USA Basketball is the front-runner to win gold at the 2012 Summer Olympics. No one in their right mind would question that reality.
With superstars LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant to name but a few, the U.S. team is not just the presumptive favorite in this tournament, but perhaps one of the finest collections of talent ever put together on a basketball team.
Yet there are a number of teams in the games who could give the U.S. a tough game, and if everything went exactly their way, any of these teams are capable of knocking off the presumptive champion.
Here they are.
In their inaugural game of the 2012 Summer Olympics, Russia destroyed tournament host Great Britain 95-75. Of course the Britons were not expected to pose a serious threat, but Russia looked great overall.
Led by newly signed Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrei Kirilenko and former NBA player Viktor Khryapa, as well as Alexey Shved (who will join his Russian teammate in Minnesota this year), Russia dominated from start to finish. That trio could give the U.S. team trouble because of the group's versatility and ability to play effectively around the rim.
Granted, Team USA is more talented than the Russian team by about 382 times. It would take a perfect game by Russia and a D- or F grade by the U.S. team to see such a large upset. But it could happen.
Between Tiago Splitter, Anderson Varejao, Nene and Leandro Barbosa, the Brazil team doesn't lack name players. Any NBA fan would know all four of those players.
But it's young point guard Marcelo Huertas who gave the U.S. team a few headaches when the teams met in exhibition play two weeks ago in Washington, D.C.
In that 11-point victory, the United States surely felt like it escaped against a team who could have beat it. With the confidence gained from that game, Brazil could easily knock off the United States.
Few teams are more talented in this field than Brazil. Yet it's also true that the more talented American squad will likely gain motivation from its hard-fought victory the first time out—should the two meet down the road, of course.
Though Team France struggled on Sunday against the United States, a recovering Tony Parker is a difference-maker. If he plays lights out, he's as good as any player in this tournament.
His ability to get to the rim and finish (especially with limited rim-protectors for the American team) could destroy the integrity of the U.S. defense.
Add in a talented utility player like Boris Diaw, and it's not like France is completely without talent.
As with each of these teams, France would have to play a near-perfect game to defeat the U.S.
But who is to say it couldn't do so?
At the end of the day Argentina may be the team that has the best opportunity to defeat the United States. The reason is that it is simply the most balanced team in this tournament.
Luis Scola is one of the most underrated scoring forwards in the NBA. He will not be deterred by anyone the U.S. team throws at him.
On the outside, Manu Ginobili is a top-10 (possibly top-five) shooting guard in the league. His ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim, pull up for a mid-range jumper or knock down the three-ball makes him a matchup nightmare.
If those were the only two notable players on this squad, it might not stand a chance against the U.S. However, this squad is loaded with talented players who have played together much more than the U.S. Olympic squad has to date.
That could make for a tough matchup.
For a detailed account of why Spain is a matchup nightmare for the U.S., click here.
Spain is large. Its three dominant post players outmatch anything the U.S. can throw at it down low.
It should not be missed that Spain lacks the overall guard talent to make a significant run against the U.S.
It's absolutely true that Jose Calderon and Juan Carlos Navarro are good players at the international level, but are they really up to the constant barrage thrown at them by Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams, James Harden and Kobe Bryant?
And yes, Rudy Fernandez's game is a good one for the international level as well. But is he really going to handle LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala?
Spain misses the mere presence of Ricky Rubio. Though the youngster might not single-handedly change the complexion of the matchup, his exuberance and passing ability would make life more difficult for the U.S. on the defensive end.
Even so, the overall depth of the Spanish national team is impressive and should allow it to reach the medal round. At that point, you simply never know what could happen.