Later tonight, the United States men’s basketball squad will face off against Nigeria, a team making their first Olympic appearance. Despite joining the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) in 1964, they didn’t even participate in the African Championship tournament until 1995, where they finished third.
Since then, however, the team has become one of the best in Africa, as they have been able to recruit Nigerian-American college and professional athletes, including New Orleans’ Al-Farouq Aminu and 6’9” forward Ike Diogu, a top-10 pick in the 2005 NBA Draft.
While Aminu is the only current NBA player on the roster, several others were drafted by NBA teams and either played in regular season games or participated in Summer League contests. All of Nigeria’s squad, however, has played collegiately in America before heading overseas to various international teams; they likely won’t be afraid of the USA.
This post isn’t to say that the USA squad should be overly worried about facing Nigeria, as the French team had five NBA players and still got throttled by 27 points. The main threats to the United States and the gold medal reside in Spain, Argentina, and maybe Brazil.
They can’t simply overlook teams, though. That was evident in Tuesday’s resounding 110-63 win over Tunisia, as they allowed 20-year old guard Makrem Ben Romdhane and his teammates to stay close for a large chunk of the first half. Tunisia had scored just 15 total first-half points against Nigeria in their first game; they scored that much in just the first quarter against the #1 ranked team in the world.
The extremely deep USA team eventually pulled away, but they showed a weakness from the three-point line and their starters – Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant and Tyson Chandler – seemingly had no interest in playing cohesively. Their saving grace was the second-string squad coming in to put away the scrappy Tunisians.
If the US hopes to dispose of Nigeria quicker than they did Tunisia, they’ll need a consistent defensive effort on the perimeter and solid post defense from Love, Chandler, and Anthony Davis, as the Nigerians will likely rotate in four big men of 6’10” and taller.
All in all, coach Mike Krzyzewski and his team shouldn’t be worried about losing tonight’s game. They can’t, however, go into this contest with the same lackadaisical play from Tuesday. Something tells me that Coach K won’t let that happen.