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Next Up - Australia, 5:15 Wednesday

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As the medal round kicks off, the U.S. faces Australia in their opener.

Medal Round - First Round Matchups
  • U.S. (A) vs. Australia (B)
  • Brazil (B) vs. Argentina (A)
  • France (A) vs. Spain (B)
  • Russia (B) vs. Lithuania (A)

Although their path to the Olympics is fairly easy considering the regional competition - really only New Zealand is a worthy opponent - Australia has become a sturdy basketball program. Over the years, their team has developed excellent ball movement and three point shooting - the very definition of international play, at least up until recently.

Things have changed though. Although smart movement, as opposed to the American temptation of charging the basket no matter the circumstance, is still dominant, and three point shooting is frequently done without conscience or the slightest worry, enough internationals have become good NBA players that things have greatly changed. For instance, Luis Scola (Argentina) is a tremendous presence inside, while Tony Parker (France) and Patty Mills (Australia) are as fast as any guards in the world.

This reminds of a great Charles Barkley line: when the best rapper is white and the best golfer is black, you know things have changed.

And they have.

Australia will not have as much talent as the Americans, Mills aside, but they have developed a pride and a sense of esprit de corps that will serve them well. If lacrosse is the little brother of war, then basketball might be said to be the little brother of revolution, where a small group of people who stick together and work hard and with passion can overcome a much more powerful group.

Yet despite inconsistent play against Lithuania and Argentina, the Americans have sent a very real message. After the thumping Argentina took, Scola said "I'll keep saying it if you ask me. You're not going to beat them if they score 126 points."

The French coach said that "people don't realize how the American team is defending. Eight years ago, they didn't know the international rules. From what I have been watching, they are incredible."

And the Australian coach said that "I think what makes it more intimidating is that over the years they've fixed the rent-a-player type of mentality they had in the past. They have a team. They have a core group. They've had the same coach -- an excellent coach. They're playing more as a team. Combine that with the talent and it presents a whole new story. We get it. It presents a whole new landscape. But we look forward to play Australian-style basketball."

One's tempted to point to the talent gap and say they don't have a chance, but the U.S. had a similar advantage over Lithuania and it didn't mean as much as we thought it might.

So how might the Australians pull it off? Well, in basketball shorthand, by going Princeton.

We don't mean that precisely, although precision backdoor passes and a much slower pace can only help. If someone could keep the U.S. in the 60s, they'd likely have a great chance at winning.

Hasn't happened so far: The U.S. beat France 98-71, Tunisia 110-63, Nigeria 156-73, Lithuania 99-94 and Argentina 126-97.

That's an average of 117 ppg and even if you toss out Nigeria, that's 108 ppg. Only France and Lithuania have kept the U.S. under 100.

This team is erratic defensively, but as Argentina learned, you bait them at your peril.

The Australians are a physical bunch and they're likely to take a certain glee at showing the Americans that they're not going to back down.

But here's the thing: in the last two games, despite the perceived difficulties, the U.S. has in many respects come together. They've established that LeBron James and Kevin Durant are the main threats and everyone is fine with that.

But they've also found themselves in a couple of tough situations: the Lithuanians were on the verge of an upset when James rudely slammed the door on that prospect. And when Argentina tried to punk the U.S., they were crushed in the second by 28 points.

Australia may have a successful plan up their sleeve, but it won't be simply beating the Yanks up. This team has come too far for that.

Our best guess: they'll try to go to ball control and to zone. If the U.S. is cold from three point range and allows them to slow the pace, it's possible that the score could be close late.

It's just that no one else has been able to slow them down yet.

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