Team USA only has one more group game remaining at the 2014 FIBA World Cup before the knockout stages, and Ukraine is the opponent it gets to blow out this time around.
The contest takes place Thursday at 11:30 a.m. ET and can be seen on ESPN 2. The live stream is available on Watch ESPN.
Thus far, the United States beat Finland 114-55, outlasted Turkey 98-77 in a contest that was closer than the final score indicated, knocked off New Zealand 98-71 and handled the Dominican Republic 106-71. Sure, the Turkey game was close for a while, but the Americans have yet to be truly threatened at this tournament.
As for Ukraine, it beat the Dominican Republic 72-62, lost to Finland 81-76, knocked off Turkey 64-58 and lost to New Zealand 73-61.
If you are a Ukraine supporter, it should absolutely worry you that your team lost to the team the Americans dismantled 114-55. Sure, two games is a small sample size, but that difference virtually tells the entire story when it comes to comparing the talent level of the United States and Ukraine in this matchup.
It is worth pointing out that this contest means far more for Ukraine than the United States.
The Americans already clinched the Group C title regardless of what happens Thursday, but Ukraine enters play tied with Turkey and the Dominican Republic at 2-2 and one game ahead of New Zealand and Finland, who are both 1-3. For seeding purposes and advancement alone, this game certainly means plenty for Ukraine.
Fran Fraschilla of ESPN noted that point differential could even come into play down the stretch:
End of New Zealand-Ukraine looked bizarre but smart. Pool C spots likely will come down to +/- points. NZ trying to score more w/12 pt lead.— Fran Fraschilla (@franfraschilla) September 3, 2014
Still, motivation will not be enough to overcome the vast talent disparity in this one.
Ukraine does feature Eugene Jeter, who is leading the team with 16 points and 5.8 assists a night. He is a 5’11” point guard who darts between defenders and gets to the lane with relative ease and can finish at the rim himself or set up his teammates when opposing defenders collapse. He will be something of a test for the American guards, who have a potential matchup with Ricky Rubio and Spain down the line.
Ukraine also has Slava Kravtsov down low to battle with Anthony Davis, Kenneth Faried, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond and Mason Plumlee. Kravtsov is leading the team with six rebounds a night, but he will have difficulty matching up with NBA stars.
While it’s nice from Ukraine’s perspective to have an inside-outside duo, it is nothing compared to what the United States has at its disposal. This loaded roster should have no trouble putting this one away by halftime.
The interior players once again flexed their muscles against the Dominican Republic. Faried scored a team-high 16 points, Cousins tacked on 13 and Davis stuffed the box score with 10 points, seven rebounds and five blocks.
Faried shot 8-of-11 from the field and actually saw his overall shooting percentage fall for the entire tournament. He commented on his overall experience, according to The Associated Press, via the New York Daily News: “I’m just playing out there. I’m just having fun. I’m just playing my game, having fun, enjoying life.”
We have been focused on the interior play for good reason, but even if the big men don’t take advantage of their sizable advantage down low, Team USA still has a list of superstar guards to turn to in Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and James Harden.
Look for the big men to set the tone and the Americans to shift it into neutral in the second half. Ukraine will be playing for point differential and close the gap a bit down the stretch, but fans will still be treated to a large victory margin.
Prediction: United States 98, Ukraine 74
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