In what was essentially a two-game group stage after three opening contests against overmatched foes, the U.S. World University Games team surprisingly crashed out of medal round play on Friday after suffering a second consecutive defeat, this one coming 94-85 to Canada. This loss follows a similar 93-84 setback to Australia yesterday, and leaves the U.S. in third place in the group, with only the top two teams advancing to the quarters.
When I covered a couple days of the trials in Colorado Springs, Colo., the team appeared to be light on perimeter shooting, at least in the traditional sense coming from guards. The wing and frontcourt shooters held up their end of the bargain in both losses, though. The U.S. made 10-of-25 threes against Australia and then connected on a gaudy 15-of-32 against Canada, with Doug McDermott making 9-of-19 tries in the two games and Luke Hancock connecting on five of his six tries this morning.
The team's issues, on both ends of the court, lay closer to the basket. The U.S. was played to a standstill on the glass in both games and was hurt badly by both Australia and Canada in terms of points conceded in the paint. Team USA didn't defend the arc well, either, and the U.S. allowed 1.21 and 1.16 points per possession in the defeats. On offense, the U.S. didn't finish well around the rim, a large factor in the combined 34-of-87 shooting from two-point range in the two losses. Combine everything, and you have an early exit.
The defensive, (relative) rebounding and inside finishing woes give reason to question Bob McKillop and Co.'s decision to rely primarily on Cory Jefferson at the 5, leaving very few minutes for either Adreian Payne or Alex Kirk. Payne played just 20 minutes in the two defeats and Kirk just two, including a DNP against Australia while New Mexico teammate Cameron Bairstow carved the U.S. up with 22-9-5. Kirk tweeted after the Australia game that he wasn't injured, so whether he ultimately just was a poor fit for McKillop's system or something else was going on, the U.S.'s decision to play smaller and less physical players for two straight games clearly didn't work out. The team will continue on in the consolation bracket, but can finish no higher than 9th place in the tournament.