And then there were eight.. The cream has truly risen to the top. The elite eight teams competing in the knockout rounds of the basketball competition of the 2016 Olympic Games are locked in. The last games of the group phase finalized the standings. Hosts Brazil were able to put up a win on the board, after downing Nigeria 69-86. Unfortunately for both nations, the game had no bearing as far as making it to the quarterfinals were concerned. Brazil, Nigeria, Venezuela, and China have all been eliminated from the competition.
Croatia defeated Lithuania 81-90 to claim the top spot of Group B. Spain kept their hopes for Olympic gold alive after successfully defeating a tough Argentinian squad, 92-73, in a must-win game. Had they lost, Brazil would have been able to sneak into the QFinals.
At this point every game is a “must win” for every team. Lose, you go home.
Australia is set to take on Lithuania to open the quarterfinals. The Aussie Boomers ended the group phase with only one blemish on their record (4-1) and that loss was to the undefeated USA Basketball squad (5-0). Since their loss, Australia has looked sharp and dangerous. While the Lithuanians will have the size advantage in this matchup, Australia’s strong performances thus far leave them as the favorites to advance to the semifinals.
The second game is a classic European basketball rivalry between Spain and France which will be settled on the hardwood. Expect both squads to lay it all on the line as they battle for pride and country. Spain has a distinct experience advantage here, but France will be bringing their youth and athleticism to the table. Do not forget that Spain has claimed the silver medal in the last two Olympic Games. However, their sluggish start in Rio has left some questions hanging as to whether they have enough left in the tank. On the other hand, they just came off a morale-boosting win over the ever-dangerous Argentinians, so Spain does have some momentum to blow wind behind their sails. Pau Gasol will have to do some serious damage in the paint for Spain, especially if he wants loosen up the defense and get his guards some open looks from the outside.
USA Basketball is not the “Dream Team” it used to be in the Olympic Games. They are missing some key pieces and have found themselves at the winning end (at least) of some very close games in the group phase. That said, they still are the favorites to advance to semifinals, and even go on and claim the gold. Argentina is a team that has long carried with them a never say die attitude and USA cannot take them lightly. The key match-up to watch in this game will be between Argentina’s Luis Scola and USA’s DeMarcus Cousins. Scola has the tough task of needing to make some baskets in the paint for his team. At the end of the day, the team that best performs in transition will likely come out the victor.
Croatia and Serbia will take to the floor in the final game of the night. This game should be as exciting as the three other games that came before it. Whichever team is more successful in nailing their shots from beyond the three-point arc will have the distinct advantage in this battle of young European squads. Look to Dario Saric and Milos Teodosic to post big games for Croatia and Serbia, respectively. This game should be tight and will be a tough one to call. The team with the most solid execution and best controls the tempo of the game will come out ahead and eventually victorious.