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USA - Russia

I'm back and trying to get caught up on a LOT of things.  I'm behind on my school work, and as it happens I'm off to Columbia Missouri this weekend for the first of two required on campus visits in this crazy online Master's program of mine, so even though I just got back from Labor Da with the familyy, I'm heading right back out.  At least this time I'll have web access.  Unfortunately, I have seminars both Saturday and Sunday, and since I'll be in the Central Time Zone, the games are more in the middle of the day.  In other words, no live hoops watching for me.  I'm really sad about that.

Because let's face it, the games have been great.  Unfortunately, I missed Brazil - Argentina, which seems like it was an instant classic.  I did get to watch Serbia - Spain today, which was a great game.  I don't think Serbia is going to hit threes like that every game, but it was fun to watch.  By the way, what's with the Timberwolves stockpiling Euros?  We were watching Rubio play against Bjelica today, and we could see a frontcourt featuring Pekovic and Milicic this season.  Of course, having Rubio and Bjelica in Europe for a couple more seasons isn't helping them now.

I watched USA- Angola on the DVR when I got home.  What can you say?  I'm not actually thrilled with the US taking 38 threes, but if they're going to make 18 of them then it's all gravy.  Eric Gordon's shot has entered a totally different dimension at this point - he scored 17 points on Monday, and he was almost invisible doing it.  He just shoots and it goes in.  That's all he does.  And you're only surprised when it doesn't go in.  EJ's eFG% for the tournament is an other-worldly 74.4%.  Sure, he's feasted on some of the weaker opponents, but 74.4% is pretty damn good for shooting in an empty gym.  The guy is in a zone.

It's actually very interesting to see what playing on such a good team has done for Gordon.  We knew that he was a good shooter, but we all figured that Stephen Curry was quite a bit better.  Obviously we're talking about relatively few games, but by the same token, going back to training camp, EJ has been shooting the lights out for Team USA for six or seven weeks now.  We knew his form was gorgeous - but he's getting such clean looks for Team USA, and shooting with such confidence, that he seems like a different shooter than the guy who played a couple of seasons for the Clippers.  The question will be if he can get such clean looks in the NBA, and/or if the confidence can carry over.

The one thing to worry about with the team right now is the simple fact that they haven't played a challenging opponent in 11 days.  Might they be overconfident?  Might they simply be rusty in terms of playing against a quality team?  No other team in left in the tournament has had the recent string of patsies that the US has had.  Russia could represent a rude awakening for them after Iran/Tunisia/Angola.  The start will be key.

Of course there's the issue of the Russian size.  The one thing that no one seems to talk about is that Kevin Love has been Team USA's most productive per minute player.  And although Coach K has not played two bigs together outside of garbage time in this tournament, there's no reason he coudn't do that.  Looking at the matchups, you have to wonder how long he's stick with Iguodala.  I mean, he's been pretty terrible on offense, turning the ball over and bricking threes (he's missed the rim at least four times by my count).  If he's playing for his defense, but he's giving away four inches and 40 pounds to Vorontsevich, then why would he be out there?  I don't know if Krzyzewski would go to Odom and Love together early in the game - but it might make a lot of sense.  If you're gaining better post defense, better offense and much better rebounding by bringing Love for Iggy, why wouldn't you do it?

With Spain and Greece out of the tournament, the pre-tournament view would indicate that the path is relatively clear for Team USA now.  Serbia and Turkey are each undefeated, and Argentina is always tough.  But every game counts now, and one bad outing sends you home.  You have to like Team USA's chances, but it's still one game at a time right now.

A quick aside on the USA-USSR game from 1972.  I was 9 when I watched that game, and it seemed at the time the greatest travesty in the history of the world.  I watched the HBO special on it last year, and it was not as clear cut a case of robbery as it seemed to me at the time.  But the simple fact of the matter is that I've never seen the last play of any other game replayed - and the last play of that game was replayed TWICE.  The odds that they'd complete that pass and score that bucket on any of the plays were miniscule, so it seems ridiculous to say that the officials wanted the Soviets to win - if indeed that was their plan, it was a really bad one.  But it should never have come to that.  The simple fact is that games end with minor irregularities all the time.  The Soviets didn't get their timeout recognized?  Boo hoo.  The clock didn't start?  Who cares?  The game should have ended twice before and it didn't.  That was the problem with that game.  They should have had the guts to say, "Game over.  Get off the floor."