2014 Asian Games Micro-Preview Part 2: The Preliminaries

The first three days of hoops in the 2014 Asian Games are done. Four teams have bid adieu (Hong Kong, Maldives, Palestine, and Saudi Arabia), while four others joined the eight pre-qualified teams in the second phase of the competition, which is also called the Preliminary Round. In this round, the twelve remaining countries are divided into four different groups, and each group will go through a single-round-robin format of play. This means each team only has two games to play before either moving on to the quarterfinals or packing their bags for home.

Needless to say, each game is going to be huge in this round. One loss puts a huge amount of pressure on any team, while it’s also very possible to have a three-way 1-1 tie in a group.

It can definitely get pretty wild.

What makes this round even more interesting is that many of the teams are relatively on the same level (perhaps with the exception of FIBA Asia champion Iran). Heck, even defending Asian Games champion China didn’t send its deepest possible team. Even the Koreans aren’t clear-cut favorites to win gold in spite of the fact they’re playing on home soil. Not having their ideal naturalized players has also gutted teams like Jordan, Taiwan, and the Philippines. In general, we should see a lot more unpredictability starting in this round.

Can PBA MVP June Mar Fajardo compensate for the absence
of NBA player Andray Blatche?
(image from FIBA)

Here are the final Preliminary Round Groupings:

Group C: China, Taiwan, and Kazakhstan.

Group D: South Korea, Jordan, and Mongolia.

Group E: Iran, Philippines, and India.

Group F: Japan, Qatar, and Kuwait.

The top two teams in each group will advance to the quarterfinals, while the last-placed teams will be eliminated. The advancing teams will be divided into two quarterfinals groups – Group G & Group H.

In the quarterfinals, Groups G & H will have another single-round-robin series of games. The top two in each group will advance to the crossover knockout semifinals, while the bottom two in each group will vie in the consolation rounds. Predictably, winners in the semifinals will proceed to battle for the gold medal in the championship game, while losers will fight for the bronze medal.

Now let’s take a quick look at the Preliminary Round Groups.

Group C:
China roster here.
Taiwan roster here.
Kazakhstan roster here.

Outlook: I’m actually picking Taiwan to be the favorite in this group, if only because they have a solid roster packed with veterans. With the exception of Ke Chi-Hao, Liu Cheng, and Wu Tai-Hao, the Taiwanese team here is the same team that played in Manila last year and upset a stronger Chinese team in the quarterfinals. The Taiwanese also recently finished a strong second in the 2014 FIBA Asia Cup held in Wuhan, China with their “Team B,” so this team, at least on paper, certainly has the makings of a title contender. The only weakness of Taiwan is not having Quincy Davis, who has anchored the middle solidly in the past year. In his place is the returning Wu, who is just about the same size as Davis, but he definitely doesn’t have the same skill-set or natural physical gifts.

This could be a big problem, especially when Taiwan goes up against China’s young but very tall frontline. Remember the names Wang Zhelin and Zhou Qi, who are being touted as the heirs to the duo of Yi Jianlian and Wang Zhizhi. If the Taiwanese can wax hot from long range, however, then it’s probably lights out for both China and Kazakhstan no matter what they do. What’s going for China, aside from its size, is youth. Rising stars Guo Ailun and Zhou Peng, both veterans of the 2013 FIBA Asia, are sure to be the leaders of this team. Guo is a whirlwind who can score in bunches, while Zhou, on a good day, can score from practically anywhere on the court.

Young big man Wang Zhelin could prove to be a match-up
nightmare against any of China's foes.
(image from FIBA Asia)

Kazakhstan is undeniably the dark horse here. Though coach Vitaly Strebkov’s wards are capable of springing an upset or two, their backs will be against the wall against either China or Taiwan. Without naturalized PG Jerry Johnson, the onus will be on Timur Sultanov and Rustam Murzagaliev to call the shots for the Kazakhs, and that will be a tough thing to do against the deeper backcourts of the two other squads. If guys like Anatoliy Kolesnikov, Dimo Klimov, and Anton Ponomarev can catch fire, though, then anything can happen.

Projection: Taiwan and China advance, with Taiwan topping the group.

Group D:
South Korea roster here.
Jordan roster here.
Mongolia roster here.

Outlook: With Mongolia’s inexperience and Jordan’s not having the services of Gabe Freeman, South Korea surely has the clear path to dominating this group and moving on to the quarterfinals unscathed. Simply put, even without projected naturalized prospect Aaron Haynes, the home team is just too good for either Jordan or Mongolia to beat. Yes, even if star guard Kim Min-Goo and star big man Lee Seung-Jun aren’t around, the Koreans should be the undisputed top team in Group D. The returning Moon Tae-Jong easily slides into the spot that should have been for Haynes, while Park Chan-Hee and the comebacking Oh Se-Keun should make it less difficult to dwell in the absences of Kim and Lee. This is definitely a more seasoned team compared to the one coach Yoo Jae-Hak took to Manila last year, and that means potentially fewer miscues from this bunch. Gone are greenhorns Moon Seong-Gon and Choi Jun-Yong, who have been replaced by NT veterans Yang Hee-Jong and Heo Il-Young. From top to bottom, this squad is just stacked and ready to try and snare the gold medal.

