Can Team USA get past France in the Quarter-Finals?
DONGGUAN (China) - After Team USA's convincing win over Brazil, it seems the Americans may be peaking at the right time. That theory will be tested when they try to get past a determined France in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Quarter-Finals.
The last time Team USA met France at the FIBA Basketball World Cup was more than 50 years ago in the 1963 edition, with the Americans wining , 81-61, led by New York Knickerbocker legend Willis Reed. More recently, though, Team USA survived a French scare at the Rio 2016 Olympics, 100-97, thanks to Klay Thompson's 30-point explosion.
Willis Reed and Klay Thompson may not be in China for the World Cup, but coach Gregg Popovich has a group of NBA up-and-comers hungry for their own place in the spotlight. So far, the American talent has proved enough, though they very nearly bit the dust against Turkey.
Team USA remain undefeated after five starts. That may change in the Quarter-Finals, where France will meet them in Dongguan and hope to spring an Eiffel Tower-sized upset.
Team Overview - USA: These are teams that the Americans have beaten: Czech Republic, Turkey, Japan, Greece and Brazil. Of those teams, only Greece are in the Top 10 of the FIBA World Ranking Presented by NIKE; and even at that, Greece had been playing below par in the World Cup. France will be Team USA's toughest test yet here in China, and it will be very interesting to see how the Americans respond, especially in terms of offense because they have been quite inconsistent on that end. After averaging 93.0 points per game in the First Round, the Americans' scoring dropped to just 79.0 points per game in the Second Round. Will their offense hum or sputter in the Quarter-Finals?
Team Overview France: As big as France are - average listed height of 6ft 8in (2.02m) - rebounding has been a major issue for them. They're actually dead last in terms of rebounding among all 32 teams at the World Cup with just 31.0 per game. They have been outrebounded in four of their first five games, and against a team as long and athletic as Team USA, that may prove to be a difference-maker. It'll also be interesting to see if France can defend with discipline. Of all the teams in the Second Round, France have the third-highest number of fouls per game, and they cannot afford to give too many freebies to the Americans in such a knockout game.
Key Matchup: The matchups between Myles Turner and Rudy Gobert up front and Donovan Mitchell opposite Evan Fournier at the perimeter are both exciting, but perhaps the most crucial one will be in the backcourt pitting All-NBA Third Team member Kemba Walker against former EuroLeague MVP Nando De Colo. Walker has been awesome for the Americans, leading them in scoring and assists, but he will play against someone who can match his offensive production every step of the way. As of now, De Colo has better shooting numbers than Walker down the line, whether it's total field goals, free throws or three-pointers, and how Walker responds will be crucial in determining how far Team USA can go.
X-Factor: Team USA need to win the battle on the boards and the scoring in the paint if they want a convincing win over France. Turner, Harrison Barnes and Brook Lopez have to be rock-solid on the glass and around the basket here against a tall and hefty French frontliner anchored by Gobert but also featuring guys like Vincent Poirier and Amath M'Baye. As for France, it will be key for them to hamper Team USA's fastbreak scoring. If coach Vincent Collet's men don't turn the ball over and have tight transition defense, they should be in decent shape here.
Stats Don't Lie: Rebounding may be France's Achilles heel so far, but for the Americans, it has been their three-point shooting. Team USA is shooting just 32.7 percent from beyond the arc which, at this stage in the tournament, may not cut it against the French. Coach Collet's boys have got their sights sharpened, shooting 47.4 percent from long distance. If Team USA's perimeter defense doesn't rotate well enough, look for France to make them pay big time.
They Said: "We're thrilled that we qualified for the Olympics. I guess when we play the game [against France], we’ll find out if we can [play better offense]." - USA head coach Gregg Popovich
"This is a lot different basketball than NBA basketball. My role is to provide energy, rebound and block shots. That's what I do. I'm trying to put my focus and energy into doing those things. Looking forward to the matchup with Rudy Gobert. He's a good defensive player. I'm ready." - USA center Myles Turner
"We have a quarterfinal against the strongest team in the competition, but until proven otherwise, we are alive. It will be necessary to manage fatigue of the travel in addition to that of the match whereas the Americans are already on the spot, but we will give everything to succeed in the impossible feat." - France head coach Vincent Collet
"We need to stay together and think about our next game. To go as far as possible we will have to go through the United States." - France guard Nando De Colo