The men's basketball quarterfinals begin on Thursday and you won't have to wait to get some of the best matchups of the tournament.
Spain vs. France
The last time France and Spain played in the Olympics, this happened. With Nic Batum and Juan Carlos Navarro both still on the roster for both teams, this game may get a bit chippy. Both teams entered the Rio Games as medal favorites, but now one of them must face the reality that they’re Olympic dreams will not come true in 2016.
Spain is the reigning silver medalist from London and is still recovering from a terrible start to the tournament that had many people wondering if they’re run of Olympic success was coming to an unsanctimonious close. France’s situation is not all that different. They were blown out by Australia in their first game in Rio, and two games later barely eked out a win to an upstart Serbian squad.
Both teams are equipped with familiar faces from both previous Olympics and the NBA. Outside of the United States, France may have the best starting lineup in the tournament with Tony Parker, Batum, Nando de Colo, Boris Diaw and Rudy Gobert, but they lack Spain’s depth. The Spaniards have a roster with 11 former or current NBA players, including Pau Gasol, Ricky Rubio, Nikola Mirotic and Jose Calderon.
Oh, and Spain edged France in overtime of the 2015 EuroBasket semifinal. Yeah, this one should be fun.
USA vs. Argentina
The United States haven’t lost in the Olympics since 2004. Who did they lose to? Oh, just an Argentine squad that went on to win gold with four of the same players that are on this year’s team. Not only do the two teams have some history, but you might have noticed that this isn’t the same U.S. team that trounced the competition in Beijing and London. This team is looking awfully beatable.
Argentina comes in as the fourth seed in Group B, but that’s at least in part to a half-hearted effort in their pool play finale. There’s speculation Argentina didn’t play its best in their final game of prelims with the hopes that they would avoid being placed in the same bracket as the U.S., thus evading them until the Gold Medal Match, should both teams make it that far. Well, that backfired.
In what many expect to be the swan song for the Golden Generation of Argentine basketball, Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola, Andres Nocioni and Carlos Delfino will have to duplicate their improbably 2004 feat in Rio if they want a chance at a second gold medal – or a medal at all.
For the United States, a quarterfinal loss to Argentina would be an atrocity. This is a USA Basketball program specifically revamped to avoid a trap year such as 2016. They haven’t played great in their previous three games, but they still haven’t lost either. This tournament, and specifically this game against this opponent, can be a vindication of everything Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski have worked for, or the exact opposite.
Croatia vs. Serbia
In this battle of the Balkans, both teams can move one step closer to completing an improbable medal run in Rio. Both teams feature young talent primed to step into the spotlight in future international tournaments, but seemingly not quite ready to take the reins in 2016.
Serbia has Nikola Jokic, who finished third in Rookie of the Year voting this past season in the NBA, along with Bogdan Bogdanovic, who is expected to make his NBA debut in the next year or two. Croatia is led by NBA player Bojan Bogdanovic and is bolstered by Dario Saric, a rookie for the 76ers, and Mario Hezonja, a second-year player for the Magic.
Neither team was expected to really contend in Rio and a trip to the semifinals may expedite a learning curve that was supposed to crest come 2020.
This quarterfinal matchup pits two of the premier big men in the tournament against each other: Lithuania’s Jonas Valanciunas and Australia’s Andrew Bogut. Both will feature prominently in their team’s schemes on both end of the floor, though Bogut is more of a defensive threat at this point of his career while Valanciunas is the opposite.
Australia’s edge comes at the guard position where they feature Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova, both of whom have won NBA championships within the past three years. Still, Lithuania should be able to match the famed Australian toughness and is always a tough out in international tournaments.