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What Lies Ahead for Team USA

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Today's game against Iran and tomorrow's game against Tunisia barely count. There's no chance either of those teams could beat Team USA, and after winning today, Team USA has already clinched first place in Group B. It's almost as if it would be better not to play these games that amount to scrimmages. Fran Fraschilla wants them to work on their half court offense, but instead they seem to be reinforcing all of their bad habits. 16 turnovers against Iran? Really?

At any rate, what really matters is what happens AFTER the Tunisia game. Team USA will get Friday, Saturday and Sunday off before playing their round of 16 game on Monday, Sept. 6th. If indeed the group stage was like extended training camp for these guys as Coach K has said, let's hope they have some productive practices during those three days between games, because their half court sets could definitely use some work.

The real intrigue lies in who else will be in their 'bracket' (if we're looking at this like an NCAA tournament). The first round opponent will likely be Angola after their win over Germany today. So that's another walkover in the vein of Iran and Tunisia. In fact, one wonders how Team USA will respond after three straight cream puffs when the games get serious again. Because it could get serious as a heart attack in the quarter finals.

If tomorrow's games go as one would expect based on rankings, the other two teams in Team USA's Sweet 16 bracket will be none other than Greece and Spain, the finalists in last year's European championships, the nemeses of Team USA in international competition, considered by many to be the two top teams in this tournament outside of the US. Spain's lackluster performance in Turkey thus far, with losses to France and Lithuania in group play, has placed them solidly in third in Group D. Meanwhile, tomorrow's showdown between Russia and Greece will determine who finishes second in Group C. Team USA's bracket is made up of the first place team from Group B (that's US, the US), the fourth place team from Group A (likely Angola), the second place team from Group C (the winner of tomorrow's Greece-Russia match) and the third place team from Group D (probably Spain).

Now, bear in mind that strange things happen on the final day of pool play. Neither Russia nor Greece really wants to end up playing the US in the quarterfinals - they'd rather delay that meeting a bit. When you add in the fact that they'll likely be facing Spain in the round of 16, you now have a game that neither team wants to win. There hasn't been a game where it was more important to lose since Clippers-Grizzlies in April 2006. How each team goes about tanking that game will be interesting to see.

Spain might also like to avoid this bracket of death, but it's less clear cut how they go about doing that. Even if they tank and manage to lose to Canada tomorrow, they'd still need New Zealand to beat France in order to drop to fourth. That's the only scenario I can come up with in which the Spaniards manage to get out of third in their group - they can't catch France in second (since France beat them head to head), but they can't drop below fourth either. So they still might tank the Canada game as their only chance of avoiding Team USA's bracket. Of course, if Spain does drop to 4th in their group, they would have to face host Turkey in the round of 16, so Spain is in a tough spot no matter how they go. Spain also has the early game tomorrow, so they won't have the luxury of knowing what else happened.

The upshot of all of this is that there is a strong possibility that Team USA is going to see Spain in the quarterfinals next week, and a certainty that whatever team they see will be very talented. After three easy games against Iran, Tunisia and Angola, it will be interesting to see if they are up to the challenge.