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Next Up - Lithuania, 9:30 A.M. EDT

Lithuania is next up and don't let the 1-2 record in pool play fool you: they're spoiling for a fight, and it's a home game. Say what?

According to ESPN's Marc Stein, there is a concentration of Lithuanian expats near the stadium. Former Wake star Darius Songaila says that "[there are like 250,000 Lithuanians in Great Britain. A lot of people come out and support us. We find Lithuanians working in the stands and security and the cafeteria. Everywhere. The crowd is unbelievable coming out and supporting us. It’s almost like a home game."

As you know, a key to the way things work in an upset is getting the crowd involved: there comes a point when the combination of underdog aggression, overdog (for lack of a better word) uncertainty and crowd support make an upset seem inevitable.

And remember that in the 2000 games (best remembered for Vince Carter's le dunk de la mort), former Maryland player Sarunis Jasikevicius (aka Jesse's Cabbages) nearly drove a stake through the heart of the U.S. team.


The U.S. then split with Lithuania in 2004, losing early and winning to retain the bronze.

He's still around, believe it or not, at the age of 36, and still capable of getting hot from outside.

After the 2004 humiliation, Jerry Colangelo took over the program and revamped it. He and Coach K developed the pool system currently in use which allows players to be familiar with one another and to step in if needed.

Since then, the U.S. has only lost once in international ball, to Greece.

All of which is nice for team pride but little else other than the aura they've acquired.

The thing about Lithuania is that they are likely catching the U.S. at precisely the right time and in precisely the right place.

They will not shoot as well as they did against Nigeria; indeed, you could go forward for five or ten Olympics and not see that again.

Statisticians tell us that what seems like hot shooting is, instead, a top bulge in a continuum that will inevitably sag to the bottom only to ultimately average out to where it's supposed to be.

Coach K is not a statistician, but he understands this, which is why he always says you have to be able to count on your defense when you can't count on the offense.

Defense is the constant. They are certainly not going to score 156 points on Saturday, so the defense had better be ready.

People are understandably talking about the scoring outburst, but they're missing the forest for the trees because, unless we miss our guess, something else happened in that game, and it was a lot more important: the game against Nigeria was the game where the U.S. truly came together as a team.

The big wheels - Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony - basically sat most of the game and it didn't matter.

The rest of the team was more than ready to step up.

Just as importantly, no one had to overly exert themselves, so Bryant, James and the rest of the elite defenders on this team will be more than ready to go.

Bottom line: the U.S. will not shoot nearly as well - they could fall off by around 20% and still be superior; 30% and still be effective.

Expect them to push the game on defense, to get out in transition a lot and to try to take advantage of their considerable athletic superiority.

Just don't expect Lithuania to roll over. They might lose, but they won't give up.