#Rio2016: Asian teams have backs against the wall in Rio 2016

Zhou Qi (CHN)
(image from FIBA)
*This first appeared on my weekly column on FIBA.com.

Team USA won’t have some of their biggest names (e.g. LeBron James, Stephen Curry, James Harden or Russell Westbrook), but they are still the overwhelming favorites to clinch the gold medal in the Men’s Basketball Tournament of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil . The same can be said for the Americans’ women’s team, who should be led by the likes of Diana Taurasi, Lindsay Whalen and Brittney Griner. Our beloved Asian teams, on the other hand, have their backs against the proverbial wall.

China’s men’s team are in Group A with Australia, France, Serbia, Venezuela and no less than Team USA. Two seems to be the magic number of wins to advance to the next round, and early on, it looks like China will be fighting with Venezuela just to avoid the group’s cellar position. As for the women’s sides, Japan look to contend for the second round if they do well in Group A, which they share with world #2 Australia, Belarus, Brazil, France and Turkey. China’s own women’s team, which are bracketed with Canada, Senegal, Serbia, Spain and Team USA, is sure to have it tough.

Let’s look at each Asian team’s rosters and outlook a little more closely.

Head coach Gong Luming is bringing with him most of the same team that won the FIBA Asia Championship on home soil last year. This means that Yi Jianlian and Guo Ailun will be leading the squad along with recent NBA draftees Zhou Qi and Wang Zhelin.

The additions this year are young guns Sui Ran in the backcourt and Zou Yuchen up front. They replace veteran Liu Wei and shooting guard Zhao Tailong.

The other players completing coach Gong’s roster are: Ding Yanyuhang, Li Gen, Li Muhao, Zhai Xiaochuan, Zhao Jiwei and Zhou Peng.

Much of China’s chances hinge on their huge frontline. Unsurprisingly, Yi has been the team’s stalwart on both ends. The former NBA player has the most complete skill-set of any Chinese big man, and this he has shown in their preparation games. Zhou has a lot of upside because of his length and timing on the defensive end, but he doesn’t offer much in terms of offensive firepower. Because of this, one of the main decisions coach Gong has to make in each game is whether he is willing to sacrifice a bit of his offense for Zhou’s rebounding prowess and rim protection. Many see Zhou as possibly walking the same path as iconic giant Yao Ming, but the young Zhou is yet to prove himself at the world level. If he does well here, however, then he may just turn some heads and help China pull the rug from one or more teams just like they did in 2004 and 2008.

A photo posted by Jianlian (@yi_jl) on

China did pretty well in the Women’s OQT this year, beating Venezuela, 77-59, and tough Belarus, 84-70, en route to qualifying for Rio. Shao Ting and Nan Chen were the chief instigators of China’s great play in that tourney, and both are expected to play major roles again as coach Tom Maher hopes to match or even surpass the team’s all-time best finish of fourth place back in 2008. Size will be a big factor for the Chinese, with Nan probably teaming up with Lu Wen, Gao Song and Sun Mengran to score in the box and collar the rebounds.

Group B is going to be quite a challenge for coach Maher’s ladies, though, especially with the presence of powerhouse squads Spain and Team USA. Still, China should have a fair chance against Canada, Senegal and Serbia. If China’s veterans are able to play at their peak and their frontline is able to hold down the fort, anything can happen.

As good as China are, Asia’s best bet for a podium finish rests with the Japanese, who are among the favorites to advance from Group A. The back-to-back FIBA Asia Women’s Champions have played well in their preparation games, and they enter Rio with a ton of momentum and confidence.

Much of the focus will be on WNBA player Ramu Tokashiki and crafty playmaker Asami Yoshida, but other threats like Mika Kurihara, Sanae Motokawa and Rui Machida should not be overlooked by other teams.

Coach Tomohide Utsumi’s crew are drawn in the same group as Belarus, Turkey, France, Brazil and Australia. All of those teams are easily much bigger than the Japanese, but, with the exception of maybe Australia and France, hardly any team plays at the same breakneck pace and with the same sharp shooting as the Akatsuki Five. As long as his top guns stay healthy and on target, coach Utsumi can look forward to a fruitful experience in the Olympics.




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