Commentary

Pedal to the medal: Previewing the quarterfinals

Originally Published: August 19, 2008
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

Kobe BryantAndrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesKobe and Co. will have their hands full with Australia, which didn't back down in their exhibition match.
BEIJING -- Team USA spent the early part of Tuesday afternoon watching videotape of Australia and learning that the guy with the beard, Matthew Nielsen, will try to provoke the Americans to lose their cool; that Andrew Bogut is a better 3-point shooter than anyone in Milwaukee ever knew; and that Chris Anstey, the 7-footer who was MVP of the Australian League, has a better 3-point percentage (60) than anyone in red, white and blue other than Jason Kidd (1-for-1).

And, if the Americans didn't already know, they were reminded that David Andersen is a champion (for CSKA Moscow, which won the Euroleague title earlier this summer), Brad Newley is dangerous (he's shooting 65 percent in the Olympics, averaging 13.2 points), and C.J. Bruton (whose assist-to-turnover ratio is 6.0) is an Australian version of Jose Calderon.

But none of the Americans needed a reminder that Patrick Mills is faster than all of them, even Chris Paul. Team USA has fresh memories of when Mills twice beat Paul downcourt -- while dribbling, no less -- during its exhibition match against the Aussies two weeks ago.

"There has been a lot of preparation," Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "A coach never feels you are as good as you can be, but we're close, and it's important for us just to focus on this moment, and that's what I'm trying to get across to the guys. And Australia is that moment, not anybody else."

So let's take a cue from Coach K and focus on one game at a time -- and we'll do it four times as we preview Wednesday's four quarterfinal matchups in the men's Olympic basketball tournament:

United States vs. Australia (8 a.m. ET)

A team with nothing to lose against a team with everything to lose. Australia has been clicking its past three games. The Aussies scored 106 points against Iran, 95 against Russia in a do-or-die game and 106 against Lithuania in the final game of the opening round.

Andrew Bogut has been outstanding. He's shooting 62 percent overall and 71 percent from behind the 3-point line, and he's averaging 14.4 points. C.J. Bruton is the starting point guard, but the Americans expect the Aussies to use two ball handlers at once, pairing Bruton with speedster Mills to reduce turnovers and take away the open-court opportunities on which the Americans thrive.

Team USA's leading scorer, Dwyane Wade (16.2 ppg), has come off the bench and is tied for the team lead in steals (12) with LeBron James and Paul. The Americans have averaged 103 points and have forced 114 turnovers in five games, but they've struggled at times from 3-point range (36 percent for the tournament) and at the foul line (67 percent).


Spain vs. Croatia (2:30 a.m. ET)

When the teams met last summer in Madrid, Spain was stunned 85-84 in an opening-round game on its home turf.

"They have five or six NBA players, but we beat them in the last European championship, so we believe we can do it again -- especially because they are not playing that well," Croatia's Marko Popovic said.

In these Olympics, Croatia has been the best 3-point-shooting team (47.5 percent). However, two key players are injured -- Popovic has a torn tendon in his foot and is not expected to play, while Zoran Planinic has a hip problem and is listed as a game-time decision.

Spain is clearly the more-talented team and has a big edge in frontcourt scoring, led by Pau Gasol, but Croatia is younger.

"Young people have too much confidence, and it is difficult for them to be realistic," Croatia coach Jasmin Repesa said. "But the best thing about young people is they never give up."


Lithuania vs. China (4:45 a.m. ET)

China will be well-versed in the tendencies of the Lithuanians because China's coach is Lithuanian.

"I don't think, for me, [coaching against his countrymen] will be psychological, because I did it before in 2004" said Jonas Kazlauskas, who was an assistant coach for Team China under Del Harris.

Lithuania was on a roll before losing by 31 points to Australia in its final preliminary-round match, although nothing was at stake because the Lithuanians had already wrapped up first place in Group A.

Expect Lithuania to do what every other good team has done against China: Pressure the ball in the backcourt, forcing the Chinese to turn over the ball -- or at least make them expend valuable time before getting into their half-court sets, where Option A always will be feeding the ball to Yao Ming (19.0 ppg) in the low post.


Argentina vs. Greece (10:15 a.m. ET)

Greece has the second-highest field-goal percentage in the tournament (51.3 percent), led by shooting guard Vassilis Spanoulis (15.4 ppg, 54.5 percent), while Argentina has committed the fewest turnovers (12.8) and has two players ranked in the top three in scoring, Manu Ginobili (19.6) and Luis Scola (19.2).

The Greeks usually are successful at dictating the tempo of the game. The Argentineans' ball movement is second to none, and -- like the Americans -- they've improved each game.

Greece has the deeper team. Argentina is defending the gold medal it won in Athens four years ago.

"They have a lot of experience, maybe more than us," Argentina's Fabricio Oberto said of the Greeks. "When you have all that experience, you feel you can overcome anything."

Chris Sheridan is an ESPN.com Insider. He has covered the U.S. senior national team since the 1996 Olympics. To e-mail Chris, click here.