Nate Parham is the managing editor of Swish Appeal.You can find him on Twitter at @NateP_SBN.
1) Team USA had their first real test of the Olympics against Australia on Thursday. Was it just a bad match-up or is it a red flag before their gold medal game?
It was a tough matchup in two ways - Australia's size with 6'8 Elizabeth Cambage and 6'6 Lauren Jackson is just tough for anyone in the world to contend with. At the same time, the combination of that size inside with the experience this team has playing together made a big difference. Players like Cambage and Jackson took off from the WNBA to train with their team for this whereas the U.S. players have been playing with their WNBA teams prior.
As a result of their experience together, they were executing extremely well in the first half, setting both Cambage and Jackson up for scoring opportunities in spots that even the best defense would struggle to defend.
With their guards also shooting well from outside (40% from 3 in the first half) and making good decisions with the ball, it was sort of a perfect storm in the first half as the U.S. once again settled for a lot of 1-on-1 shots in the first half instead of moving the ball.
2) Australia had success with their 6'8 post player Liz Cambage. She's one of the only players in the world who can match Baylor's Brittney Griner inch-for-inch; is she a legitimate rival for Griner down the road?
The short answer is yes; the long answer is that we're still talking about a 20- and 21-year-old who will both continue to develop.
From watching Cambage last season as a WNBA rookie and during the few games she has played in the Olympics, the thing that really separates Griner is her athleticism and the way she uses that with her basketball instincts to absolutely dominate games defensively.
That's why she'll almost certainly be the #1 pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft - for perspective, Maya Moore was a great college basketball player, but Griner fundamentally alters the ways opponents play the game in ways that few basketball players ever accomplish
Just comparing the two physically, Cambage already appears to have a strength advantage despite being almost a year younger than Griner; that strength will help Cambage as a low post scorer and offensive rebounder, which has been Griner's one weakness in college.
With Cambage honing her skills against the likes of Tina Charles, Sylvia Fowles, Lauren Jackson, etc while Griner is still going up against the average NCAA post player, Cambage will be a legitimate rival for Griner when she enters the league, though Griner's defensive ability will almost unquestionably be the thing that sets her apart down the road.
3) This will probably be the last Olympics for Duncanville's Tamika Catchings. What will be her legacy in the women's game?
WNBA.com had a piece comparing Catchings to LeBron James earlier this year and for basketball fans unfamiliar with the women's game that's a good place to start in understanding Catchings' legacy in the game.
She is routinely among the top 10 in multiple statistical categories, was named as one of the Top 15 WNBA players of All Time last year, just won her first MVP last season - and probably should've won more than one in her career - moved to the power forward spot this season, and just outworks her opponents on most possessions.
In a league where one dimensional players aren't very successful, Catchings personifies versatility and you have to start there with her legacy. If Catchings doesn't win a title in her career, she'll have a strong argument for the dubious distinction as the player with the best WNBA career never to win a title.
Independent of that, she's just an absolutely dominant player on both ends of the floor with a combination of athleticism, basketball IQ, and work ethic that is unparalleled and something we might not have the pleasure of seeing again - she might be the most under-appreciated athlete in U.S. professional sports today in terms of mainstream media attention.
4) What's going to be the key for the US to defeat France on Saturday? How big an upset would an American loss be?
France's depth helped them overcome Australia's size and talent in preliminary round play and they execute as consistently as anyone in the field and can score inside and out, which is why they're in the gold medal game.
The U.S. has made defense their identity thus far in the Olympics, but the key in every single game thus far has been moving the ball and attacking the basket instead of settling for jumpers - France is a team with the type of chemistry that could make things difficult if the U.S. falls into bad habits offensively.
To put a loss in perspective, the U.S. entered the London Olympics as the favorite to win their fifth straight gold, which would be unprecedented. They're riding a 40-game win streak with the win over Australia. Although they haven't gotten the same level of attention, a loss by the women's team would be a bigger upset than one by the men's at this point.
5) As you mentioned, Team USA will have won 41 straight Olympic games with a gold in London. How close is the rest of the world too catching up or do you think the next decade will look like the last in term of American dominance?
Just the fact that a few teams have given the U.S. a challenge illustrates that the world has gotten better in the past decade and other countries will continue to have that advantage of training time that the WNBA season just doesn't afford for the foreseeable future.
But in a sense the Australia game answers that question - that game followed a similar pattern to previous games (e.g. Czech Republic, Turkey) in that the U.S. dug themselves a hole early on, found a rhythm, and then just wore their opponent down with their depth of talent.
It's that depth of talent that will make things difficult on the rest of the world to catch up: in addition to players like Tina Charles, Sylvia Fowles, Angel McCoughtry Maya Moore, and Candace Parker - none of whom have hit their prime - the U.S. still has players like Griner, Skylar Diggins and Elena Delle Donne in the college ranks. No matter who ends up on the 2016 or 2020 rosters, it's hard to imagine anyone competing with that type of depth.
The fact that a few teams have challenged the U.S. early on this year suggests that the world will close the gap a bit over the next decade as more young players continue playing and aspiring to be the best, just as we've seen on the men's side since 1992 - the U.S. can't stay undefeated forever. But the U.S. still has so much talent that we're far from a time when they're not the heavy favorite for the gold medal.