By JAMES SARGENT
FIBA World Rank: #3
Notable players: Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola, Carlos Delfino, Andres Nocioni, Pablo Prigioni
Olympic outlook: Argentina has without question played like the number three team in the world over the past decade. They won the gold medal in 2004 and the bronze in 2008. They are contenders in almost every game they play and rarely get blown out. Argentina is led by San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili and newly acquired Phoenix Sun Luis Scola. They sure play the game of basketball just like these two as well, fundamentally sound and very crafty. The Argentines play the half-court style of basketball very well and sometimes it can lull you to sleep. A lot of this has to do with the age of their team — average age is almost 31 years old. London could potentially be their last hurrah, but expect Argentina to be very hungry for a medal.
FIBA World Rank: #12
Notable players: Tony Parker, Nicolas Batum, Kevin Seraphin, Nando de Colo, Boris Diaw, Ronny Turiaf, Michael Gelabale
Olympic outlook: This France team hinges on how productive Tony Parker is during these Olympics. It will also be Parker’s first Olympic experience with France. Injuries have been the achilles heel for the French when trying to qualify for the Games, with their last appearance coming in 2000. Ironically, they won the silver medal in Sydney; their one and only medal in Olympic play since 1948. France should again make a good run at the podium, as they are Europe’s second best team behind Spain. They have a solid frontcourt with Diaw and Turiaf, and their wings, Batum and Seraphin, are very athletic and have great size. However, they will heavily miss Joakim Noah as he is out with an injury. If Parker can continue to play similar to how he did last season in the NBA, France could be a great sleeper pick for a medal.
FIBA World Rank: #5
Notable players: Jonas Valanciunas, Sarunas Jasikevicius, Darius Songaila, Linas Kleiza
Olympic outlook: Now I’m a little too young to remember the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and the Dream Team playing Arvydas Sabonis and the Lithuania national team, but I do remember Sabonis from his days in the NBA. I remember him with the Portland Trail Blazers and how he would always kill the Suns. Anyways, this is my connection to the old school Lithuania teams. Since ’92, they have continued to play excellent basketball. After the Sabonis era, Sarunas Jasikevicius took over as the new head honcho. Jasikevicius played all four years at Maryland and even tried out the NBA for a few years, most notably for the Indiana Pacers. His career is also coming to an end as he is 36 years old, so the new breed of Lithuanian basketball will be led by Jonas Valanciunas, the No. 5 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. If he can perform well with the likes of Jasikevicius, Songaila, and Kleiza, don’t count out this team.
FIBA World Rank: #21
Notable players: Ike Diogu, Al-Farouq Aminu, Alade Aminu, Tony Skinn, Ekene Ibekwe
Olympic outlook: Regardless of how well Nigeria performs, this is a big deal for the country since they will be making their Olympic debut. The funny thing is, some of their best players — Diogu and Aminu brothers — weren’t even born in Nigeria; they just have Nigerian parents while they were born in America. Their best country-born player has got to be Tony Skinn, who is best known for playing college ball at George Mason University. As for how well Nigeria can do in this tournament, they will probably beat Tunisia, but that’s about it. Group A is too accomplished for this Nigerian team to make some noise.
FIBA World Rank: #32
Notable players: If you know, please share
Olympic outlook: Tunisia stunned African powerhouse Angola in the 2011 AfroBasket championship to qualify for these Olympic games. It was Angola’s first loss in African play in a decade. This in and of itself is a very big deal for Africa, and the country of Tunisia. Now I don’t know too much about their players and their style of play, but seeing how even Angola couldn’t compete against the rest of the world, I doubt Tunisia will stand a chance.
FIBA World Rank: #1
Notable players: The entire team
Olympic outlook: It’s gold medal or fail for this year’s team, and for every year’s team for that matter, whether it be the Olympics or World Championships. The only threat the U.S. should have is Spain, who they will most likely play in the gold medal game. In a warmup meeting against Spain this past week, Team USA came out sluggish and out of sync. The second quarter and beyond was a different story. They came out on fire and nearly unstoppable, defeating Spain by 22 points. This is the team that America wants to see; one that obliterates the competition and has a “no mercy” approach. For a more in-depth look at Team USA, minus Anthony Davis, click here. This article was published prior to the Blake Griffin injury so that is why there is nothing about Davis.