The national colors of Slovenia are red, white and blue, but for some reason they wear green as their national color when playing basketball. And technically, chartreuse is a shade of green. But damn, those were some ugly unis that Goran and Zoran Dragic were sporting.
Watching the Americans’ 101-71 victory of Slovenia from the home office (I will be covering the tournament from Spain after pool play ends) gives you a different perspective. For instance, I thought Mark Kestecher and Fran Franchilla did an excellent job of pretending they were actually in the Canary Islands. In truth, they were in Bristol, Conn. announcing the game from a studio. This is all because of Rick Reilly’s salary, BTW, and ESPN clearly does not have enough money to send a full production and broadcast crew to Spain.
The first thing I have to say about this game was that it was brutal to watch. There were 53 fouls and 59 field goals, and the Americans missed 17 free throws (more on that below).
After the game I spoke with our resident ex-coach columnist, Bobby Gonzalez, who offered up several viewpoints that are worth passing along.
Here are five takeaways from the 30-point win:
1. From Gonzalez: “If anybody is going to beat this USA team, three things have to happen. The opponent has to eliminate the Americans’ ability to get easy transition buckets off turnovers and run outs. Take that away, and the U.S. has to run a half-court offense, and they clearly do not have a lot of offensive sets. But what Coach K is doing by giving them all that freedom on offense is getting them to focus that much harder on the defense. It’s a tradeoff that coaches have to make to get the team’s focus where it is needed most. No. 2, they have to defend the 3-point line better. (Slovenia was 9-for-26). One of the ways to beat them is to make at least 15 3s. And third, their Achilles heel is their free throw shooting. And if they get into a tight fourth quarter game and cannot make free throws, that is going to be a major problem. Because in a halfcourt meat-grinder game, you can’t have “quiet turnovers” — as coaches called missed FTs.”
2. The point guard controversy should be over now, folks. Folks in Chicago do not want to hear the truth, but the truth is this: Derrick Rose has not looked very good except for a couple of very brief stretches. He shot 0-for-3 today with one assist and three turnovers, he was 3-for-6 at the line, and he was a minus-4 in his 20 1/2 minutes and got toasted at least twice by Goran Dragic. Kyrie Irving, meanwhile, was a plus-39 and scored 13 points with three assists (FIBA statisticians are notoriously stingy when crediting assists) in his 24 minutes. Coach K told Marc Stein of ESPN.com that he was considering alternating Irving and Rose as starters when the World Cup begins. At this point, that would be silly. Irving is clearly the superior player right now.
3. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Anthony Davis is a beast, and he will be this team’s alpha dog. (Check out this excellent Davis profile that tells the story of Davis’ growth spurt that turned him from an unrecruited guard to a top dog who won the MVP of the NCAA title game without scoring a single point in the first half). Davis had another monster game with 18 points, nine rebounds and five blocks. He also threw a loooong alley-oop pass to Kenneth Faried, who wasn’t too shabby himself with 14 points and eight rebounds, five on the offensive end. Take away Davis’ 5-for-8 shooting and Faried’s 6-for-10 shooting, and the rest of the Americans were 22-for-52, including an 0-for-6 first quarter from 3-point range.
4. These U.S. players are going to have to get used to the FIBA refs. On Irving’s first possession, he was called for a “FIBA travel” — moving his foot before the ball left his hand as he began to dribble. By my count, there were at least a half-dozen FIBA travels called against the Americans. Also, Stephen Curry fouled out with 9 1/2 minutes left in the fourth quarter. Again, you only get five fouls in FIBA games, and technical fouls count as personal fouls. (Got that, Boogie?).
5. FIBA box scores list fouls drawn, which is a stat the NBA should consider adding to its online repertoire. In this game, James Harden drew seven fouls, Davis drew six, Irving and Faried drew four apiece. Goran Dragic did not draw any.
Chris Sheridan is the publisher and editor-in-chief of SheridanHoops.com. He has covered every U.S. senior men’s national team since the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Follow him on Twitter.