Game Will Be Live on NBATV and Streaming on FIBATV.com, Time is CST
7:00 PM: Dominican Republic vs. Nigeria
This is it, win or go home. Both teams have had their ups and their downs, but both deserve to be in the position that they're in by defeating some of the best teams FIBA Europe has to offer. If they win tonight, they get a ticket to London. If they lose, they go home and get another shot next year. Neither team has ever achieved an Olympic berth in their entire history, and it will be a huge swoon for whoever the winner is destined to be. If Nigeria wins, it will be the first time two African teams have been in the Olympic Basketball tournament since the beginning of the professional era in 1992. If the Dominican Republic wins, they will only be the third Carribean basketball team ever in the Olympics, after Puerto Rico and Cuba.
The Dominican Republic are the clear underdogs here. They haven't beaten a team better than Macedonia yet, and have gotten just near creamed by Lithuania and Russia. But they have the tools to win this game. They can control the boards against most teams, and do an excellent job of scoring second chance points. They have one of the best players in the tournament in Al Horford, who is a pretty dynamic scorer and finisher around the rim. They also have a good array of shooters, with Francisco Garcia, Juan Corondo, Elipidio Fortuna, and Josh Asselin all able to stroke it from beyond the arc. Their main weakness is the long offensive droughts they seem to go through, and an inability to guard the perimeter.
Nigeria have had a hard road to the third place game, but they've definitely earned their spot. After an initial disappointing loss to tournament host Venezuela, they managed to beat basketball powerhouses Lithuania and Greece in thrillingly close finishes. They like to run the floor, going to guys like Al-Farouq Aminu and his brother, Alade Aminu, for easily finished baskets. In half-court sets, they usually dump it down to Ike Diogu or defer to one of their scoring guards in Anthony Skinn, Ade Dagunduro and Derrick Obasohan. Their main weakness is their inability to distribute the ball, often relying on their players to overcome the opponent in isolation sets. Their defense works well in terms of stealing the ball, but they often can fall into disorganization, leaving shooters wide open or letting the opposition waltz through the paint.
But in the end, I feel like this is Nigeria's game to lose. They have a better top-to-bottom roster than the Dominican Republic does, and their guards have proven that they can be comfortable in more of a distribution role than the Nigerians were initially using. I just think that there are times when the Dominicans have to rely on their stars too much to produce, leading to periods of long drought when they're not on the floor distributing the ball. Considering that this will be their fifth game in the last six days, I also think that depth will play more of a factor than people might think.
Prediction: Nigeria 80, Dominican Republic 78