Team USA will take on its second Olympic newcomer in as many games when it meets Nigeria in London on Thursday. The Americans appeared to be a bit overconfident out of the gate in their most recent matchup against Tunisia, though they eventually rolled to a 110-63 thrashing behind a superb effort from their reserves.
Nigeria pulled off a win of their own over Tunisia on Sunday, albeit by a much slimmer margin at 60-56. D'Tigers finished up that fine debut effort with a predictably less favorable result against Eastern European powerhouse Lithuania, 72-53. Head coach Ayo Bakare's boys managed to hit a mere 24.2 percent of their shots against the Lithuanians, including just 1-of-16 from the three.
The Nigerians are no slouches, however, at least for first-time Olympians. They feature three players—Al-Farouq Aminu, Ike Diogu and Olumide Oyedeji—who are, or have been, employed by NBA teams, along with a host of others who played college basketball in the States.
That collection of talent helped Nigeria squeak into the London field by way of a qualifying tournament in Venezuela in July, in which they defeated Lithuania and Greece.
Of course, USA Basketball stands head, shoulders, knees and toes (knees and toes) above those two, which should merit a sizable advantage for the Yanks.
Then again, that's why they play the games, right?
Time: Thursday, August 2nd at 5:15 p.m. EDT
Location: Basketball Arena, Olympic Park; London, England
TV: NBC Sports Network
Record of Each Team: USA 2-0, Nigeria 1-1
|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||Tony Skinn||Derrick Obasohan||Richard Oruche||Ade Dagunduro||Chamberlain Oguchi|
|Forward||Ike Diogu||Al-Farouq Aminu||Kiki Archibong||Ekene Ibekwe||Ejike Ugboaja|
|Center||Olumide Oyedeji||Alade Aminu||
Betting Line: USA -42 1/2 (according to bovada.lv)
Key Storyline to Watch For: Sleepwalking Starters
America's starters looked like they were mired in memories of 2004 when they took the floor against Tunisia. They settled for long jump shots on offense, looked lethargic on defense, and displayed a general disinterest in their overmatched opponent.
Mike Krzyzewski's mass substitutions helped to turn the beat around for his team, but was indicative of a lackadaisical overconfidence that could come back to bite the gold-medal favorites before too long.
Nigeria presents a similar mental challenge to Team USA's sense of focus, but with decidedly better talent than Tunisia. A slow start would hardly doom the Americans against the Nigerians, but they can't afford to develop bad habits with tougher competition on the horizon.
Key Matchup: Ike Diogu vs. Team USA's Interior
In Ike Diogu, Team USA will finally face a player who's ready, willing and able to punish its lack of size inside. The bruising 6'9" forward played for seven NBA teams before taking his talents to China and Puerto Rico during the lockout-shortened season.
As such, he'll have no fear going up against the likes of Tyson Chandler and Kevin Love in the paint. His bulk and ability to play with his back to the basket will be key to Nigeria's hopes of putting a scare into Team USA.
Hence, if America's bigs can neutralize Diogu early on, they should have little trouble with dispatching the African debutantes.
The Game Will Be Close If...
As mentioned before, Team USA takes its talent for granted again, as it did early on against Tunisia. The Nigerians have a few weapons capable of making America pay for its insolent laziness, at least early on in the game.
Which team will win?
The longer it takes the Americans to get their engines revved up against their inferior competitors, the closer David can come to felling Goliath.
It Will Be a Team USA Blowout If...
The starters and reserves play with energy from the opening tip. Coach K knows what he's going to get from his bench—hustle, energy, intensity and a desire to attack the basket rather than settle for the FIBA three.
If he can get the same from his first five, he'll have no reason to scream his lungs out in the locker room at halftime.
Player the U.S. Has to Contain: Diogu
Ike is Nigeria's best, most reliable and most NBA-tested player. He's well-equipped to take advantage of Team USA's presumed weakness on the interior and, as such, will likely be the lone impediment to America's plans for total domination on Thursday.
X-Factor: The Flying Aminu Brothers
Nigeria is hardly a one-man team. The Aminu brothers—Al-Farouq of the New Orleans Hornets and older brother Alade—have combined to average 25 points and 17.5 rebounds through Nigeria's first two games. Those two sport the sort of size and athleticism that could give the Americans trouble if they're not careful.
Prediction: USA 100, Nigeria 66
Expect a story similar to the ones seen against France and Tunisia to play out Thursday—a slow, close start, followed by an uptick in play by the reserves as Team USA wears down yet another opponent with its unmatched depth, talent and athleticism.