Moon Tae-Jong is expected to play a major role
for South Korea in Incheon.
(image from Jumpball.co.kr)

Jordan, meanwhile, should be very competitive and is favored over Mongolia to finish behind Korea in this group. Even without Freeman, who would’ve definitely upped the competitiveness of Al Nashama in this tourney, coach Rajko Toroman’s crew still has enough depth and size to upend the feisty Mongolians. The addition of legendary playmaker Sam Dahglas should have given Jordan a lot more talent and experience, but coach Rajko will just have to make do with Wesam Al-Sous and Mahmoud Abdeen calling the shots in the backcourt. The much-improved Ahmad Al-Dwairi, meanwhile, should be this team’s primary scoring option around the basket.

Projection: South Korea and Jordan advance, with the Koreans easily topping the group.

Group E:
Iran roster here.
The Philippines roster here.
India roster here.

Outlook: The only thing holding me back from saying that Iran is the runaway favorite in Group E is the fact that star power forward Arsalan Kazemi is not in the roster. Kazemi, who was drafted in the NBA this year, played well for Team Melli in the 2014 FIBA Asia Cup and 2014 FIBA World Cup, but he is strangely absent from the final roster here in Incheon. Whether that’s due to chemistry issues or something else should be left to speculation, but the fact is his absence means this team’s depth chart just got a lot more shallow. That’s not to say Iran is in deep trouble, but they’ll definitely miss Kazemi when push comes to shove against the bigger teams in the tournament. Still, with the veteran core of Hamed Haddadi, Samad Nikkhah Bahrami, Hamed Afagh, and Mahdi Kamrani leading this squad, coach Memi Becirovic can expect to go deep in the competition. Going up against Gilas Pilipinas just got easier without Andray Blatche around, while India shouldn’t pose as a big threat, especially given how Scott Flemming’s boys have been inconsistent so far.

Iran's Arsalan Kazemi will definitely be missed in Incheon.
(image from FIBA Asia)

Speaking of Gilas, coach Chot Reyes has his work cut out for him. His team got plastered by Iran in the FIBA Asia Cup and barely won over India in the same tournament. Sure, Gilas is on a high after a sterling showing in Spain, but without BOTH Blatche and star PG Jayson Castro, it will definitely be a more difficult uphill battle this time around. The guard play of veterans Jimmy Alapag and LA Tenorio, along with young spitfire Paul Lee, will be the most critical factor for the Filipinos. If the guards can set things up well for the team’s shooters and find their bigs in their sweet spots, then Gilas can contend for the gold, but anything less will probably lead to heartbreak for the passionate Pinoys.

India is a huge underdog in this group, but that’s not to say they can’t win. Their beating China earlier this year and sticking close to Gilas means these Indians can hang with the best of the continent. If guys like Joginder Singh and Vishesh Bhriguvanshi can find their marks from the perimeter and inside operators Amrtipal Singh and Amjyot Singh play solidly, then India has an outside chance of making the final eight.

Projection: Iran and the Philippines advance, with Iran topping the group.

Group F:
Japan roster here.
Qatar roster here.
Kuwait roster here.

Outlook: Kenji Hasegawa is under a lot of pressure to make Team Hayabusa produce something inspiring in this competition. With the Japanese Basketball Association muddling things up at home (and FIBA taking notice), Hasegawa definitely has to give his countrymen something behind which they can rally. It won’t be easy, though, as the Japanese haven’t exactly had good results so far this year. They had a losing record (3-4) in the 2014 FIBA Asia Cup and finished without a single win in the 2014 Jones Cup (0-7). Still, in this group at least, Japan should be a favorite to advance. The towering twins, Kosuke and Joji Takeuchi, along with streak-shooter Kosuke Kanamaru, should be the bulwarks of this team, while sniper Naoto Tsuji, speedster Yuki Togashi (who played in the NBA Summer League), and Euro-based Takumi Ishizaki should provide stability in the backcourt. Hasegawa’s life won’t be easy in Incheon, but he does have some tools to make something special happen.

Yuki Togashi is one of the guys to watch on the Japanese roster.
(image from the Jones Cup)

Qatar has also been on the back foot in terms of its basketball program, as they haven’t really been able to bring in significantly promising young talent in the past handful of years. The establishment of NBA draftee Tanguy Ngombo’s ineligibility in 2011 set back the development of Qatar’s basketball program significantly, while the over-reliance on hastily-naturalized players (hello, Jarvis Hayes) has adversely affected the team’s chemistry and continuity. Despite these pitfalls, however, Qatar should still be a solid choice to come out of this group and advance. The addition of Boney Watson (a veteran of Qatar’s 3x3 teams) is a boon, since it takes the burden off Daoud Musa Daoud in the playmaking department. Daoud can now play his more natural SG position alongside Khalid Suliman Abdi, while old-timer bigs Erfan Ali Saeed, Omar Salem, Yasseen Musa, and Mohamed Yousef Mohamed (nobody among the four is younger than 31) take turns patrolling the paint.

Kuwait will try to compete with the combination of Ahmad Al-Baloushi, Abdullah Al-Shammari, and 6’8 Saleh Al-Brahim, but the fact of the matter is they’ll have to drop really big games to make any kind of noise here.

Projection: Japan and Qatar advance, with Qatar easily topping the group.

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2 Comment

Is an intelligent move for Gilas to just target a win vs. India and lose to Iran in order to hide the REAL game plan against Iran if they face in semis or finals?


it's funny because chinese taipei just lost to kazakhstan. looks like they won't advance to the next round