#FIBAAsi2015 Semifinals Previews

Only two remain! Who will make it to the tournament Final? Will it be upstart Japan, who’s the only lower seed to make it out of the quarterfinals? Will it be host team China, the only remaining unbeaten squad? Will it be defending champion Iran, who seem to have regained their bearings? Or will it be the Philippines, who have won six straight matches in pulsating fashion?

Let’s see!

The following are adapted from the Semi-Finals Previews on FIBA.com (which I wrote :P).

CHINA x IRAN - Who will survive this clash of titans?!
These are the two countries who have been the most dominant in Asian basketball for the past 15 or so years. The last eight FIBA Asia Championship crowns, in fact, have been shared between these two teams. China won in 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, and 2011, while Iran won it in 2007, 2009, and 2013. 

China’s outlook: One look at the size of China’s frontline and it’s obvious that this team was built specifically to counter Iran, or, in particular, Hamed Haddadi. With four guys taller than 210cm, the Chinese have more than enough warm bodies to bang against Team Melli’s bigs. Perhaps more than that, however, the key thing for China will be their guard play. Guo Ailun is expected to be Team Dragon’s lead playmaker, and he will need to bring his A-game against one of Asia’s best, Mahdi Kamrani. If Guo can be equal parts aggressive and effective, China should be in good shape.

Iran’s outlook: Ever since their loss to the Philippines, Iran have been in a vengeful mood, and they certainly won’t let up against the hosts. Mohammad Hassanzadeh has been a revelation for them, and he will need to continue playing well to give Haddadi some help up front. Needless to say, veterans Mahdi Kamrani, Hamed Afagh, and Samad Nikkhah Bahrami will all need to play efficient, steady basketball if Team Melli are to pull the rug from under the Chinese. The home team will be coming into this match supremely confident, so Iran will need to match their energy.

Key Match-Up: There is no bigger match-up here than between the two giants in the middle — Yi Jianlian and Hamed Haddadi. By far, Yi has been the better performer so far, averaging 18.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 1.0 steal per game. Haddadi, meanwhile, has been putting up 11.0 points and 7.3 rebounds per outing — pedestrian by his standards. If Haddadi can come up with production that negates Yi’s, guys like Bahrami and Kamrani have the capability to outplay the rest of the Chinese squad.

GILAS PILIPINAS x JAPAN - Can the Philippines survive Japan a second time?
Team Hayabusa and Gilas Pilipinas already met earlier in this tournament, with the Filipinos winning a close one, 73-66, thanks to Andray Blatche’s double-double performance. Now they’re back at it, but this time for much higher stakes.

Japan’s outlook: With so many key players missing, Japan weren’t expected to go this far in the tournament. Coach Kenji Hasegawa’s wards have defied the odds, though, and here they are, among the last four. Joji Takeuchi and Makoto Hiejima have consistently been Team Hayabusa’s main weapons, but veterans Yuta Tabuse and Takatoshi Furukawa will be relied on to deliver the goods as well.  Without a doubt, Takeuchi and Co. will have their hands full against Blatche, who just unloaded a whale of a game against Lebanon. If Japan’s outside game is on-point and they can somewhat limit Blatche’s production, they may just pull the rug from under the Philippines.

Philippines’ outlook: The Philippine team’s win over Lebanon wasn’t as pulsating as their previous ones, but they will take it anyway. It was a grind-it-out affair that ended when Gilas Pilipinas was able to weather Lebanon’s last ditch rally. Coach Tab Baldwin will certainly go to his main guns again — Blatche, Jayson Castro, and Terrence Romeo, but expect Asi Taulava to make an appearance in an effort to try and contain Joji Takeuchi, who has been a double-double machine for Team Hayabusa. The Filipinos have to play exceptional perimeter defense, too. They cannot allow guys like Makoto Hiejima, Daiki Tanaka, and Takatoshi Furukawa to heat up, or they’ll be in for a very long night. 

Key Match-Up: The match-up of Takeuchi and Blatche will be front and center, but another critical pairing is between Hiejima and Castro. Hiejima has quietly been among this tournament’s most productive players, and he’s not the type who will shy away from the challenge to trying to stop someone like Castro, who has been on a personal mission to lead the Philippines back to the Olympics. Whoever can produce more fluid playmaking and explosive scoring should be able to prop his team’s chances up significantly.




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