Gilas Pilipinas came into the FIBA Asia Championships with the lofty goal of finishing #1 in their bracket, so that they can avoid host China in the crossover semifinal round. It was a lofty goal because they needed to win over Iran, a team that has consistently dominated Gilas in the last decade or so.
And when they lost their opening day match to Palestine, many took it to be an indication of Gilas’ quality, that they didn’t have the talent, the will or the smarts to get to where they needed go be.
One week later, the story has become completely different; as Gilas not only managed to win the games they were expected to win (against Japan and India) but also that crucial game versus Iran. Palestine, after a blazing started, faltered and crashed out of the knockout rounds.
As the top seed in Group E, Gilas is slated to go up against the fourth seed in Group F, Lebanon. While it is normal to expect a top seed to make quick work of a fourth seed, this FIBA Asia Championships have been anything but normal.
From the early exit of Chinese Taipei (ranked #4 right before the start of the tournament) to the surprising success of Hong Kong and Palestine, this tournament has shown that rank means nothing and that the game must be won on the court, not on paper or on reputation.
Lebanon’s FIBA Asia tourney has been one of ups and downs. Winning over Chinese Taipei was a surprise, but they couldn’t translate that to wins over Qatar or South Korea. But this squad has shown speed, shooting and tenacity when it was needed and they could pose a big problem to Gilas. So for those expecting an easy win, here are some match ups to watch out for (and hopefully, temper your expectations).
MATCH UPS TO WATCH OUT FOR
JJ Youngblood vs Gabe Norwood/Calvin Abueva – Youngblood is one of Lebanon’s best scoring options, scoring an average of 19ppg, adding 4 rebounds and 3 assists. At 6’4”, he’s a shooting guard with good size, which leads me to believe that while Hontiveros will start on him, the primary defensive player on him will be either Norwood or Abueva. Both are tenacious defenders who can chase Youngblood around the floor while being athletic enough to force Youngblood to shoot over them. On the other side of the fence, Norwood won’t be a very big factor on offense but Abueva can certainly make Youngblood sweat on defense.
Mohamad Ali Haidar vs Andray Blatche – Haidar is Lebanon’s go-to big man, a skilled offensive player who basically has to carry the offense of the entire Lebanese frontline. He’s averaging 14.6 ppg as well as 6.7 rebounds. Blatche, of course, is one of Gilas’ main guns, averaging 16.2 points as well as 8 rebounds per game. It’s going to be an interesting match up, with both able to hit from the three point line and drive to the rim for easy twos.
Amir Saoud vs Jayson Castro – Saoud is Lebanon’s 6-foot guard who has shown remarkable improvement game upon game. After going 0-2 in Lebanon’s first game, he’s since gone on to score 10, 14, 14, 10 and finally, 20 points in a crucial match versus Jordan. Castro is, of course, Asia’s best point guard and he’s been turning in a performance that is cementing his reputation as that. He’s tied with Blatche as Gilas’ top scorer (16.2) and has also contributed 2.3 assists per game. While neither man is a lockdown defender, they are both competent on defense. They are also both creative scorers. To break the deadlock, one of them will either have to be more disruptive on defense or even more unstoppable on offense.
Gilas 85, Lebanon70.
I think Castro and Romeo continue on their scoring sprees, Blatche negates Haidar, and the depth of Gilas’ bench eventually grinds down Lebanon.
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