spain on this list. They have the one thing Spain doesn't: a gold medal.
This group stunned Team USA in 2004 and wants to do it again in London.
In Manu Ginobili they have a player who is capable of going shot-for-shot with anyone Team USA has to offer. Luis Scola is among the world's best big men with international rules, and this group has been playing together for what feels like centuries.
That chemistry is what will keep Argentina alive. If they try to play like Team USA they'll lose to Team USA, so they'll have to rely on what got them there in the first place.
That means smart ball movement, good defense and veteran savvy. They can't afford to make mistakes—Team USA is just too talented.
But if they play a perfect game like they did in 2004, combined with a letdown by Team USA, an upset here is entirely possible.
No. 1: Spain
You've heard it all by now, so I'll keep this one brief:
- Spain has the Gasols, not to mention Serge Ibaka.
- Spain has competed with Team USA on equal terms several times.
- If anyone can beat Team USA, it's Spain.
They aren't at full power, mind you. Ricky Rubio is out and several others are on the mend. But Spain's size will keep them in the game, their shooting will make sure they're never out of it, and they have the one thing every other team in the field lacks: Team USA's respect.
Team USA is fully aware that Spain can beat them. Spain feels the same way. Deep down, I doubt there's another team that can say that. When these two superpowers meet in the gold medal game, it should be one for the ages.