2012 Olympic Basketball: Ranking the Teams Who Have Qualified for the Tournament
Well, this month marks the completion of Eurobasket 2011 and the FIBA Asia Championship, meaning nine teams have qualified for London, and the field to determine the remaining three has been set. And with that, I take a look at what we can expect from the 2012 Basketball tournament...which teams will do well, which teams will do poorly, and which teams will surprise.
10. Great Britain
The host nation has only had a team for a few years. In that time, they placed 13th in Eurobasket 2011, and haven't beaten any team ranked in the top 40 in FIBA's rankings in a major competition, let alone any team who has qualified for the Olympics.
The only things close to a quality win they have is a 104-96 overtime win against Macedonia (only 46th in the world, but a surprise semifinalist at Eurobasket this month) and a win over China in a friendly in London.
Their last Olympics was in 1948, when they were outscored by 200 points in five pool play matches (all losses) and had one win, in the consolation round against Ireland.
True, the team has Luol Deng, but little else...most of the team consists of drifters around the D-League and the benches of European teams.
Most Olympic hosts have won at least one pool play game, but then again, most Olympic hosts have better basketball teams than Great Britain.
My prediction for Great Britain is dead last, or as they would say over there, "bottom of the table."
Just as Great Britain will finish dead last in group A, Tunisia will finish dead last in Group B. 1992 was the last time an African team won a pool play game, and even that was with 13th-ranked Angola instead of 42nd-ranked Tunisia.
Tunisia has no NBA players, and only one player who plays outside of Africa. They have played in only one World Championship (last year), where they lost every game by double digits, including a 35-point drubbing to the United States. It looks like another 0-and-5 for Africa this Olympiad.
China squeaked by to win an Asian tournament it hosted. It is ranked 10th in the world, but I have serious doubts about their ability to win anywhere but on their own floor.
In the 2010 Worlds, they won one game (against Cote d'Ivoire) and only made the knockout round because Puerto Rico lost to Cote d'Ivoire.
In the London Invitational, they came in dead last, failing to win any games against Olympic-caliber teams in an Olympic-caliber venue.
They do have a few players who have played in the NBA, but most of the them...Yi Jianlian, Sun Yue, Wang Zhizhi...have failed to have much of an impact.
My prediction for China...one win against Tunisia or Great Britian, a close one against one of the qualifiers, and either out in the quarters or not even in the quarters
7. Qualifying Tournament Winners
The 12 teams vying for the final three sports includes some very good teams. It seems quite possible to me that two of those teams could make the knockout round, and one of them may even win a medal, if for no other reason than their national teams will have an extra month to prepare.
My predictions to come out of this tournament are Russia, Lithuania, and either Greece or Puerto Rico.
Russia and Lithuania both have players who started for NBA teams last year, but Lithuania disappointed by finishing fifth in a Eurobasket it hosted.
Greece has been good in the past (it beat the U.S. in the 2006 Worlds), but it only came in sixth at Eurobasket and its team is lacking in current NBA talent.
Puerto Rico has a solid team driven by the guard play of Carlos Arroyo and J.J. Barea.
Other contenders in the tournament include the Dominican Republic, who has one of the world's best big men in Al Horford; Macedonia, a surprise semifinalist at Eurobasket; Angola, who has qualified for Olympics before but has often been drubbed by the United States; Jordan; South Korea; and New Zealand, who came in 12th at the 2010 World Championships after notching a win over France.
Australia has been to every Olympics since 1972, and finished in the top eight every time since 1976.
They have a solid team anchored by Kirk Penny, Patrick Mills, and David Andersen, all whom had solid showings in the 2010 Worlds.
Their team will be even better if former All-NBA Third Team player Andrew Bogut is healthy again.
They have had some quality wins in the last few years, though they almost lost to Great Britain in a test match in London (albeit without Andersen, Penny, or Bogut).
I don't see a medal in Australia's future, though they will probably make the knockout stage.
OK, I bet you're wondering why I have the third-best American team over perennial powers in and out of the qualifying tournament. One reason: United States 70, Brazil 68.
Brazil is the team that came the closest to beating the United States in the last four years. They also won the 2009 FIBA Americas championship.
They have a solid team built around Leandro Barbosa, Nene Hilario, and Tiago Splitter, all whom have had some degree of success in the NBA.
They also came second in the FIBA Americas championship, registering a pool-play over Argentina without Barbosa.
I think Brazil is a shoo-in for the knockout stage, and there's a chance that it could even win a medal.
France went undefeated in the London International Basketball Invitational, and came in second in Eurobasket 2011, recording quality wins along the way.
Four of their starters—Tony Parker, Joakim Noah, Boris Diaw, and Nicolas Batum—play in the NBA (Parker has been a repeat All-Star), and their bench is dotted with NBA benchers and Euroleague prospects such as Kevin Seraphin, Rodrigue Beaubois, Nando de Colo, and Andrew Albicy (Albicy, a young Euroleague point guard, is my sleeper pick to surprise at the Olympics).
France has only won two medals in men's basketball, but one of them coincidentally was in London, 1948. This could be the year that France is again on the podium.
Argentina is ranked No. 3 in the world, and No. 3 on this list.
Like France, they are also able to throw a starting lineup of NBA players on the floor. Leading the charge will likely be Manu Ginobili, assuming he stays healthy.
Their other NBA players include Luis Scola (the 2011 FIBA Americas Championship MVP), Andres Nocioni and Carlos Delfino.
As with France, Argentina's scrubs are regulated to Euroleague play, though many of them play in Spain, which is among the highest levels of Euroleague.
Argentina also is coming off a win in the 2011 FIBA Americas Championship. Though the sun on their flag may setting, it's possible Argentina can pull out just enough to be on the podium.
Spain won the 2011 Euroleague championship, easily the toughest continental qualifier this year.
They have a loaded team that includes the Gasol brothers, Jose Calderon, Serge Ibaka and Rudy Fernandez, as well as many top-tier Euroleague players, including Juan Carlos Navarro and Sergio Llull.
The team has a solid mix of young and veteran talent. They are also ranked No. 2 in the world, and are the defending silver medalists.
It seems fairly likely to me that Spain could medal again next year.
1. United States
You had to ASK? They're No. 1 in the World, they won the 2010 World Championship without a lot of their best players.
They convincingly won in the 2008 Olympics, and it's possible that this team (which will likely add Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Derrick Rose) could be even better.