USA unbeatable? 'No way,' says Coach K

BARCELONA, Spain -- Mike Krzyzewski let out an audible snort in disbelief almost as soon he heard the question.

Do you think, Coach, that this USA team is unbeatable?

"Oh, no," Krzyzewski said. "No. No.

"We're beatable. There's no question about it."

Krzyzewski's shock was understandable. That had to be one of the last things he ever expected to be asked at this 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, where almost all of the big-picture chatter surrounding Team USA has been centered on how beatable/vulnerable/susceptible this weakened roster will be when it's Spain, not Slovenia, on the other side of the floor.

It happened again Tuesday night, when Team USA inflicted a 119-76 quarterfinal hammering on Goran Dragic and the rest of the poor Slovenians, who trailed by a mere seven points at intermission until the youngest squad USA Basketball has fielded in a major tournament since pros were ushered into the world of international basketball in 1992 unleashed a 70-34 second half on them.

Yet the reviews, even after this 43-point triumph, were mostly unkind, thanks to the first-half offensive struggles and the need for amped-up defensive pressure to bail them out.

Dragic, when pressed to choose a favorite for Sunday's title game in Madrid that's widely expected to feature the host country and the NBA stars in red, white and blue, said: "So far, Spain."

Slovenia coach Jure Zdovc, within seconds of lauding the "power" on Krzyzewski's roster, then made the claim that Lithuania has the requisite size and skill to give Team USA serious trouble here in Thursday night's semifinals.

"They are a good team but not unbeatable," Zdovc said of the Americans. "It will be interesting to see this [semifinal] game."

Even USA's own Anthony Davis, unimpressed by his team's second-half eruption, told ESPN in a postgame interview that he couldn't give his squad more than a "B" when asked to grade the Yanks' first seven games in Spain.

"I think we're playing in spurts right now," Davis said.

They're certainly not inspiring the sort of fear factor you'd expect for a team sporting an average margin of victory in this tournament of 33.1 points. And that's because, for all of the unrivaled athleticism and depth that can ultimately wear down and pulverize thinner foes like Slovenia, hope is growing by the day in Spain that the host country isn't going to fall victim to the areas of American expertise.

Team USA's typically killer offensive rebounding, which in Tuesday's case created so many extra opportunities and negated so many of the good things Slovenia was doing in the first half, could well be neutralized by Spain's celebrated front line. And if it happens that way in the title game -- if Davis and Kenneth Faried can't be as effective offensively against Pau and Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka as they've been against everyone else -- Team USA's uneven guard play might finally be exposed.

Of course, if you believe Zdovc, even Lithuania has the size to counter Davis and Faried and ramp up the pressure on Team USA's backcourt, which certainly contributes plenty to the Americans' defensive swarms but hasn't flowed offensively like many expected.

I personally can't picture this version of Lithuania possessing enough firepower to mount a credible upset bid with no Linas Kleiza and point guard Mantas Kalnietis out injured. But I was also convinced that at least a couple of the guards by now -- among Kyrie Irving, Steph Curry, James Harden and Derrick Rose -- would really be clicking by this point. Klay Thompson, instead, might be the most reliable backcourt player on Team USA's roster thus far. There's also more one pass-and-shot stuff than you'd hope to see.

"They're good, very good," Dragic said. "The big guys under the basket ... [shooters] don't have pressure when they shoot because they know they will get second chances. But I think it's going to be hard against Spain.

"I'm not saying that [the] USA is not as good a team [as] Spain is. It's probably gonna be who has the best day."

It's probably going to take a lot more, against all of Spain's talent and collective experience -- on Spanish soil to boot -- than the defensive smothering that brought an end to the Dragic brothers' summer fairy tale with their national team.

Yet that's one premise Krzyzewski accepted long ago.

"We're a young team and that's why I was very pleased with how we handled things today," Krzyzewski said. "Because usually a young team would get really frustrated with the ball not going in [early] and it turned pretty physically. I asked them at halftime, I said I need you to be a mature team. And they were.

"We're not this powerhouse or anything. We have good athletic ability. We play hard defensively. But we're young. And I know internationally especially, it's tough to win young.

"I know that from 2006. That's a lesson we learned that the Greek team taught us how to play internationally. And a part of it was to play together, play with veterans and play with poise. And we're trying to get this with a young team."