United States heads into Rio Olympics atop gold medal odds

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With Russia banned from track and field due to a doping scandal, medal projections for Olympic powers such as the United States and China must be adjusted accordingly.

There are almost as many ways to bet on the 2016 Rio Olympics, which commence Friday, as there are events in the Summer Games. To no surprise, the United States is a huge -600 favorite on the odds to win the most gold medals at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com, with China listed at +325. The absence of the Russian team will be a greater boon to the Americans, the stronger track-and-field nation, than it will be to China.

The over/under on the Americans’ performances are 42.5 gold medals and 103.5 total medals. Four years ago in London, the final tally was 46 and 103. Whatever the United States picks up in athletics could be handed back in the pool, where it might be in tough to pick up 30-some medals again. Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte and Missy Franklin are past their peaks, and neither American 4×100 freestyle relay is favored for gold.

In 2012, Great Britain’s heavy investment in Olympic sports paid off with 29 golds and 65 medals overall. Former host nations often get a bump for one or two cycles, but Britain’s total is 18.5 gold medals. That might be predicated on a belief it would be hard to win eight golds in cycling without home-soil advantage.

America’s northern neighbor, Canada, had just a single gold in 2012. However, having U.S. Women’s Open champion Brooke Henderson in the inaugural women’s golf tournament could help Canada beat its total of 2.5 golds. Canada has an over/under of 17.5 medals.

Usain Bolt is still just 30 years old, and is attempting to become the first man to win the 100 metres three times in a row, while also shooting for the sprinter’s hat trick of golds in the 100, 200 and 4×100 relay. Bolt is listed at -200 odds on the men’s 100-m futures board, with Justin Gatlin listed at +165 and Bolt’s Jamaican countryman Yohan Blake at +1100. Bolt is a bigger favorite for the 200 at -300, with Gatlin listed at +325 and American LaShawn Merritt at +750. Historically, repeat medal winners are more common in the 200.

Something to ponder is how much name recognition factors into props in certain events – as the saying goes, no one remembers No. 2. While Team GB’s Mo Farah, for instance, is -400 to defend his gold in the men’s 10,000, Kenyan Geoffrey Kipsang (+425) will have two teammates in the race to pressure the 33-year-old Farah.

Team USA strong favorite against Spain in Olympic basketball semifinals

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A Spain-USA matchup is expected in Olympic men’s basketball after gold-medal games in 2008 and 2012, but this time it’s taking place in the semifinal in Rio de Janeiro on Friday.

After coming under fire for showing a lack of killer instinct in the group stage, Team USA and Kevin Durant kicked their game up a notch on Wednesday with an 105-78 quarter-final blowout against Argentina, although it took until the last minute to secure a cover.

Team USA is now at -1200 (wager $1200 to win $100) on the odds to win the gold medal in men’s basketball at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com, with Spain listed at +1200. Fellow semifinalists Australia and Serbia respectively stack up at +1300 and +1800.

Team USA is favored by 15.5 points against Spain for Friday, and the total is set at 187.5 points. In those two Olympic finals, their winning margins were 11 and seven points.

The teams’ shooting percentages are near-identical, but the approaches differ. Team USA, which had Durant and Paul George take over the scoring against Argentina, counts on breaking teams down with their athleticism. Spain is more about execution in the half-court, and anyone from Pau Gasol to Rudy Fernandez to Nikola Mirotic can become the go-to scorer.

The game could likely boil down to who does the better job covering their defensive liabilities without overcompensating. Spain, with slow-footed Gasol at center, has suspect low-post defense that the USA guards can attack. The Americans’ defensive intensity has often been lacking, and good passing teams such as Spain tend to take advantage of that.

In those gold-medal games, both teams scored at least 100 points.

Meanwhile, Australia is a four-point favorite against Serbia, with a total of 164.5 points. Through a backcourt combo of Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova and a commitment to rugged defense, Australia has been the second-best team in Rio, and also won 95-80 when it played Serbia in the round-robin.

It is often tough to beat a good team twice in a row, but the Boomers are fully capable. Dellavedova and PG Damian Martin are defensive stoppers who can take a team out of rhythm, and Serbia will need to show a primary scoring option beyond Bogdan Bogdanovic.

The familiarity factor, and the high stakes, might keep the score down. Ultimately, Australia should be the fresher team, since Serbia’s Bogdanovic has carried his team’s offense and it’s fair to wonder how much energy they have left after a grueling quarter-final against central Europe arch rival Croatia.

USA men’s basketball looking vulnerable, still quarterfinal favorite vs. Argentina

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So much for being the only Olympic men’s basketball superpower – Team USA has been less than the sum of their parts after winning their last two games in Rio de Janeiro by only three points apiece.

Team USA’s margin of victory thus is 23.4 points, well below the respective 38.2 and 32.2 of their 2012 and 2008 counterparts. However, with the quarterfinals set for Wednesday at Carioca Arena, the Americans remain the -2000 favorite to win the gold medal at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

The gold medal futures board includes Spain at +1400, Australia at +2000, Serbia at +2200 and Lithuania at +2500.

The Americans are 23-point favorites for their quarterfinal against Argentina, and the total is 190.5. A team with Kevin Durant, Paul George and Draymond Green should win, but a cover might be daunting for a team that has yet to establish continuity. Argentina, bolstered by crafty NBA veterans such as Carlos Delfino, Manu Ginobili, Andres Nocioni and Luis Scola, has potential to stick around for three or more quarters.

Back-to-back silver medalist Spain is a 5.5-point favorite against France in the matchup that will decide who faces the U.S.-Argentina winner in the semifinals. The total is 154.5 points.

With Pau Gasol and Rudy Fernandez, Spain excels at getting and making open looks on offense. They are suspect defensively, and France with San Antonio Spurs PG Tony Parker – whose minutes have been rationed in the tournament – is capable of dictating the pace. With Nicolas Batum and Boris Diaw, France can also play physically.

On the other half of the bracket, Serbia is a 5.5-point favorite against arch rival Croatia, with a total of 157 points. The x-factor might well be Denver Nuggets F Nikola Jokic, who went off for 25 points when Serbia gave Team USA a scare last round. In a matchup of developing bigs, Jokic is just more polished than Croatia’s Dario Saric, who is joining the Philadelphia 76ers after the Olympics.

Patty Mills-fueled Australia is a 3.5-point favorite against Lithuania. The total is 158. Australia has overachieved so far in Rio, whereas Lithuania has underachieved. Mills and Matthew Dellavedova supply the 1-2 punch at point guard that is a necessity in international hoops. Dellavedova will probably be trusted to try and slow up Lithuania PG Mantas Kalnietis.

Each men’s semifinal is on Friday. Team USA has won five of six gold medals since 1992.