It’s officially the knockout stages of the 2019 FIBA World Cup, and after winning its first and second groups, undefeated Team USA is set to take on a talented France squad in the quarterfinals. The winner will face Argentina in the semis, who despite having only one “Golden Generation” holdover in Luis Scola still upset tournament favorites Serbia in the quarterfinals.
U.S.A. vs. France
September 11 | 6:00 AM CT | Dongguan
Watch: ESPN 2*, ESPN+
Injuries: Jayson Tatum (ankle — day-to-day)
*Note: ESPN says this game will be broadcast on ESPN 2, but it’s not showing on my cable line-up. Still worth checking out if you’re up early enough to watch.
How much longer can the preferred style keep working?
Due to a lack of offensive firepower past US teams have been afforded, this team has had to rely more on defense and an offensive style that features getting out in transition and hunting early baskets before having to go into half-court sets. Despite being undefeated with this game plan while playing a lot of small ball, how much longer can it continue to be successful as the level of competition increases?
One of the big questions of the knockout round will be whether this sort of downsized, uptempo, more-playmaking-heavy attack will stand up to scrutiny against bigger opponents. Can the U.S. afford to rely on Harrison Barnes and Jalen Brown as small-ball centers and power forwards against the likes of Rudy Gobert, Marc Gasol, the Aussie duo of Aron Baynes and Andrew Bogut, or a monster Serbian frontline led by Nikola Jokic? The opponents the U.S. may face all feature front court players who can bang down low, clean the glass, and step out on the floor to either stroke a jumper or facilitate offense from the elbows. Maybe the U.S. can make up for the size mismatch by leveraging superior quickness and keeping its wings active as off-ball havoc-wreckers, but the run of play may tilt the other way, necessitating more minutes for Brook Lopez or Mason Plumlee, which shifts the U.S. away from the style that’s been most effective thus far.
This has been a concern for the Americans throughout the tournament, and while they managed to contain big players like Giannis Antetokounmpo in the second round, France will be the first opponent who features both an all-world center in Gobert plus depth and talent around him to the point that Gregg Popovich’s defensive approach can’t be just to swarm him and force the others to beat them as he did with Greece.
If the Americans have to go big and play a traditional center in these future match-ups, players like Lopez — who has struggled in this tournament but had a couple of nice outings against Gobert in the regular season — and Plumlee will need to step up their games and be ready from here on out.
Try to put this one away early
It’s worth nothing that whoever wins this one will automatically have a disadvantage against Argentina on Friday, as they will be coming off an extra day’s rest. France won’t be an easy test, but if the Americans can extend their 3-game streak of double-digit wins and try to put this game to bed as early as possible, it would be beneficial.