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The 2016 Rio Olympics Men’s Basketball Tournament is one week away. We continue our countdown to Rio with the fourth edition of our 12-team preview, moving down the list to Argentina.
Argentina has a rich basketball history, features several NBA players on its roster, and has the benefit of not being paired up in the same group as Team USA.
We’ll take a look at the history, the roster, the road to Rio and securing the seventh medal in the history of Argentina men’s basketball, and finally give our prediction for how they will fare.
Let’s start with the history of the Argentina National Men’s Basketball Team.
Basketball was introduced to Argentina in 1912 by Canadian Paul Phillips, who taught the game to students in Buenos Aires.
Argentina was one of the first nations in South America where the sport gained popularity.
The first men’s national team was founded in 1921 and played its first international game against neighboring Uruguay.
27 years later, Argentina would make its first appearance in basketball in the Olympics, participating in the 1948 Summer Games in London.
20 teams were in the field and Argentina finished in 15th place with a record of 4-4.
After the 1948 Games, FIBA formed its first ever World Championship and chose Argentina as the host nation for the inaugural tournament in 1950.
Argentina made an amazing run in the tournament, going 6-0, including a championship victory over the United States, who was unbeaten through their first five games.
The home court advantage may have played a big role, but winning the first ever FIBA World Championship showed that Argentina was a basketball juggernaut of sorts even before the sport caught on in many countries.
In 1952, Argentina finished in fourth place in Helsinki, Finland, losing in the Bronze Medal game to one of its archrivals: Uruguay.
After a tremendous ten-year run for Argentina basketball, things went south in the worst way possible in 1957,
The country’s government was taken over by a dictatorship and one of the first orders of business was to suspend the national basketball team.
The country was in shambles in many ways and the basketball team reflected those circumstances.
Although the team appeared in numerous FIBA World Cups and South American Championships, they never reached their dominance of the early-1950s and went 44 years without making the Olympics until finally in 1996, the country was back on the biggest global stage.
It was a proud moment for Argentina in 1996 to be back on the court in the Atlanta Games and although the team would finish in ninth place out of 12 teams, it was the beginning of the national basketball team’s return to glory.
The team would miss out on the 2000 Olympics, but four years later, they did the unthinkable.
The 2004 Olympics in Athens included one of the biggest upsets in basketball history, in which Argentina, led by Manu Ginobli, and Luis Scola, who at the time were young stars on the rise, stunned the world by winning the Gold Medal Game over Italy. It was a disappointing year for Team USA, who finished with the Bronze Medal, but that doesn’t take anything away from Argentina’s amazing run.
Argentina is one of only four nations to win a Gold Medal in the 18 times that basketball has been included in the Olympics. The Soviet Union won two, Argentina and Yugoslavia each won one, and the other 14 went to the U.S.
After winning the Gold Medal in 2004, Argentina put forth a good performance in Beijing in 2008, winning the Bronze Medal.
In 2012, Argentina had a chance to win its third-straight medal, facing Russia in the Bronze Medal Game, but would lose and finish fourth place.
For Argentina, all things considered, winning a Gold, a Bronze, and two fourth-place finishes in six Olympic appearances is nothing to be ashamed of.
Now the team has a chance to win its fourth medal in Rio and is one of several teams featured in Group B, which is expected to be a dogfight.
The Road to Rio
Most expected Argentina to return to the Olympic stage in 2016, but it still was not a guarantee.
The team had to qualify via the 2015 FIBA Americas Championship and lost in the tournament final to Venezuela, but still secured a spot by finishing in second place.
For Argentina, the Road to Rio has not been the smoothest over the last year. Although the most important matter was just to qualify for the Olympics, losing to Venezuela after going 8-1 in the tournament up to that point had to be somewhat of a shock.
Argentina is looking to bounce back from that second-place finish and has had several opportunities to prove to the world that they are ready to contend for a medal this month.
Their first Olympic tune up game was July 19 against Nigeria, a team that not many expected to compete with the rest of the Olympic field, but Argentina lost the friendly match 96-92 to the surprise of the basketball community.
They followed that disappointing loss up with a much-needed victory in a rematch against Nigeria on July 21, winning convincingly 101-79.
Two days later, Argentina faced USA Basketball in their first exhibition game in Las Vegas. The end result was as expected, but USA’s margin of victory had to be somewhat deflating to Argentina, who lost by 37 points.
It wasn’t pretty, but losing to USA in a tune up game was not the end of the world. Argentina had a good opportunity to make up for it by facing a competitive Australian team, who also has its sights set on a medal in Rio.
Argentina returned home for the start of a friendly tournament, kicking off action against the Boomers from down under on Wednesday, July 27.
It was a great game, but former-Cavalier Matthew Dellavedova knocked down a trademark “Delly dagger” and the Aussies won 84-83 in a nail biter.
Scola scored a game-high 27 points and Ginobli was right behind him with 22 points. It was a close game, but the way Argentina jumped out to a 28-12 lead in the first quarter and went on to watch their lead slowly evaporate had to be discouraging for the home crowd.
