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Lithuania, U.S. To Square Off Thursday In FIBA Semifinals

Game time: 3:00 || Television: || ESPN

Former Blue Devil Marty Pocius is a key player for Lithuania.
Former Blue Devil Marty Pocius is a key player for Lithuania.
David Ramos

Everyone expected a FIBA World Cup Final between Spain and the U.S., but France derailed that Wednesday. On Thursday, Lithuania will try to replicate that by beating the U.S.

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We'll see a familiar face very quickly as former Blue Devil Marty Pocius is the first guard off the bench for Lithuania, and it's worth mentioning that alone among the rivals in this tournament, he has years of inside knowledge about how Coach K operates.

Against the Turks, Lithuania hit 10-19 from three point range, and as ebullient coach Jonas Kazlauskas says, ''all Lithuanians can shoot. Me too.''

Lithuania will test the U.S. from outside, but the U.S. has long focused on shutting down three point shooting in international play.

The other part of international success against the U.S. historically has been setting picks and screens and getting easy backdoor baskets. There has been a certain amount of weakness here for the U.S. and Lithuania could possibly hurt Team USA.

It works better if you have the outside going though.

We have no doubt - none - that before the game, Coach K is going to talk about France's shocking win over Spain and point out that despite missing starting point guard Mantas Kalneitis, Lithuania is a very solid team at all five positions.

Duke fans will expect that he would talk about the importance of respecting an opponent and taking them seriously. Lithuania is not likely to catch the U.S. in a casual mode.

On top of that, forward Kenneth Faried is getting tired of hearing that the U.S. frontcourt is inferior.

We understood Mark Cuban's concerns about NBA players playing internationally, that the NBA wasn't being compensated and injuries are a great concern.

Well what about a guy like Faried? He's a respected player, but his reputation (not to mention confidence) have skyrocketed during this tournament. The Nuggets are getting a lot out of this too.

Back to his point. The U.S. has developed a pretty good group with (primarily) Faried, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.

Andre Drummond and Mason Plumlee have had lesser roles, but Rudy Gay has certainly helped and DeMar DeRozan is superbly athletic, though slim and 6-7.

Make no mistake, though, Lithuania is huge. It's like Wisconsin except Lithuania's big men are more agile and better shooters (when Wisconsin came to Cameron, we were absolutely stunned at the team's size. Then we realized that it wasn't exactly a fast team and the game tipped quickly to Duke).

Lithuania brings six players over 6-9 and only two of them are 6-9: four are 6-11 or taller.

The rest of the team runs 6-7, 6-6, 6-6, 6-5, 6-4 and 6-2.

Jonas Valanciunas, 7-0, plays for the Raptors. Donatas Motiejunas, also 7-0, plays for the Rockets. Valanciunas is a teammate of DeRozan's; Motiejunas plays with James Harden in Houston.

For the U.S., while there will undoubtedly be tweaks, the idea will probably remain the same: leverage athleticism to force turnovers and generate fast breaks, suppress three point shooting, and run other teams to exhaustion when possible.

In a halfcourt game, Lithuania's size could allow them to zone the U.S., so that's another reason to keep moving.

A lot will depend on the frontcourt players, but Lithuania will have to deal with Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, James Harden and Derrick Rose.

And while Rose struggled early, Coach K seems to be pushing him to assert himself and to score more.

Just as there is no player in the field like Anthony Davis, there's not really anyone like a (healthy) Rose. If he has a dominant performance, no one is stopping him.

Game time is 3:00 EST; you can get there on ESPN.