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Next Up For Team USA In FIBA World Cup Play: Big, Rough Lithuania

The US should get a serious challenge Sunday

2023 FIBA World Cup - USA Men’s National Team v Montenegro
MANILA, PHILIPPINES - SEPTEMBER 1: Paolo Banchero #8 of the USA Men’s Senior National Team drives to the basket during the game against Montenegro in the second round as part of the 2023 FIBA World Cup on September 1, 2023 at Mall of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines.
Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

Tournaments naturally get tougher as they go on and that’s certainly true for the US: Sunday morning Team USA gets Lithuania, and Lithuania is never an easy out.

A bit surprisingly, the only NBA player on the roster is Jonas Valančiūnas, who plays with Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson in New Orleans.

Valančiūnas is 7-0 and that points to a potential problem for the Americans. Steve Kerr put together a team that is small and quick, but potentially vulnerable to a bigger team, especially on the boards.

And Valančiūnas has company: Donatas Motiejūnas is also 7-0 and three others are 6-9.

Perhaps more importantly though, this team is much older and most of the players are in their physical primes. They’ve also been together for a long time. The US may be able to counter these advantages but they’re not going away.

A good sign for the US would be Jaren Jackson staying out of foul trouble. Paolo Banchero was able to step in and handled himself well when Jackson got in early trouble against Montenegro, but for all his talent, he’s still 20.

And rebounding is obviously a big deal, but when Mike Krzyzewski was at Duke, he willingly traded size and rebounding for athleticism, turnovers and defensive pressure. It usually worked out pretty well and it could for this team too, if that’s what coach Steve Kerr and his staff decide to pursue. Lithuania has size and experience but the US has an enduring advantage in athleticism.

Game time is 8:30 and it’s going to be on ESPN/ESPN+.

In some other FIBA news, Luol Deng and his South Sudan program have qualified for the Olympics and Japan is pretty close. South Sudan took are of business against Angola, winning 101-78 while Japan beat Cape Verde 80-71.

And after the US and Lithuania play, Canada and Spain square off, and this after both suffered upsets on Friday. Spain lost to Latvia while Brazil took care of Canada. And whoever loses that one is out of the tournament, so stakes are quite high.