Argentina also showed that they are going to need more production from their bench, as the reserves scored only 14 of the team’s 83 points, but the starting five did their job.
It was just another chapter in what had been a disappointing story of Argentina’s July exhibition schedule, but fortunately, they bounced back on Friday with a much-needed victory over a tough Lithuania team that had been rolling over the last month, which included two victories over Spain.
It was a hard-fought game from start to finish and Argentina pulled through, thanks to a game-winning shot by 25-year-old point guard Facundo Campazzo, who gave the home team the 86-85 win in double overtime.
It was encouraging for the Argentina squad to get great play out of one of the younger players, as the knock on the team has been that it is somewhat old compared to the rest of the Olympic field.
Campazzo scored 16 points in the victory, while Scola led the team with 17.
Just as a caveat, when taking a deeper look at the box score of the game, Lithuania’s bench played more minutes than the starters, so the European team may have been trying to give its starters some rest, which could explain some of the reason why Argentina came away with the victory.
Nevertheless, a win is a win and it should provide a boost to a team that went through an up and down month of tune up games.
As mentioned above, Argentina’s roster is one of the oldest heading to Rio. Ginobli, 39, and Scola, 36, are both playing in what many expect to be their last Olympics.
The fact that a team’s two best players are in their late thirties doesn’t bode well, but the two players can still perform at a high level.
It would be quite a story for the team to have one last go-round and finish strong, 12 years after winning Gold when they were just bursting onto the basketball scene.
Campazzo, the hero from the exhibition match against Lithuania, will be interesting to watch, as the 25-year-old point guard is going to be a big part of the future of the national team.
It has to be a great experience for him to grow as a player alongside NBA veterans and perhaps they can find a good balance of contributions from experienced players along with youth.
Along with age, one of the biggest concerns for Argentina has to be the lack of depth on the roster.
Two players expected to make contributions are Carlos Delfino, 33, and Andres Nocioni, 36, but how many minutes can those veteran players stay on the court and play at a high level?
Aside from Campazzo, three young players to keep an eye on are Nicolas Laprovittola, Patricio Garino, and Nicolas Brussino.
Laprovittola, a 26-year-old point guard, scored 15 points in the win over Lithuania and should be an important part of the team’s rotation, whether he starts or plays significant minutes off the bench.
Brussino, a 23-year-old small forward, signed with the Dallas Mavericks on July 15, and Rio could be a coming out party of sorts for the young prospect.
Garino, 23, recently became the fourth member of the squad currently affiliated with an NBA franchise, as the shooting guard signed with the San Antonio Spurs on Friday. It would be reasonable to assume Ginobli may have had some input on that decision, as the two will be teammates in Rio and in San Antonio.
All of this adds up to somewhat of a mystery as to how the team will perform in Rio. The roster has its fair share of positive and negative attributes. Argentina’s schedule up to this point has been a tale of some good and some bad.
So what are we to make of this Argentina team in 2016?
What to Expect in Rio
Argentina is ranked fourth in FIBA’s world rankings, behind USA, Spain, and Lithuania, but the way they have been playing over the last year would indicate that the rankings may end up being updated after all is said and done in Rio.
They are fortunate to play in Group B, based on the fact that they will not have to face the United States. However, Group B might be the more competitive of the two, as there are five teams out of six, who appear to have a legitimate shot at reaching the knockout stage.
Argentina will have to finish in the top four out of Spain, Lithuania, Croatia, Brazil, and Nigeria.
Other than Nigeria, who actually pulled off a surprising upset against Argentina in a friendly contest, there appears to be no “easy” wins on the schedule.
Spain and Lithuania are the two favorites to finish in first and second place in the preliminary round.
Croatia, Argentina, and Brazil appear to all be fighting for those final two spots.
Even if Argentina were to “sneak in” to the second round as the fourth-seed, that would mean they would have to play the top seed in Group A, which is virtually guaranteed to be the United States in the quarterfinals.
It doesn’t look like a smooth road for Argentina, but their best realistic chance to get to a medal game would be to at least finish third in group play.
It’s not easy to predict what Argentina will do in Rio.
One factor they have going for them is that it’s practically home court. The only team that will have more fans in the building is Brazil.
That game against Brazil could make or break who reaches the knockout stage or what seed the two teams end up with after the preliminary round.
It’s tough to pick against a motivated group of veterans, looking to leave one last final mark on Olympic history.
If Ginobli, Scola, and Nocioni can put together some solid performances, they’ll be a tough match for any opponent.
Also, the mystery of the young players on the roster will be a deciding factor in how far or how short Argentina’s tournament run goes.
This is one of the most difficult teams to project, but if I had to pick how Argentina will fare, my prediction is they will go 2-3 in group play, defeating Brazil and Nigeria, and reaching the knockout stage with the final seed in Group B.
As we approach the start of the Rio Games on Saturday, Aug.6, we will reveal predictions for all 12 teams and how the bracket unfolds.
Stay tuned as we’ll continue our countdown tomorrow!