By this time, everyone knows who the 18 countries vying for three Olympic slots are. (in case you don’t know, they are France, Serbia, Italy, Canada, Czech Republic, Greece, Angola, Iran, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Croatia, Tunisia, Turkey, Japan, Latvia, Mexico, Senegal and the Philippines)
But this time, everyone would also know that we will be hosting one of the Olympic Qualifying Tournaments, a distinct honor and a tremendous advantage accorded to our basketball team.
With the draw looming in a few hours, let’s take a quick look at which teams would give us the better chance of winning the Manila leg.
Caveat: the Gilas lineup I’m using for this comparison includes not just a fit Andray Blatche, but also a fully healed Junemar Fajardo plus Jordan Clarkson.
But first, a look at the draw pots:
And now, analyzing the probable match ups:
POT 1 – Serbia is a host so we’ll never face them. It comes down to France vs Greece and while I would dearly love to see how Jayson Castro matches up against Tony Parker, how Terence Romeo will react to seeing Rudy Gobert in his path, how Ranidel de Ocampo will fare against Nicolas Batum, playing Greece is a much better option for us. Greece is a good team but they haven’t been as successful in the world stage as they were a decade ago. I’d say we lose big against the French but win by about 5-8 points versus Greece.
POT 2 – Italy is hosting a qualifier too so it’s down to the Czech Republic and Canada. Again, it goes down to Canada is the more mindblowing squad to play against (Andrew Wiggins vs Gabe Norwood, Tristan Thompson vs Junemar Fajardo) but playing the Czechs gives us a better chance of winning. Placing a respectable 7th at Eurobasket 2014, the Czechs have a couple of dangerous Euroleague stars like jan Vesely. Tomas Satoransky and Jiri Welsch. Again, I think we’d lose big against Canada but win by about 8 points against the Czechs.
POT 3 – As this is our pot, neither Japan nor Iran will be placed in the same group as us.
POT 4 – All three African teams are equally good so there’s really not much to separate them. However, if we had the choice, I say we wish for Senegal, a team with which we have some history with. Remember, in the 2014 FIBA World Championships, Senegalese basketball officials and players taunted SBP officials before the game, mocking them with chants to go home. Gilas got some payback by inflicting a loss on Senegal. Maybe it’s time Senegalese felt the heat from a hostile Filipino crowd. Also, I’m pretty sure Gilas players like Blatche, Fajardo, Castro and de Ocampo have not forgotten that incident. I predict we win over Senegal by 12 points.
POT 5 – Between Latvia, Croatia and Turkey, we better hope we don’t get Croatia. The Croats are a world-class team with versatile players who are deadly long range shooters and we’d never be able to match up with them. Turkey is likewise a difficult matchup, with skilled big men like Enes Kanter, Omer Asik and Ersan Ilyasova anchoring the Turkish frontline. Latvia is still an emerging European power, with Kristaps Porzingis being our nightmare match up. Which makes them our easiest opponent yet, as we’d need to figure out how to neutralize one superstar, as opposed to several. A win over Latvia by 5.
POT 6 – This pot is easily the weakest (aside from our pot). Mexico is the most dangerous team here so we can set them aside. I’d normally say we should play New Zealand but seeing as how I think we can beat Puerto Rico as well, we should wish for Puerto Rico. This will be payback for knocking us out of the group stages of FIBA World Championship, when JJ Barea went all amok on us. We win over Puerto Rico by 10.
So that’s my wishlist for the Manila leg of the Olympic Qualifier: Greece, Czech Republic, Senegal, Latvia, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. Here’s hoping we get the easy route to the Olympics.
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