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FIBA World Cup Gold Medal Match: Team USA vs. Serbia Preview

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Most say they have no chance, but they may have more spunk than any opponent yet.

Christof Koepsel
2014 FIBA World Championship Gold Medal Match
(6-3 in prelims)

(4-0 in prelims)
September 14th, 2014
Palacio de Deportes de la Comunidad de Madrid, Madrid, Spain
2:00 PM Central Daylight Time
TV: ESPN 2 in the USA, Internationally
Injury Report: All players are expected to be ready.
Previous Matchups: *See Below
Probable Starters
Milos Teodosic PG Kyrie Irving
Stefan Markovic SG Stephen Curry
Bogdan Bogdanovic SF James Harden
Nemanja Bjelica PF Kenneth Faried
Miroslav Raduljica C Anthony Davis

So, you've heard from most of the media that Serbia doesn't stand a chance.

Are they right? Well, probably, yes. But I do believe that Serbia stands a chance to keep things closer with Team USA than any team that has thus far. Serbia presents a unique combination of size, ball handling, and talent that none of Team USA's opponents so far have had. Lithuania had the size, but no ball handling. Slovenia had the talent and ball handling, but not the size. And so on down the line.

Why then, did no one expect Serbia to be here? Well, this has been a break out tournament for one of their wings, Bogdan Bogdanovic. He was selected 27th in this Summer's NBA Draft by the Phoenix Suns, and is considered somebody who might be a NBA three and D guy in a couple of years. In this tournament, Bogdnaovic showed that he may be a bit more than that. He's hitting incredibly deep threes with confidence, as well as generating some strong drives off the pick and roll. His usefulness as a second option on the wing finally gives Milos Teodosic more room to work and score himself.

In the front court, Serbia has found really solid production from Nemanja Bjelica and Miroslav Raduljica. Both of them are really good at working the pick and roll, as well as establishing good position early. Neither are really huge defensive forces, but their size can make up for that. On Serbia's bench, veteran and former Thunder player Nenad Krstic has been a real leader. He's isolated himself in the post for some points at crucial times in the second and third quarter, and is exceptional in a half-court game.

Serbia might sound like a pretty good team right now, and they have been. In the tournament, at least. Back in pool play, this team actually had a losing record, dropping games to France, Brazil, and Spain. Turnover problems were the name of the game against France and Spain, while the loss to Brazil had more to do with poor outside shooting and a couple of key turnovers late in the game.

As you can see, Serbia's main problem will be holding onto the ball. Milos Teodosic is a talented guard who can score and certainly find his teammates. But he's big for a PG at 6'5", and doesn't really have the speed or athleticism to make up for it. His passing sense is certainly there, he has a quick first step, and he's capable of scoring one-on-one. But he'll just make mistakes, and his backup (Stefan Markovic) can turn it over a bit as well. On the whole, Serbia is a very tall team, so they're just more prone to get their pockets picked.

Can they avoid this problem against Team USA? It's entirely possible. As a team, Serbia only had 9 turnovers in their semi-final match against France, and 6 in their quarter-final match with Brazil. Serbia has managed to run the game at their own pace, gotten the ball into the post with little difficulty, and haven't needed to move the ball on the perimeter much. Furthermore, the more recent emergence of Bogdanovic, who struggled earlier, has certainly helped space out Serbia's offense and move the ball.

Still, Serbia's team isn't very deep. They're basically down to playing 7 or 8 dudes at this point, and those guys have played some long, hard minutes recently. Team USA has had the luxury of going 12 men deep virtually every night, and has never needed to overtly rely on one player for a prolonged period of time.

How do these two teams match up? Well, Team USA will probably struggle to find their shots early on. Serbia is a team that can pack the paint and has the size to bother all of Team USA's shooters on the perimeter. It's not until Team USA starts getting in transition and making the extra pass down low that we'll start seeing some serious runs. We should also see players like Irving and Harden able to make their own shots, but whether they capitalize on them is really up to how well they shoot.

All in all, I think this game will be watchable. Serbia is a nation with a huge amount of pride in their basketball team, and their roster features a number of players that are on a borderline NBA level and have had NBA experience. It's kind of like a NBA All-Star team versus a lower rung eastern Conference team. The chance for an upset is there, but usually, the loss is just a matter of time.

Prediction: Team USA 101, Serbia 79.

*As an addendum, I'd like to point out that Serbia and the US have effectively played each other in the professional era of international basketball. Most media outlets report that the two teams haven't met since the breakup of Yugoslavia. That's technically true. Yugoslavia, officially, didn't break apart until 2006. But really, the Yugoslavia that existed from 1992-2006 was just Serbia and Montenegro, a mere 2/6th of the original state. Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, and Bosnia had all declared themselves independent. Only one player (the team's 9th man) was from Montenegro. So, really, Team USA did play Serbia back in 2002. And they actually lost that game, as it was back when Team USA couldn't get any prime players to commit. So a team of so-so NBA players lost to a solid Serbia team led by Peja Stojakovic and Dejan Bodiroga. Not really relevant to today's game, but a good reason to motivate Team USA to regain some honor, if anything.

What do you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!