Olympic Basketball 2012: Does Russia Have What It Takes to Win a Medal?
Coming off a nail-biting 75-74 victory over Brazil, Russia now has six points in group play. At the halfway point of group play, this number is enough to give them the lead in Group B.
In fact, at this point, Russia is one of three teams in the entire tournament to still remain undefeated. The other two are the United States and Spain—the consensus two best teams in the tournament.
It's definitely not bad company for a scrappy Russian team like this one. The team is led by forward Andrei Kirilenko, who plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves in the NBA. No offense to Kirilenko, but NBA fans—and Utah Jazz fans in particular—know that he's not an all-star player.
Yet, Kirilenko has played well so far in international competition, as he's averaged 25.5 points over Russia's first two games. Today against Brazil, he led the team with 19 points while playing a team-high 37 minutes.
Alexey Shved, also of the Timberwolves, has thrived as Russia's second offensive option. He made 17 points against Brazil and also put in six assists. He's had double-digit points in all three games, averaging 15.7 points per game in the Olympics.
Russia's record of 3-0 almost assures that they will move on to quarterfinal play. It would be a big upset if they failed to do so given the slate of weak teams in Group B. Besides Brazil and Spain, Russia really doesn't have any serious foes to worry about within their group.
So far, they've taken care of dominating the bottom-feeders that they play against. Both China and Great Britain can attest to that, as Russia comfortably beat each of team, the former by 19 points and the latter by 20 points.
With their tickets to quarterfinal play basically punched, the question now shifts to how far Russia can advance. As the best or second-best team in Group B, Russia should avoid Spain and definitely avoid the United States. To avoid the U.S., Russia will want to strive for the Group B No. 3 seed, which would put off their game against them until the finals.
Looking at this scenario, the team Russia will most have to worry about is Spain. Yes, Argentina and France will not be easy outs, but I think Russia has what it takes to beat them. So this leaves them in a semifinal match against Spain.
Now, Spain's Olympic team is a clear medal threat, maybe even the team best suited to beat the United States. The Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka give Spain the kind of size that few teams in the world can match up with. They also bring to the Olympics one of the best frontcourts in the entire Olympic field.
Kirilenko has been called the LeBron James of Russia's team, and for Russia to beat Spain, Kirilenko will need to play like he's James. If he can score over 20 points and also contribute on the defensive side against the Gasols, Russia could have a chance of winning.
The problem that could do Russia in, though, is their lack of depth behind Kirilenko. With three great NBA players on their roster, Spain is not lacking in depth. Therefore, it would really be quite the upset if Russia got past Spain.
The more likely outcome for Russia is playing in the third-place game. Against someone like Argentina or France, this is the kind of game that Russia could win. It would also cap off a great Olympics run by a team that is looking like it could become one of the best teams in the world.
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