Team USA finished the first round of the 2010 FIBA World Championship undefeated, along with Turkey and Lithuania. Faced with single elimination in the upcoming knockout rounds, the U.S. will have to maintain their perfect record from here on out in order to bring home the gold. Their first obstacle in route to the quarterfinals is Angola, who already pulled a major upset in the tournament and made history by beating Germany for the first time 92-88 in overtime.
There’s no question that the two keys to Team USA’s 5-0 start were their tenacious, aggressive, man-to-man defense and their transition offense, which outnumbered its opponents as they pushed the ball down the court. However USA’s pressure defense and ability to score in the open floor worked against lesser opponents. Against higher level, upper echelon teams, this risky style of play could wind up costing them.
Going forward, exercising patience on both ends of the floor will be critical to USA’s continued success. Lack of ball movement on offense can lead to more possessions for their opponents. And taking gambles on defense can lead to easy scoring for their opponents.
Because better teams will defend much more rigorously and rebound better, USA can’t afford to turn the ball over carelessly by making hurried passes. And USA has to move the opposing defense. If not, the rest of the defense can dig in and get set to help. But if you constantly have your opponent on the move he can’t do that because he has to pay attention to his open man.
We’ve seen Team USA gamble a lot in the passing lane and try to shoot the gap to come up with steals and force turnovers to get easy baskets in transition. But if you face a team that handles the ball well and passes well and doesn’t turn the ball over, then you run the risk of leaving them with wide-open shots. USA will face teams that run methodical offenses and wait until the 4thor 5th pass to pull the trigger. Against these more skilled teams, when gambling on defense doesn’t work it winds up being a basket for the other team. Team USA’s defense will have to be more solid and more secure against the teams they’ll face.
In addition to being more patient on both offense and defense, USA will have to sustain laser focus and intensity from start to finish. A five-minute lapse cost them the World Championship last time around when Greece knocked them out of the tournament in 2006. At this level you can’t afford a lack of effort and focused concentration because that’s the one time you may catch a team playing at the top of their game, and in a one-and-done that can cost you the championship.
Team USA was fortunate to have a few days off to evaluate their play so far, figure out what they can do better and devise a game plan going into the eight-finals. Maybe Coach K and his staff have been holding certain things back that we haven’t seen them use yet. I know through scouting they’ve devised an excellent game plan. Now let’s see if their hard work at practice enables them to execute when it counts most.
USA vs. Angola airs live on Sunday, September 6, 2010 at 11 AM ET on ESPN2; replay at 10 PM ET on ESPN2. Click here to view the rest of the 2010 FIBA World Championship broadcast schedule.