It was Chalk City in the Olympic quarterfinals. Will Friday's Final Four twinbill prove any different? Is a Spain-U.S. final inevitable, or will an underdog crash Sunday's gold-medal game? Here's a quick glance at the semis, where the winners can guarantee themselves a medal:
Spain (5-1) vs. Lithuania (5-1), 8 a.m. ET
Two of Europe's most decorated sides on the continental and world stages meet in the first semifinal. The Spanish are reigning world champs, with runner-up finishes at three of the past five EuroBasket tournaments. Meanwhile, the Lithuanians have medaled at three of the past four Olympics, adding a third European championship trophy to their silver case in 2003. They've both lived up to their traditions in Beijing, finishing group play with identical 4-1 marks and winning their quarterfinal matches comfortably.
Spain's deep and talented roster features seven current or former NBA players, including Pau Gasol, who earned his 100th cap for the national team in Wednesday's quarterfinal victory over Croatia, celebrating the occasion with 20 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. But what tiny Lithuania (pop. 3.5 million) lacks in Stateside name recognition -- its only two players with NBA experience are former Pacers and Warriors guard Sarunas Jasikevicius and current Nuggets forward Linas Kleiza -- it compensates for with hard work and a team-driven, equal-opportunity offensive approach. (And it's worked: Lithuania is the tournament's third-highest-scoring team, after the U.S. and Australia, without having a single player among the top 15 scoring leaders.) But Spain's loss to the U.S. on Saturday was just its third defeat in international play since 2005, along with a pair of one-point losses to Croatia and Russia in 2007. Lithuania should push the Spanish into the second half but won't be able to overcome its opponent's depth advantage over 40 minutes.
Prediction: Spain 88, Lithuania 80
United States (6-0) vs. Argentina (5-1), 10:15 a.m. ET
They're best known as the Redeem Team, but wouldn't the Ghostbusters be more appropriate? The Americans have stared down their demons throughout the Olympic tournament, avenging their shocking loss to Greece in the 2006 FIBA World Championship and undressing world champion Spain, which many observers considered equal or superior to the Americans. Next stop on Exorcism Tour '08 is Argentina, a group that defeated the United States at the Athens Olympics and the 2002 worlds.
Manu Ginobili is the motor for the Albiceleste, as his game-high 24 points and gutsy fourth-quarter performance against Greece on Tuesday would indicate. Carlos Delfino, Andres Nocioni and Luis Scola are NBA-proven talents who have helped shoulder the offensive load throughout the tournament. The Argentines have made more three-pointers (59) than any other team in Beijing. If they catch fire from beyond the arc, take care of the basketball, slow the tempo to minimize their opponent's depth advantage, catch the U.S. on a poor shooting night and carry a lead into the second half, they might be able to tighten up an American team that has yet to face a gut-check situation in this tournament.
But the reality appears grim: The U.S. has averaged 105.2 points in its six victories, rolling by an average margin of 32 points. The Americans have shot 64.7 percent from the floor, an outrageously high clip. LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard have taken turns looking like the single most dominant basketball player in the world. Considering Team USA's form throughout this tournament and its dozen-deep stable, Argentina would be fortunate to keep this result within single digits.
Prediction: United States 105, Argentina 84
What are you expecting in the semifinals? Let us know below.