With Monday's results, group action in the 2012 Olympic men's basketball competition is in the books. Let's take a look at how teams performed, using the same method of schedule-adjusted point differential I looked at as a preview before the Olympics.
United States 32.1
France - 0.3
Lithuania - 0.7
Great Britain - 8.0
With just five games apiece, and mixed incentives at times--most notably in the case of Monday's Brazil-Spain tilt, but more on that in a second--the noise hasn't really filtered out of these ratings.
The most curious rating is France, which had about the best group outcome realistically possible. After losing a blowout to the USA in its opener, France won its next four games to finish second in Group A and put itself on the opposite side of the bracket from the U.S. Yet France did just enough to win against Nigeria and Tunisia, winning by a combined 10 points, and gets docked badly for that here. France rates behind not only Argentina, which it beat head-to-head, but all four teams that advanced from Group B.
Something similar is true of Russia, which had already won Group B before Monday's finale with Australia, won by the Boomers on a late Patty Mills bucket. That result put Australia nearly even with Russia, and sent Brazil ahead of Russia.
The last odd result Monday was host Great Britain destroying China by 32 points to salvage a highlight of the Olympics. That outcome was enough to put China in last, behind Nigeria, and push Great Britain as close to the teams that went through as the rest of the non-qualifiers.
Using these ratings and the familiar log-5 method, I've projected the possible outcomes for the medal round. They reinforce the importance of seeding, and avoiding the USA.
Country Semis Final Gold Silver Bronze Medal
USA .971 .936 .913 .023 .034 .971
Russia .807 .555 .033 .522 .119 .674
Brazil .719 .043 .028 .015 .490 .533
Spain .689 .294 .011 .282 .136 .429
Argentina .281 .008 .003 .004 .143 .150
France .311 .082 .002 .080 .045 .127
Lithuania .193 .069 .001 .068 .023 .092
Australia .029 .013 .007 .006 .010 .023
While the U.S. has looked vulnerable for stretches, most notably against Lithuania, the Americans are still the overwhelming favorites to win gold. They appear slightly more vulnerable by this metric in the semis, most likely against Brazil, than in the finals.
If seeds hold, Russia-Spain will be a terrific semifinal. Spain has history on its side, but Russia emerged victorious among the two teams in Group B, and the simulation shows Russia as the favorite in a rematch to reach the gold-medal game against the USA.
The most interesting result is that Spain, though rated fifth overall, has the third best shot of reaching the final. That brings us back to today's Brazil-Spain game, where the loser (Spain) was really the winner. Finishing second in Group B meant (at best) a sure meeting with the USA in the semifinals, which in turn likely means at best a bronze. If you reverse the outcome of that game, Brazil's chances of medaling improve to better than 75 percent, while Spain's fall to 22.8 percent. That's how much incentive there was for both teams to lose.
The controversy over strategic tanking in badminton shined a spotlight on the possibility for similar chicanery in the basketball competition, and Spain and Brazil were at the very least more graceful in their efforts to lose. There's a lot of talk about how to fix the issue, but I'm not sure it's possible under something approximating the current Olympic format, what with the limited time available for competition, meaning no possibility of a full round-robin. Suffice it to say that the USA's dominance is always going to mean that getting on the opposite side of the bracket is the best strategy possible, and it's hard to design a format around that.
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Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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