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Men’s Olympic basketball quarterfinals: what to watch for

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The final buzzer in the last group game has sounded, the field has narrowed to eight, and the quarterfinal matchups have been set.

The four teams moving on from Group A are the United States, Australia, France and Serbia. In Group B, following tie-breakers, the teams moving on will be, Croatia, Spain, Lithuania and Argentina.

These eight surviving teams will hit the court again on Wednesday, as all four quarterfinal matchups will take place on the same day in an exciting quadruple-header from Rio. Here’s what to watch for.

Australia vs. Lithuania - 10:00 AM EST

Andrew Bogut wasn’t guaranteed to play this summer after injuring his leg in the NBA Finals, but boy the Australians are glad he is fit. He burst out of the gates with an 18-point display to lead them over France. The Aussies haven’t slowed down and ended with a 4-1 record, falling only to the U.S. in a game they led with nine minutes left.

Patty Mills has been red hot, pouring in 20.5 points per game - one of only three players to average over 20 a night. The team has followed suit, scoring 88.8 points a game, second only to the Americans. 

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Standing in between Australia and their first trip to the semifinals since 2000, are the Lithuanians. Lead by Mantas Kalnietis (tournament’s fifth leading scorer) and Toronto Raptors big man Jonas Valanciunas, The Baltic Giants are looking to avenge their eighth place finish in London, the first time in their history they fell short of the semifinal stage.

Lithuania moves into the quarterfinals at 3-2, despite holding a -36 point differential. Their troubles have come on both ends of the floor, as they’ve scored just 78.4 points per game while allowing 85.6 points per game. Their defense will need to step up in a big way against the potent Australians if they want to avoid falling in the quarterfinals for the second straight Olympics.

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Spain vs. France - 1:30 PM EST

The second game of the day features a border battle between two European powers, as Spain meets France. The two have racked up awards in recent years; Spain won silver in the last two Olympics, while France took home the Bronze in the 2014 FIBA World Cup. This time around, one will have to go home empty handed.

Both were 3-2, but neither has had an easy road. Spain fell to Croatia in their opening game and beat Argentina on Monday to avoid elimination, while France was crushed by Australia in their first appearance, and needed a Tony Parker game winner to saved them against Serbia. Still, both have looked very strong at times, Spain blasted Lithuania away by 50, and the French fell to the U.S. by just three.

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The two teams know each other very well, as they met in the knockout phase of the 2012 Olympics (a 66-59 win by Spain), and have over a dozen current and former NBA players between the two rosters – a few of whom are either current or former teammates.

Wednesday’s match will be another closely contested affair, as these two continue their rivalry in perhaps the most anticipated game of the quarterfinal stage.

Basketball - Olympics: Day 10

USA vs. Argentina - 5:45 PM EST

12 years ago in Athens, Argentina shocked the United States in the semifinals behind 29 points from Manu Ginobili. The Argentines then went on to take the gold in 2004 for their first ever men’s basketball medal. Over a decade later, the San Antonio star is still leading the way for the South Americans, as their golden generation makes one last Olympic run.

The U.S. have not looked this vulnerable since 12 years ago. They won their last two games by three points each and were pushed to the brink against Australia, pulling away for a 10-point win in a game that was never that comfortable. In 2008 and 2012 combined, the U.S. won only one group stage game by fewer than 17 points.

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The veteran Argentinians have been impressive on offence with four players (Facundo Campazzo, Andres Nocioni, Manu Ginobili, and Luis Scola) among the top 13 scorers, while they finished the group stage third in scoring at 88.2 points per game. But, of course, the Americans are quite adept at scoring themselves, pouring in a group-stage best 104.8 points per game. Both teams were among the top three in three-point shooting, so there should be no shortage of points on Wednesday.

On paper, Argentina is less talented than the American bunch lead by Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Carmelo Anthony. For that reason, the U.S. will be favourites to advance, but if there was ever a year for Manu and company to find one last heroic victory up their sleeves, this might be it.

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Croatia vs. Serbia - 9:15 PM EST

Despite a -7 point differential over the first five games, the Croatians found themselves in Group B’s top spot ahead of the quarterfinals. There were three other teams tied at 3-2 in the group, but the Croatians took the top spot after the tiebreakers, thanks in large part to their upset victory over Spain in their first game.

It has been quite an interesting few days for the Croatians, who at times have looked like medal contenders, and at other times have barely looked worthy of being in Rio. It’s fitting then, that they would meet Serbia, a side that has also had an interesting tournament. 

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They’re the only team to enter the quarterfinals under .500 but have looked as impressive as any squad in Rio. They fell to France on a late Tony Parker game winner and were an open three at the buzzer from pushing the U.S. to overtime.

Between Bojan Bogdanovic (the tournament’s leading scorer), Dario Saric, Mario Hezonja, Milos Teodosic, Nikola Jokic, and Miroslav Raduljica, there will be no shortage of talent, nor flair, on the court. This is one of the most fascinating matchups going into the quarterfinals, and could very well wind up being one of the games of the tournament.

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