It's a lesson that has been well learned in international basketball tournaments. Hope you enjoyed the pool play showdowns in these Olympics. Because from here on, they don't matter.
Spain can attest to that. They were undefeated in pool play and favorites for gold in the 2004 Olympics, before a struggling Team USA awoke behind Stephon Marbury's hot hand and knocked the Spanish out of medal contention. The U.S. team knows the lesson well, too. In the '06 World Championship in Japan, the Americans were undefeated in pool play and won their first two games of the knockout round by an average of 30 points. One bad game against Greece, though, and it was bronze medal time.
"I think every time we play from here on out, like Coach says, it's going to like a Game 7 in the playoffs," said center Dwight Howard.
Game 1 among those Game 7s will come Wednesday against Australia. Get past that, and it's the winner of Argentina and Greece. If those are wins, then it'll probably be Spain or Lithuania (with an outside shot going to tourney surprise Croatia) for the gold. Regular observers of international basketball will be familiar with these teams just based on reputation. But, so far, the Olympic tournament has shown us that when sizing up the field, you can't always rely on reputation.
When it comes to potential Team USA foes, these are the numbers to remember now that the quarterfinals are here:
48. More than half of the field goals Australia has attempted in the Olympics have been 3-pointers, and they lead the tournament with 48 makes in 108 attempts (44.4 percent). Their guards have been deadly on 3s--Brad Newley, C.J. Bruton and Patrick Mills have combined to go 21-for-49 on 3-pointers. But adding to the danger is that big men Andrew Bogut, Chris Anstey and David Andersen will step out and pop a couple of 3s per game, too.
65.7. You would not know it from watching Team USA's dismantling of Greece in pool play, but the Greeks are one of the best shooting teams in the Olympics. Against the American defense, Greece shot just 41.3 percent. Against everyone else, they shot 65.7 percent.
46.1 One of the hallmarks of past Argentine teams has been the incredible balance and consistency they've had throughout their lineup. But, age has begun to cost the team depth, as guys like Pepe Sanchez, Walter Hermann and Ruben Wolkowyski have retired. That's left the bulk of the scoring -- 46.1 percent of the team's total points -- to two players, Manu Ginobili and Luis Scola. Ginobili leads the Olympics in scoring, at 19.6. Scola is third, 19.2. Argentina is still a tough team, but without the depth it once had, it's not nearly as scary.
13.8. This has been an excellent tournament for Lithuanian forward Linas Kleiza, who also happens to be up for a contract extension with the Nuggets. His 13.8 points per game have helped fill the scoring void left when both Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Darius Songaila were unable to play. It's still Sarunas Jasikevicius' team, but Kleiza has helped ease his burden.
81. That's the number of turnovers committed by Spain in the first five games of the tournament, fourth-most of any team. This is a surprise, because Spain has a deep stable of talented guards, from whom much has been expected. To be fair, the leader in Spain's turnover-fest is big man Pau Gasol, and 28 of Spain's turnovers came in the miserable performance against Team USA. But, generally speaking, Spain's guards are struggling badly, not just with turnovers, but with shooting -- the team is shooting just 30.4 percent on 3-point tries.