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Team USA vs. Mexico Preview

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Can a strike-first mentality and superb timing overcome the United States juggernaut? Probably not, but Mexico may surprise you early....

The storm of threes approaches....
The storm of threes approaches....
2014 FIBA World Championship Round of 16
(6-3 in prelims)

(4-0 in prelims)
September 6th, 2014
Palau Sant Jordi, Barcelona, Catelonia, Spain
9:00 AM Central Daylight Time
TV: in the USA, Internationally
Injury Report: All players are expected to be ready.
Previous Matchups: None.
Probable Starters
Jorge Gutierrez PG Kyrie Irving
Francisco Cruz SG Stephen Curry
Hector Hernandez SF James Harden
Marco Ramos PF Kenneth Faried
Gustavo Ayon C Anthony Davis

Normally, teams that play in the same zone become quite familiar with each other. Even if the countries aren't slated to play any friendlies, they'll likely meet every two years in the FIBA-sanctioned regional tournament. This is not the case for Team USA, who have automatically qualified their way out of the FIBA Americas tournaments since 2007. As such, Team USA has not seen Mexico since then.

What does Mexico bring to the table? A lightning-quick offense, with plenty of flash screens and furious passes. When this team brings it up the court, they're looking to get into a good shot as fast as possible. Mexico accomplishes this by using very simple actions that involve 2-3 players. Things like the pick and roll and the give and go. It works well when the opposing defense is willing to commit or can't get set in time.

But the Mexican offense can run into trouble very quickly. They really struggle to swing the ball from side to side. I watched their entire game with Lithuania and counted more turnovers than successful passes when they attempted to do so, unless there were three players involved in the swing. I'm predicting they'll run into heaps of trouble from Team USA in this area at some point, because, as Mike Fratello said, you can't attack from one side against Coach K's squad.

Why does Mexico employ such a quick attack? Well, one of the reasons is that their featured big is Gustavo Ayon. Ayon has basically made a living in the NBA as a big that knows exactly when to cut to the basket or cut out for a mid-range jumper. His speed and sense of timing in unbelievable, and watching him run across the court during a good performance can be memorizing. Mexico's attack emphasizes Ayon's strengths in that way.

Mexico's attack also favors their guards. Like most Latin American teams, the guards are extremely dangerous on dribble-drive penetration and exploiting teams that like to help one pass away. If you give them an inch of space on the perimeter, they'll exploit that space however they can. As such, the team likes to create motion on the perimeter by having their guards constantly moving throughout the backcourt. They're willing to run their offense near half-court, if necessary.

Specifically, the best two scoring guards in this offense are easily Victor Cruz and Jorge Gutierrez. Cruz can spot up from pretty much anywhere and make it, as long as he's given a second to set himself. In this respect, he's also pretty skilled at hitting floaters. Jorge Gutierrez has seen time in the NBA, and can hit pretty much any mid-range shot imaginable while stopping on a dime. He's also got a mean defensive streak, and has been known to straight up strip players on the perimeter. The only other player worth noting is Hector Hernandez, a big who can make bank occasionally by stretching the floor. He's super inconsistent, though.

Another problem with Mexico's offense is their lack of a panic button. If Mexico hasn't lost the ball after they've run two quick plays or so, they'll just start passing it around the perimeter. The result is always a really tough three. The team is extremely unwilling to run anything resembling an iso or post up, so some players never really get the chance to create a good shot. Mexico will also tend to spot up from really, really deep, which is a high-risk move.

How is Mexico defensively? They're a team that will switch and do whatever they can to stay in front of their man. Traditionally speaking, Mexico is undersized, as they're just a couple inches out of range at power forward and center. This means that they can get posted up quite easily. Mexico isn't a team that traps or forces TOs, so they just do whatever they can to keep the opposing team out of position. They still struggle against good post-up bigs though, and definitely have problems covering shooters on both sides of the floor.

In other words? Mexico is looking like pretty easy pickings for Team USA. That's not to say that Mexico won't find success though. Beyond their quick, unorganized plays, I've actually seen them carry out rather sophisticated HORNS and 1-4 sets specifically designed for their scorers. I could see Mexico getting Team USA this way early, as well as grabbing a few quick early scores with well-timed outlet passes off of missed Team USA threes.

Eventually, though, the wild outside shots and turnovers will pile up for Mexico. Their competitiveness will be erased in one quick flash, and we'll be watching them exchange tat-for-tat with Team USA, trying to make up for their earlier disaster.

On Team USA's side of things, there are a few things to note. Kyrie Irving went down with injury late in the fourth quarter against Ukraine. Irving needed assistance to the locker room, but Coach K insisted after the game that he didn't think it would be a serious injury.

In terms of Team USA's leaders, you can probably solidly point to four players on the roster. James Harden is the most effective shot creator and fast break player, drawing contact like a magnet and generating points out of hopeless situations. Stephen Curry is the wise shooter who uses his respect to create for others. Anthony Davis has the size to fly over any of his opponents, and Kenneth Faried has the energy to constantly be at the rim. All four of these players have been essential to Team USA's success so far, but I believe Harden's abilities in transition are what will help them out the most in this matchup.

Prediction: Team USA 104, Mexico 72.

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