Three are in, one is out. That's the situation for the final four in the Olympic Qualifying tournament down in Caracas, Venezeula. There will be no final, as the two winners automatically qualify for the Olympics. But there will be a third place game between the two semi-final losers, with the loser of that game guaranteed to go home.
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4:30 PM: Nigeria vs. Russia
Nigeria's Record: L 69-71 vs. VEN, W 86-80 vs. LTU, W 80-79 vs. GRE
Russia's Record: W 91-56 vs. KOR, W 84-69 vs. DOM, W 80-65 vs. ANG
What's at Stake: Nigeria's first Olympic appearance ever, Russia's first consecutive Olympic appearance since the days of the Soviet Union.
This should be quite the interesting matchup. Russia has been arguably the most dominant team so far, using their domination of the paint and great defensive ability to suffocate all opponents. But their anti-thesis is arguably the Nigerians, who are totally disorganized. They can go an entire half without recording an assist, and often rely on individual players to score during halfcourt sets. On defense, they pressure a lot and try to get out on the break. This will lead to a lot of free Russian points down low, but Nigeria is the first team that actually has a comparable front line that can challenge them in terms of rebounding. Also, you have to consider that Nigeria has had success against comparable European systems in the past in Lithuania and Greece. But I think this game will come down to whether Nigeria can rely on Anthony Skinn and Ade Dagunduro to score from the perimeter. If Nigeria's offense becomes too one dimensional, they'll be toast. Given how horrible their shooting and distribution has been in the past, I'll say that Russia is the team that has the guile to take them down.
Prediction: Russia 84, Nigeria 79
7:00 PM: Dominican Republic vs. Lithuania
Dominican Republic's Record: W 95-85 vs. KOR, L 69-84 vs. RUS, W 86-76 vs. MKD
Lithuania's Record: W 100-82 vs. VEN, L 80-86 vs. NGA, W 76-72 vs. PUR
What's at Stake: The Dominican Republic's first Olympic appearance ever, Lithuania's uninterrupted streak of Olympic appearances since they were the Soviet Union.
Here, we have another case of disorganized athleticism versus a totally controlled European squad. The Dominican Republic is coached by John Calipari, but he can often be seen shaking his head on the sidelines, as the team goes through long bouts of disorganization and a bad offense. This will kill them against Lithuania, who can score 80 points against pretty much any team. Last round, the Dominican Republic was lucky to go against a team that was really streaky offensively and inept at rebounding in Macedonia. Lithuania can lose a rebounding battle, but I just don't see the Dominican Republic having the tools at guard to stop Lithuania offensively for a very long time. The Dominicans should have bouts with the lead tonight, and Al Horford and Francisco Garcia will have a ton of points. But an experienced Lithuanian team will be able to weather the storm when the Dominicans get hot, and watch them clank bad threes and lose the ball when things go cold.
Prediction: Lithuania 89, Dominican Republic 76