The FIBA Group Phase refers to the preliminary round of play where 16 teams are grouped into brackets of four teams each. Starting on August 8, each team will play the other three group mates in their respective brackets. The top teams of each bracket automatically advances to the quarterfinals. The second and third place teams of each bracket will then form a pool of eight teams that will slug it out in the knockout playoff phase. The final four from this playoff bracket will proceed to battle the best of the brackets in the quarterfinals.
GROUP PHASE PROJECTIONS
PROJECTED GROUP A TOP DOG: IRAN (A1)
The first group is Iran’s to own, whether or not the monolithic Hamed Haddadi decides to play. Despite his inclusion in the roster, Haddadi is coming off an injury suffered from the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) and has not participated in Iran’s training camp and tune-up games. If he does suit up, Haddadi’s 7’2” frame alone provides instant defense as he'll form a formidable tandem with fellow 7-footer Rouzbeh Arghavan. Iran will mix in vets Arsalan Kazemi, Mohammad Jamshidi, and Oshin Sahakian to their winning recipe, as well as involve youth standouts in Vahid Dalirzahan, Keyvan Reaei, and Navid Rezaeifar. In short, armed with experience, youth, chemistry, and height, Iran should barely break a sweat at this stage of play.
Notable matchups for Group A: Iran vs. Jordan
PROJECTED GROUP B TOP DOG: CHINA (B1)
China—Gilas' first opponent on August 9—continues its 2017 Regional Intimidation Tour™, this time parading two national basketball teams that will eventually merge its most game-ready players for more high-profile tourneys.
China’s Team Blue will be spearheaded by the first ever Chinese Jordan brand endorser and wonderguard Guo Ailun, deadeye Li Gen, and swingman Zhou Peng. The absence of former NBA player Yi Jianlian and Houston Rockets draftee Zhou Qi hardly takes anything away from China’s monstrous frontcourt that will be bannered by Hu Jinqiu (6’11”), Li Muhao (7’2”), and Han Dejun (7’1”). A team this towering was obviously engineered to be competitive against debuting Oceania teams Australia and New Zealand. There’s no sugarcoating it—China will be, quite literally, the biggest threat in the tournament.
Notable matchups for Group B: China vs. Philippines
PROJECTED GROUP C TOP DOG: NEW ZEALAND (C1)
The Tall Blacks will be without Oklahoma Thunder center and Russ Westbrook partner-in-crime Steven Adams, the Webster brothers, and other established vets. Instead, New Zealand will field a surprisingly young team that features guard Shea Ili and forward Reuben Te Rangi as the only holdovers from the 2015 FIBA Oceania championships, as well as former U19 cadet Isaac Letoa. Their frontcourt will be bolstered by 6’11” center Sam Timmins, who shared the floor with top NBA draft pick Markelle Fultz for Washington. New Zealand will still sport their passionate defense, shooting, and perpetually Instagram-worthy Haka dance; but if there’s one bracket we feel is most unpredictable, this would be it—and it wouldn’t surprise us if a roaring South Korea team shoots their way to the top of the bracket.
Notable matchups in Group C: New Zealand vs. South Korea; South Korea vs. Lebanon
PROJECTED GROUP D TOP DOG: AUSTRALIA (D1)
The absence of San Antonio Spurs guard Patty Mills and professional elbow-throwers Matthew Dellavedova and Andrew Bogut shouldn’t deter any enthusiasm for Australia, who will instead be led by Olympians Brad Newley and David Andersen.
Newley in particular has produced eye-popping numbers this Australian National Basketball League (NBL) season, boasting Top 10 production in points and assists per game, as well as registering a solid 5 rpg, for the Sydney Kings. Guards Jason Cadee and Mitch Creek (both among ANBL's top 20 in scoring) will compete for playmaking minutes—and, maybe, the title for sleaziest '90s TV rom-com screen name. Not to be upstaged by China, Australia’s frontcourt will also include four centers at least 6’10” tall.
With height, size, and professional experience, they should dominate Group D and cruise to the finals, where a "Red Wedding"-esque bloodbath with China awaits. Plus, you just have to root for the team with a basketball player named “Brad”.
Notable matchups in Group D: Australia vs. Chinese Taipei, Chinese Taipei vs. Japan
MOST LIKELY GROUP PHASE UPSETS: South Korea/Lebanon over New Zealand
SECOND PHASE PROJECTIONS:
A2 JORDAN vs. B3 QATAR
Undying icon Sam Daghlas will continue to lead the Jordan squad into the fray, this time suited up on the sidelines as coach. Aiming to build on their surprise bronze finish in the FIBA Asia Challenge in 2016, Jordan will continue to tweak their team chemistry in time for 2017’s main show: the FIBA Asia Qualifier. Veterans Mohammad Hussein, Ali Jamal Zaghab, and Mousa Alawadi will anchor the team, but with the absence of naturalized talent, they will probably fall face first against New Zealand.
