Group B: Brazil is biggest challenge to USA
In assessing Group B along the overall scheme of the tournament, you have to assume the United States will go 8-0 in first- and second-round play.
So the task for the other good teams in this group -- Brazil and Canada -- is to come through opening-round play with a 3-1 record to increase their chances of finishing second or third overall at the end of the second round. That's because no one wants to be fourth after the second round, since in all likelihood that would mean a semifinal matchup with the United States when one of the two Olympic berths will be at stake.
Here's a breakdown of the five teams in Group B:
Coach Mike Krzyzewski has named three of his five starters: Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. Throw in a point guard, and that leaves just one spot for a big man.
That small lineup will be plenty against nearly everyone in this tournament, but the team's overall lack of height could become an issue against Brazil -- and again in Beijing next summer unless it is addressed by then. Compared to last year's World Championship entry, this team has better shooters (Mike Miller, Michael Redd) and better point guards (Jason Kidd, Chauncey Billups).
This is likely the only team with a snowball's chance in hell of giving the Americans a 40-minute battle.
The Brazilians are led by NBA players Nene and Leandro Barbosa, but will be without two other NBA players Anderson Varejao of Cleveland and Rafael Araujo of Utah, whose unresolved contract situations make it too big of a risk for them to represent their national team.
Varejao and Araujo could have given the Brazilians a sizeable height advantage over the United States, which plans to go small against most opponents.
The best non-NBA players for Brazil, which recently won its third consecutive Pan American Games championship, are Tiago Splitter (the Spurs' 2007 draft pick) and Marcelo Machado.
One player to watch is Pitt graduate Levon Kendall of Vancouver, who scored 40 points for Canada's junior national team in an upset victory over the U.S. two years ago.
The second-best player is point guard Kevin Sheppard, who played college ball in the U.S. for Jacksonville University.
Keep an eye on 3-point shooter David Cubillan, who plays college ball in the U.S. for Marquette. Also, don't expect the Venezuelans to look particularly sharp in their opener against the U.S. on Wednesday night, as the team is due to arrive in Las Vegas just 27 hours prior to tip-off.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.
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By virtue of making the finals in the Tournament of the Americas Olympic qualifier in Las Vegas, Team USA earned a spot in the 2008 Summer Games in China.Scoreboard | Standings | Schedule | Roster
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