Aug 1, 2014; Las Vegas, NV, USA; USA Team Blue forward Kenneth Faried (33) dunks the ball during the USA Basketball Showcase at Thomas & Mack Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Team USA Struggles Early But Prevails Against Turkey

Team USA, who everyone figured would cruise through pool play in the 2014 FIBA World Cup, got a nice little slap in the face this afternoon in its 98-77 victory against Turkey.

Don’t let the final 21-point margin of victory deceive you: Team USA was actually down by six points at one point in the third quarter. For whatever reason, our boys didn’t look as energetic and as focused today as they did against Finland Saturday, and Turkey took advantage of that. I can only imagine the mood inside Team USA’s locker room when the fellas entered trailing 40-35 at halftime.

Here – this picture might provide some insight:


Here’s a few things to take away from this game:

1. Aside from Spain, the only team that can beat Team USA is Team USA itself.

When you are as heavily favorited as Team USA is going into so many of these early games in the tournament, it’s easy to take your opponent for granted.  It’s just human nature to underestimate your opponent due to the obvious disparity in talent and training.  If Team USA continues to think it can just sleepwalk through an entire half of a game, just to turn it on in the second half, it will find itself in more close games than it ought to, which could shake the confidence of many players.  Don’t forget: this is the youngest squad USA Basketball has fielded since 1992, so a healthy dose of confidence is a key factor in determining how successful this team will be.

2. The one advantage many international teams have over USA is experience.  And chemistry.  Which makes two advantages, I know!

Turkey wasn’t considered to be as competitive as the team that clashed with Team USA in the championship game in 2010, due to the absence of Hedo Turkoglu and Enes Kanter.  Even so, so many of the teams that Team USA will be up against have players who have been competing together on the same team for years, compared to Team USA’s weeks.  That experience shows, as does the composure level of these experienced teams.  As the tournament goes on, Team USA will find that teams won’t rattling off big runs won’t cause teams to crumble the same way Finland did, so if our guys are looking to land a quick knockout blow, they are might become frustrated when they discover teams won’t tuck their tails between their legs and run away so easily.

3. Fear the zone.

Any team with 1/8 of a brain is going to employ zone defense against Team USA.  The only team I could picture attempting to go man-to-man would be Spain, but even then, I doubt they will, because they know that would be playing to Team USA’s strength.   In order to keep from teams from sagging down against our bigs, players like Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are going to have to shoot better than the 36% Team USA shot from behind the arc against Turkey.  Connecting in only 8 out of 22 shots from deep will not help Team USA stretch defenses at all, so if Mike Krzyzewski wants to see his team be able to actually use the size advantage over every other team not named Spain in this tournament, he’s going to have to get some more consistent shooting from his guys.

Team USA will clearly use this hard-fought victory as a learning experience, and I expect the team to come out much more energized and motivated Tuesday against New Zealand.

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