Preparing to close out the 2016 Rio Olympics as its last remaining athletic event, the U.S. Men’s basketball team looks for a third straight gold medal against a surprising Serbia team, assured of its first medal since the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta (2.45pm ET, Sunday).
The fantastic thing about it is that while Serbia is very much a Cinderella story, they are actually the team with the best chance of upsetting the United States. That is because they almost beat them earlier in the pool play. However, when it comes to considering the betting picks’ predictions towards the end of this preview it would be a stretch to expect a moneyline victory for Serbia. There are better value options to be had in our battle with the sportsbooks.
Looking back to that earlier encounter, it was the fourth game for both teams and the second straight for the U.S. that came down to 10 points or less. USA began pool play with two incredibly dominant victories amounting to a combined 80+ points, but were then tested by Australia. If that wasn’t bad enough however, the United States came back for their next game, taking on Serbia in a game which they were expected to win, and by a significant margin.
It was the Americans’ perimeter defense which was largely suspect and that allowed the Serbians a chance at the upset. Taking advantage and exploiting that defense, which was still coming together in the early stages of the tournament, Serbia managed to best every rotation the U.S. put out, especially beyond the arc.
Stefan Markovic scored 12 points, bested only by the 18 (4-of-7 from three point range) from his teammate Milos Teodosic. It came down to a wide-open three in the closing seconds that Bogdan Bogdanovic missed. That kept the game from going to overtime and putting even more pressure on the USA team, the sportsbooks’ hot favorites.
Serbia took advantage of America’s lack of ball movement. They matched the United States’ talent with a strong sense of preparation and a willingness to spread the ball. Serbia threw off their opponent’s defense and really had the U.S. struggling to get into position to make shots. The underdogs also seemed to enter the paint at will and managed to outman their opponents when it came to scoring under the rim.
Serbia seemed to have an answer for the U.S. and were able to execute on their game plan just a little better than Australia had in the prior game. It was back-to-back games where the U.S. were pushed to their limits. Serbia knew what to do and how to beat the Americans and save for a few missed shots, maybe even would have. That would have made them the first team to beat the U.S. in Olympic competition since Argentina in 2004, when the team gained a shocking and disappointing bronze.
For a lot of people, that game was an eye opener to what the Serbians were capable of doing and how they could play with the best. Following that narrow, one possession loss against Team USA, Serbia destroyed China to earn a shot against Croatia in the quarterfinals. They then won that game, but only by three.
Team USA meanwhile was tested again as France followed the Serbian blueprint and lost by the same narrow score, three points. The U.S. managed to respond in the quarterfinals with a big win against Argentina but followed up with a mere six-point win over Spain in the semifinals. At the same time, Serbia was handling Australia, winning their semifinal by 26 points.
So the question this preview has to answer is why are the U.S. such massive favorites in the gold medal game? They are as short as -2000 odds on the moneyline and are -15.5pt favorites on the spread with the offshore sportsbooks. The bookies’ betting is predicting a hugely dominant victory.
Up and down the U.S. lineup are NBA all-stars, former MVPs, guys who have won scoring titles and championships. It is an entire roster of the best players in the world, which is saying something because Team USA doesn’t have all of the best players in the NBA this year. Still though, America’s ‘A minus’ team is better than any other country’s ‘A plus’ team and there’s no getting around that.
Team USA has veteran experience with Carmelo Anthony (pictured), who is making his fourth straight appearance in the Summer Games and who has come to embody the spirit of USA basketball. As many will remember, Anthony was a member of the 2004 team which shockingly and disappointingly walked away with just bronze. He returned to captain the team in Beijing alongside guys from his draft class including LeBron James and Dwayne Wade. It was redemption for the U.S. team, but it was more than that. It was the start of yet another dynasty, yet another cycle of dominance.
Since the 2004 shocker, America is undefeated in Olympic competition. While this year they have been tested, in both Beijing and London, the U.S. won all of their games easily. They were all by double digits, like their female counterparts. They haven’t experienced that same level of dominance this year. Being tested and being forced to make adjustments might make U.S. even more prepared for the gold medal match than in those previous years. There should be no complacency.
This is where coaching is paramount. It’s not to say that Serbia’s coach isn’t going to be able to make on-the-fly adjustments, but no one on the international stage is as good as Team USA’s Mike Krzyzewski at doing just that. He has the experience of coaching the United States for the past several Olympics, and a national championship winning program at Duke. Krzyzewski, the first NCAA Division I coach to win 1,000 games, is among the best in the world. That shows in his ability to turn a bunch of NBA stars from different teams into one unified unit in a little under a month of playing together.
There is also the element of having been there. While many of these players are in their first Olympic competition, the team itself has been there. I mentioned Anthony’s veteran leadership and that is a big part of his captain role. He has led this team for three Olympic cycles and is a big part of their success and will continue to be if the team wins gold on Sunday.
Gold Medal Game: Our Preview’s USA vs Serbia Betting Picks
Given that Serbia was the first one to figure out Team USA, this should be an exciting gold medal encounter. However, knowing Krzysewski, adjustments are going to be made and Serbia will have to figure out their opponents all over again – and they didn’t even win the first time.
That said, this preview concludes that the spread is too lofty. We expect Team USA to win their third consecutive gold medal, but we believe Serbia can keep it closer than 15.5 points.
- So the betting pick is to take Serbia +15.5pts to best the spread @ -110 with BetOnline Sportsbook or 5Dimes. It is -115 for the same spread with Bovada.
- And for the total points in the game, which is set at 181.5pts, our prediction is to take the under @ -110 odds with 5Dimes or BetOnline. It is -115 with Bovada.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.