Tomorrow's quarterfinal matchup of Argentina and Brazil will probably be the closest of all four games.
Argentina and Brazil are both expected to make a run at either silver or bronze, and pitting them against each other will likely be doing one of the semifinal teams a favor.
Both teams have a San Antonio Spurs player representing them, if Prigioni plays, both have pass-first magicians for point guards, both have crafty shooting guards who can hurt opposing teams inside or outside and both have back-to-the basket bangers down in the post.
Aside from those comparisons, all in all, the teams match up very well with each other. Let's break down how they've done in the preliminaries.
Brazil went 4-1 with one close loss in a buzzer-beater against Russia. You could say Brazil had the easier path to the quarterfinals by being in Group B and not having to face the United States or France, but they did have a tough Russian team they nearly beat and they shocked more than a few people with a six-point win over silver media;-favorite Spain.
Argentina went 3-2 in Group B, with their only losses coming in a close game with France and a blowout loss at the hands of the United States. While two of their wins came against lowly Tunisia and Nigeria teams, they beat Lithuania, who gave the Unites States their toughest test, handily.
Tomorrow's game will be much different than any of the other quarterfinal games. Brazil and Argentina have a rivalry going and recently Argentina has beat Brazil twice, once at the 2010 World Championships and last summer at the FIBA Americas Championship in Argentina.
Add on to that the fact that Argentina's former coach, Ruben Magnano, who lead them to Olympic Gold, is now on Brazil's sidelines and it should make for a very interesting match.
Argentina shouldn't expect the same Brazil teams they beat the last two years. They now have Nene, Anderson Varejao and Leandro Barbosa back and that's made them a much bigger threat.
It's still unknown whether or not Pablo Prigioni will play, but I'll include him in the point guard matchup. Also, while Argentina has often used a small lineup of Prigioni, Ginobili, Delfino, Nocioni and Scola, I'm previewing the match ups with one possible adjustment that I think Argentina should make considering height disadvantages and having a scorer coming off the bench.
Point Guard: Marcelinho Huertas vs. Pablo Prigioni
Regardless of whether or not Prigioni plays, it would be hard not to give this matchup to Huertas. As you've likely seen through five games, Huertas is a silky smooth point guard who can do it all. He looks to pass first but can also certainly put points on the board when he needs to. In an early close game against Patty Mills and Australia, Huertas was able to hit his jumper and got to the line after driving into the lane. His numbers have slightly declined every game since then, but he's always orchestrating the offense and works very well with Tiago Splitter, especially off the pick-and-roll. Prigioni is no bum though. He's a very cerebral player and can get quick and crisp passes off to driving scorers before the defense can react. While not always known for his shooting, Prigioni will look to launch from beyond the three-point line if he catches his defender sleeping or has enough space and can't find a better option. Defensively he's also very active and that should help in defending Huertas.
Shooting guard: Leandro Barbosa vs. Manu Ginobili
In an NBA game or in international play, this matchup goes to Ginobili any time, but that doesn't mean Ginobili will have it easy. He'll still have his hands full with a speedy Leandro Barbosa. However, Ginobili is the better player overall. Ginobili has the speed and smarts to guard Barbosa. As Spurs fans are used to seeing by now, Ginobili is all over the floor and is usually in the right place at the right time to pick off passes, strip the ball in the post and just be a pest to anyone who tries to drive into the paint. He's been very consistent so far, averaging 20 points, six rebounds, 4.8 assists and two steals per game. Look for Barbosa to try to attack the paint and try to slow Manu down by using his speed against him. Manu may not be able to match his speed, but his ability to react quirky on defense should keep Barbosa at bay.
Small forward: Guilherme Giovannoni vs. Andres Nocioni
While Nocioni has been very inconsistent, Guilherme Giovannoni has yet to really make an impact aside from one game against China. Because of that we've also seen former Spur Alex Garcia out of position at the three. Nocioni has had some trouble shooting from outside, but he seemed to improve on that his last two games. While Nocioni is no longer the player he was when he played for the Bulls, he can still provide some scoring punch and is an above-average defender on the perimeter. Nocioni will look to keep the Brazilian forward on his current streak. Unless Giovannoni can get his shot going and start shooting at a higher percentage, this matchup will go Nocioni's way.
