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Team USA vs. Ukraine Preview

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Two legendary coaches go head to head in a lopsided clash. But can Ukraine's array of shooting bigs and use of Pooh Jeter's athleticism bring them to the promiseland?

2014 FIBA World Championship Group C
(3-4 in prelims)

(4-0 in prelims)
September 4th, 2014
Bizkaia Arena, Bilbao, Basque Autonomous Province, Spain
10:30 AM Central Daylight Time
TV: in the USA, Internationally
Injury Report: All players are expected to be ready.
Previous Matchups: None.
Probable Starters
Eugene "Pooh" Jeter PG Kyrie Irving
Dmytro Zabirchenko SG Stephen Curry
Oleksandr Lypovyy SF James Harden
Maxym Kornienko PF Kenneth Faried
Kyryl Natyazhko C Anthony Davis

So far, the only team that's been able to legitimately compete with Team USA for more than a few minutes at a time is Turkey. The Turkish team did an excellent job of using their size to defend the rim, staying in front of their man, and keeping the pace of the game slow. In Ukraine, Team USA sees an opponent that can do exactly the same thing. The main difference between Ukraine and Turkey is that Ukraine has to go to a zone in order for their interior D to be effective. Their bigs are simply too slow in a man-to-man situation, often leaving the basket unguarded.

Another difference between Ukraine and Turkey is their offensive focus. Ukraine is much more likely to use their bigs to stretch the floor and shoot threes. Their ability to nail jumpers is inconsistent, but usually one Ukraine big or another will be able to have a pretty good night. This might spell trouble for the USA, who have difficulty keeping track of opposing bigs beyond the paint.

The last difference I'll point out between Ukraine and Turkey is one between point guards. Ender Arslan is a veteran who's had moments of greatness, but it's clear that Ukraine's Pooh Jeter is a echelon higher. He's a lot more athletic, has better ball control, better court vision, and has hit a ton of clutch baskets in the past. Jeter isn't as capable of scoring as he was maybe a couple years ago, but he's more capable of generating positive energy for his team. He was pretty much the entire reason they beat Turkey, and has triggered other runs. Ukraine definitely suffers as a whole when Jeter is off the floor, though.

Given this info, it's not that out there to expect Ukraine to play a solid half of basketball today. But winning is still probably far out of their equation. Aside from their problems defending the paint, Ukraine also has problems scoring the ball consistently. Sergeii Gladyr used to be one of their two primary shot creators, but he went down with an ankle injury during Ukraine's second game. With Gladyr gone, a lot more of the shot creating responsibility has fallen on Jeter's shoulders. The wear had noticeably gotten to Jeter during yesterday's loss to New Zealand, so it's hard to imagine him being extra spry 24 hours later.

In Gladyr's absence, the two biggest players to step up for Ukraine offensively have been power forwards Ihor Zaytsev and Maxym Kornienko. Both basically have limited post up ability, but can stretch the floor with strong jumpers. They're also good at hitting shots under pressure. The same goes for guard Oleksandr Mishula, who will spot up for threes from waaaaaay downtown.

In terms of coaching, this will probably be the most intriguing battle in all of Group C. After the win against the Dominican Republic, Coach K had this to say about Ukraine's staff: "They have one of the greatest coaches in the world, and one of my best friends. ... It'll be funny coaching against Mike, because I'm always pulling for him and he's always pulling for me." Mike, of course, is the legendary Mike Fratello, whom has coached Ukraine since the 2011 Eurobasket. He's done an excellent job establishing a unique team that's very capable of playing beyond their talents most of the time.

But beating the USA? I doubt that's in the cards. Ukraine will likely throw the kitchen sink at the USA in an attempt to guarantee advancement and keep the point differential low, but I don't see them having the firepower to stay in this one late. They're simply too turnover prone, rebound too poorly for their size, and don't have any sort of shot creating threat beyond the exhausted Jeter. But, heck, I've seen crazier stuff happen.

What I'd look for today from Team USA is a greater amount of ball pressure. There's absolutely no reason they can't make Ukraine finish with more turnovers than assists, and baskets off of live ball turnovers are part of Team USA's ethos. Furthermore, I fully expect Team USA to dominate the offensive glass, as well as sneak in a few easy points via weak-side cuts into the post. Ukraine is completely exploitable down there, even if they go to a zone.

Also, I'm hoping that either Curry or Rose have a really hot shooting night and bring their statistics up. Also also, Team USA only has a 18 hour turnaround between the last game and this one, so it will be interesting to look for signs of fatigue.

Prediction: Team USA 93, Ukraine 65.

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