FHM pick: Jordan; will face New Zealand in QF
B2 PHILIPPINES vs. A3 INDIA
Gilas has been #blessed so far with a laughably short training camp, ongoing disputes with PBA teams regarding player availability, exhaustion from consecutive tournaments (Jones Cup, PBA, and FIBA), the flaky loss of former NBA center Andray Blatche, and the committed but unfortunately sidelined June Mar Fajardo.
It would be a massive understatement to say this will be an uphill battle for our national team. Silver linings include the swift un-retirement of Gilas legend Jayson Castro. The inclusion of R.R. Pogoy, Matt Wright, and Carl Bryan Cruz remains a question mark despite their impressive Jones Cup campaign. The FIBA Asia debut of Christian Standhardinger now becomes doubly significant with June Mar out. Gilas should still sneak into second place in the bracket if it loses to China in the Group Phase and should win this projected bout against India, but it will require a consistent effort on both ends of the floor. Despite positive support from fans, a nagging sentiment inevitably lingers: Is this the team we wanted to field or is it the one we had to?
FHM pick: Philippines; will face Australia in QF
C2 KOREA vs. D3 JAPAN
Composed mostly of players who participated in the 2016 FIBA Asia Challenge in Tehran and the recently concluded Jones Cup, South Korea will continue to rely on its well-oiled offense as they go against their own mirror image in Japan. Predicated on patience, spacing, and balanced scoring across its rotation, Korea will have to master its own fundamentals in order to beat Japan at their own game. While this team is different from the one Gilas beat in 2013, Korea’s insistence to look for the open shot should make them a consistent threat right until they face the big, bad Iranian roadblock up ahead.
FHM pick: South Korea; will face Iran in QF
D2 CHINESE TAIPEI vs. C3 LEBANON
Without naturalized center Quincy Davis, Chinese Taipei will probably have a rough go at this tournament, where they will face a very hungry Lebanese team led by 2015 debutant and NCAA Division II forward Ali Haidar. The hometown heroes will have the advantage of a cacophonous Beiruti crowd. Chinese Taipei will try to conquer odds with its trademark chemistry, having fielded the same players for the EABA, Jones Cup, and now FIBA. Lebanon will also have a rather small lineup, with its tallest center measuring 6’8”—which means even if they register a decisive win against Taiwan, they will succumb to the inevitable China meetup in the quarterfinals.
FHM pick: Hometown team Lebanon, by a hair; will face China in QF
MOST LIKELY SECOND PHASE UPSETS: Chinese Taipei over Lebanon, Qatar over Jordan
IRAN VS. KOREA
The perennial podium finishers of Asia clash in a battle of national pride amidst a changing competitive landscape. Iran’s versatile and crafty roster anchored by Haddadi should prove to be a fun match against Korea’s lights-out shooting; but if Haddadi comes in less than optimal for this tournament, this might feel more engaging than it needs to be.
FHM pick: Iran, by a hair
CHINA VS. LEBANON
Whoever wins between Chinese Taipei and Lebanon matchup will only fall to China moving forward. Niether team has the height nor depth to be competitive against China for long stretches. The only way anyone can hope to beat this squad is if they shoot incredibly well from long range—which is definitely do-able—and if China shoots horribly. The chances both happening, however, are slim.
FHM pick: China, by a continent
NEW ZEALAND VS. JORDAN
Since New Zealand will be looking to get their players’ feet wet in these stages, expect the Tall Blacks to go at Jordan at full, unadulterated speed. Their length, height, and speed might be too much for an overachieving Jordan team to get over, even with their coach Daghlas whispering voodoo magic trickery during timeouts.
FHM pick: New Zealand, by the length of Steven Adams’s mustache
AUSTRALIA VS. PHILIPPINES
This is it. Can you see it? Down two, with 10 seconds left, Jayson Castro drives to the basket to shoot a contested layup, misses. Standhardinger caroms the magical offensive rebound amidst the huge Australian frontcourt, and proceeds to make an bullet pass to Matthew Wright who, with two ticks remaining, shoots a gasp-inducing dagger from beyond the arc to put Gilas up one as time expires. We can dream, can’t we?
FHM pick: Australia
IRAN VS. CHINA
Ginebra versus Star. Empoy vs. John Lloyd. Haddadi versus the three-headed hydra. This match up should be a sight to behold. With Haddadi’s age and injury history, this will probably be the moment Iran bows out of tournament, as China’s simply built to exterminate, extinguish, and exhume body parts. We’re fully expecting this to be a highly physical matchup.
FHM pick: China, with more than a few flung elbows
AUSTRALIA VS. NEW ZEALAND
Remix! The tournament eases the new era in by teasing an age-old matchup between House Tall Black and House Down Under. New Zealand’s relative inexperience should be revealed in full glory against an Olympians-led banner squad from Australia, and will probably have to add another notch in the loss column against eternal blood brothers.
FHM pick: Australia, with a slew of profanity-laden slurs we will probably never hear live
AUSTRALIA VS. CHINA
NBA caliber talent versus Olympics-tested talent; what’s not to love? We’d rather not pick a side since we prefer to witness the best of Asian basketball But since we’re definitely out of the running at this stage, we probably would not care as much.
FHM pick: Whatevs; let’s face it—one of these teams will beat us (again!) in the FIBA Qualifiers in November