Power forward: Tiago Splitter vs. Luis Scola
While I could make the homer pick of Splitter here, and even considering how he's been a key player in several games, I can't look past what Scola has done. He lead all scorers in both groups with just over 20 points per game, is very active on both ends of the floor and is very physical even against taller players. While Splitter's numbers haven't been outstanding, he's also playing on a better team with its three bet player back. If Argentina can't guard the pick and roll, Huertas to Splitter will start looking like Stockton to Malone. This will be a fun matchup, with former Caja Laboral teammates pitted against each other, but I expect Scola to come out ahead.
Center: Anderson Varejao vs. Juan Gutierrez
While Scola normally starts at center, I believe Argentina gives themselves the best advantage keeping the much shorter Nocioni away from Splitter. This still gives Argentina a slight disadvantage, but it's the better option in my opinion. While Nene could start at center, Brazil has opted for playing Varejao and Splitter together. Gutierrez' best game came against the United States. He finished with 12 points and four rebounds in just 12 minutes. He was key against Nigeria as well, contributing in scoring, rebounding and a pair of blocked shots. But Gutierrez will have his hands full with a very physical Varejao. Varejao is currently averaging eight points per game, and to no one's surprise, has been big on the boards, with 7.4 per game. His biggest Achilles heel has been foul trouble, and he can find his way to the bench for long spurts if he isn't careful. Luckily for Brazil, they still have Nene.
As I mentioned before, both teams match up well against each other, and that doesn't stop with the starters. Carlos Delfino could come off the bench and give Manu Ginobili some extra rest. Delfino has cored in double figures in four-of-five games. While he's had some struggles lately, he's more than capable of knocking down deep two-pointers and three-pointers. Facundo Campazzo filled in admirably for Prigioni, averaging 7.6 points, 6.3 assists and five rebounds per game in three games as a starter. His small frame and quickness allows him to drive into the paint for layups when he isn't looking to find open shooters. Leo Gutierrez has also opened some eyes in his last two games with Argentina. While he's a 6-7 power forward, he's done most of his scoring from outside a la Kevin Love.
Brazil answers that with a bench that features Nene, Marcus Vieira, Larry Taylor and Marcelo Machado. Nene was kept out of his last game against Spain. While he's yet to impress offensively, he's been there defensively with rebounds and blocked shots. Vieira is another one of Brazil's talented bigs, and aside from a rough first game against Australia, he's done well for himself, averaging over 8.6 points per game. With Nene out against Spain, Vieira stepped up with 13 points. While Machado hasn't received a lot of playing time, seeing him play the last four years showed me enough to doubt him based just on recent play. He's capable of breaking out and putting on a show on offense. All things considered, this is a wash for me.
Now for the hardest part. Right now Brazil is hot and has become a favorite. While they were considered contenders for bronze, many now see them as a shoe-in for silver over Spain, while Argentina has been an afterthought after their blowout loss against the United States. Look for Argentina to come out stronger in this game, They are a very proud team and they'll want to prove they have more to show and I'm sure they look at Brazil as an obstacle getting in the way of a rematch with the Unites States. They won't be able to win on that alone, though. They'll have to be sharp defensively against Huertas and force Brazil against getting easy shots. Offensively, they'll really need Prigioni back. As much as Campazzo has shown, they flow a lot better on the court with Prigioni. For Brazil to win, they can't lean on just two players. Facing a team like Argentina, whose core has been together for several years, they'll be challenged. Giovannoni will have to step up to give Brazil another option with Scola on Splitter and Ginobili tightly guarding Barbosa.
Again, while it'll be close, I think Argentina's chemistry combined with their team-first atmosphere and talent will give them no more than a four-point win in what will be an exciting, tightly-contested fourth quarter.
That's going the most exciting game to watch in the quarterfinals. I bet France and Spain will be quite the doozie too.
As a Spurs fan this is the matchup that is most intriguing, even, and difficult to know who to root for. I can't think of a more competitive matchup of all the teams in the Olympics. Both have veteran NBA players leading the way. Brazil seems to be on the upswing momentum wise, but Argentina's experience and pride, as the article mentions, will be factors to the final outcome. Go Brazil!!! Hmmm?!? Go Argentina!!! Hmmm!?! Ahhh I know! Go SPURS !!!!!!