The United States can advance to the Gold Medal Game of the FIBA World Championships with a victory against surprise powerhouse Lithuania today. The Semifinal game between the teams starts at around noon Eastern, and will air on ESPN Classic. Spain and Greece, two of the pre-tournament favorites, have since been dismissed, leaving the United States as the only established power remaining.
Neil Paine of Basketball Prospectus has this rather helpful statistical preview here. It interested me to see that both teams' leading scorers (Kevin Durant for the U.S., Linas Kleiza for Lithuania) far outpace their teammates. And both teams have dominated at both ends of the floor; just check those efficiency stats!
Chris Tomasson of NBA FanHouse and Chris Sheridan of ESPN.com also wrote previews. Tomasson's notes that it's especially imperitave for Team U.S.A. to win the gold in this tournament, as doing so automatically secures a berth in the 2012 Olympics. If the U.S. doesn't win the gold, it must enter the qualifying tournament next summer, potentially without any NBA players due to the looming lockout. On a similar topic, Ira Winderman pointed out a few days ago that the U.S.A.'s players in this tournament have somewhat of a thankless job, as many of them have no hope of making the 2012 Olympic squad even if they win the gold here just to get the team to that stage.
My take? Lithuania indeed stands a chance in this game, but it should be the United States' to lose. The key for the victor is to control the tempo. Team U.S.A. has thrived by exploiting its across-the-board athleticism advantage to generate steals and, in turn, transition buckets; 23.5% of its offense has come in transition, according to Synergy Sports Technology. This approach contrasts sharply with that of Lithuania, whose offense skews heavily toward the halfcourt, as only 9.3% of its possessions end in transition. The Lithuanians run a lot of pick-and-roll, with Tomas Delininkaitis doing so particularly lethally: his offense, including passes, has produced 1.29 points per possession.
Ultimately, I do think the Americans will overwhelm the Lithuanians. Durant and Chauncey Billups are reliable isolation scorers when coach Mike Krzyzewski calls their number, while the spot-up shooting of Eric Gordon could make the difference. Add the explosive transition offense of Durant, Russell Westbook, and Andre Iguodala, and the U.S. seems to have too many options for Lithuania to counter.
But Kleiza could swing this game in the other direction. Let's not forget this guy once popped off for 41 points in an NBA game. Though merely an average jump-shooter in the Worlds, he's proven effective at bullying his way into the lane for scores. There aren't many holes in Team U.S.A.'s defense--for its much-maligned lack of size, it's allowed only 0.719 points per shot around the basket in this tournament, says Synergy.
Consider this thread the place to register all your pre-, in-, and post-game comments.