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Monday, 18 August 2008

Next up: Team USA v Australian Boomers

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Olympics Day 6 - Basketball

The Australian Boomers shocked a lot of people, perhaps even themselves, with their thrashing of the previously undefeated Lithuania, 106-75. As Lithuanian star Linas Kleiza said after the match, "I hope they continue to do that against the United States. If they play like they did today, maybe they have a chance."

That is where Australia find themselves -- matching up against might of the Redeem Team. Both of these teams have been reviewed and analysed to death. Scroll down to the bottom of this article for some links to reviews. What we're going to discuss here is, what factors could get the Aussie Boomers a win here and what factors could see Team USA run away with an expected win; a knockout punch on their way to the Gold Medal match.

How will AUSTRALIA surprise Team USA?

1. Composure -- the Americans rely on their athleticism to run teams off the court. Even in their biggest of blowout matches, USA has started out with fairly close first quarters, with their opponents relying on early addrenalin to allow them to keep up with the more physically dominant NBA greyhounds. However after one quarter of pressure, teams tend to tire and forget what their coaching staff have drilled into them. They fall to the full court press that Team USA throws out there and start to give away steals at mid-court to Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. Before you know it, USA has turned a single figure game into a 15-20 point game and their opponents put their heads down in submission.

Australia's point guard combo of CJ Bruton and Patrick Mills have to play the games of their life to ensure they keep a steady ship for the Boomers. Bruton will be relied upon in the early going to set the tempo, show his veteran savvy and hopefully knock down a couple of threes. Mills will be brought on for a change of pace and has already shown that he can blow by the best of them in this tournament. He did the same against Chris Paul in the pre-Olympic warmup between these two. Steady point guard play equals steady offence, which in turn leads to less USA fast breaks.

2. Defence -- Perhaps the most deflating thing that Team USA does to it's opponents, more than the chest-bumping, more than the strips and fast-break dunks, is the way they come back at you after you've just scored and convert on a touchdown pass within 2 seconds of you sinking a basket you worked so hard for. Brian Goorjian is renowned for his defensive strategies. He might not be the most gifted offensive coach in the world, but he certainly knows how to motivate a team to play hard-nosed D. He will be preaching to the Boomers that they need to have at least two men back immediately on every play to prevent the American fast break.

3. Bigs -- Australia (like most countries) clearly has a bigger stable of low-post players than USA does. In general this hasn't caused a problem for the Redeemers in most games, as they spend most of their time in the open court, without their interior weakness being exploited. However, if the Boomers can get some early fouls on Dwight Howard and if Andrew Bogut can continue his scorching recent form, the boys in green and gold may be able to gain a solid advantage inside. Bogut, along with David Andersen, Matt Nielsen and Chris Anstey have the ability to do some damage inside on offence. At the other end, they all stand 7-feet or thereabouts and will intimidate many shots in the paint.

4. Perimeter shooting -- the type of shooting display that Australia put on against Lithuania would come in handy again, however those types of performances (16/25 from deep) don't come along often. What the Boomers do need is for one player to spark up from the outside. If that player can be David Barlow, all the better, as he will draw LeBron James (his likely defender) out of the key where he has been a menace defensively against many teams (credit to John Rillie for this thought). Barlow and Brad Newley have both had solid Olympics campaigns so far -- coming out parties if you will. If they can pull that out of the bag against USA, the Boomers might not be going home just yet.

How will TEAM USA keep their undefeated run alive?

1. Full-court defence -- taking other teams out of their gameplan is what has kept every team at arm's distance so far for the Americans in this tournament. Even the might of Spain eventually fell prey to the USA full-court press. If they can continue to generate offence from their defence, it will be very hard for Australia to score enough points at the other end to keep up. This will also keep the interior weakness of Team USA under wraps.

2. Use matchups -- USA may have some weaknesses in overall height, but as Henry Abbott at Truehoop pointed out, they certainly have a huge advantage over most teams at the swingmen positions. In height. In weight. In terrifying atheltic power. Whilst Carmelo Anthony's well-documented alergy to defence may give Nielsen some opportunities for isolations at one end, LBJ, Kobe and DWade will have field day in many cases against the swingmen put up against them. This is the way the NBA works, it's a man-on-man game designed for athletic superstars. If any of these guys can get some room, whilst being guarded by Newley, Barlow or Mark Worthington, the like their chances of getting to the basket or at least drawing a foul from the help D of the Aussie bigs.

3. Role players -- whilst the USA superstars are the bread-and-butter for this team, their memories are not short enough to forget that to win International tournaments you have to rely on guys that do the other things as well. Michael Redd and Tayshaun Prince in particular will have to be used to knock down threes and play tight D respectively, where needed.

4. Respect -- this team has been remarkably humble to date, though they are coming from a low base given the performances of some previous USA ensembles in the past 8 years. It is important that USA continues to not lose sight of the bigger picture in this tournament and not lose respect for their opponents, even a team like Australia. For too long the benchmark in American culture has centred around how many NBA players a team has in identifying a winner. The NBA-less Greek team soon proved that wrong in recent times and Team USA better not forget that a team that plays well together needn't be a team of individual superstars. In short, don't lose sight of the chance that Australia CAN win this game -- and from here, it's like the NCAA tournament.

Further Resources

[...a stern warning] Australian Boomers Preview

[JR, On Fire] Australia v USA match preview

[Green Bandwagon] Australian Boomers Preview

[Brewhoop] Following Bogut's Progress

Great interview with Patrick Mills where he talks about his NBA ambitions and the Boomers:

Such a great, humble guy with so much talent.

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