February 10, 2014

#Spain2014: What you may have missed

Draw's over, we've had enough with pots -- eight of them -- in one week. Everyone's has had their piece with what has happened, so I won't have any of those. Instead, I'd pitch in where everybody else apparently missed.

First, FIBA changed the final round bracket. In 2010 the bracket was in one quarterfinal "group", there was a team from every prelim round group: for example, Serbia (1st in Group A), faced Croatia (4th in Group B) in the round of 16; the winner of that faces the winner of the Spain (2nd in Group D) vs. Greece (3rd in Group C) match. So as you can see, in those four teams, each one was from a unique group, and a unique seeding (1st-4th).

In 2014, they put all of the teams from Groups A and B in one half, and the Group C & D teams in the other.  So while in 2010, a team from Group A can expect to meet someone from Group B in the round of 16, then someone from either Group C or D in the quarterfinals, they can expect to meet exclusively teams from Groups A and B all the way up to the final.

What's so... big with that change? You'll see later.

Second, I've had our mock draws before, but I missed something: in 2010, FIBA had the seeded teams from the top 4 of their World Rankings; they did that too here. But, they made sure than the top 2 seeds won't meet until the final, by placing one of them in Group A, and the other in Group C.

You see what FIBA did there? They practically ensured a Spain vs. USA final, if both teams do make it that far.

What's in it for Gilas? Not so much, just that the Philippines won't play the USA unless they reach the final, which won't happen. But for other teams? A lot. You see, those teams from Group C and D, where the USA is bracketed, won't see themselves in the final, just by being drawn there. Before, you can be creative, and by creative, I mean tank, to wiggle yourself out of the USA's bracket. You can't do that now if you're in Group C and D because you'd go through the USA no matter what, if the USA progresses as far as you. Lithuanians are pretty pissed by this. They've been denied by the USA in the Olympics for like twice in the semifinals, thus missing the gold. This time, there's no escape.

Second, on the "group of death". This came in football's World Cup, where, in the latest format, the top 2 will progress from a a group 4. That means a third team can claim to be as strong as any of the two stronger teams. Now, for #Spain2014, people are saying that Group A, simply by having four strong teams, is the group of death. Here's where it gets interesting: can Iran and Egypt challenge any of the four strong teams? Probably not. So if those four strong teams are "assured" of progression, then why is it a group of death? And in any case, they'd probably see each other again in the quarterfinals.

So if Group A isn't the group of death, then which is? Group C has been the called "the group of life" because all teams have a chance of at least a final round appearance. So since the USA is a lock unless they send a team entirely made up of D-League players, this would be group of death, solely because of the uncertainty.

Third, on Gilas' chances. I've earlier said the safest bet for Gilas to qualify to the round of 16, and be massacred by the Group A winner, is to win two games, but the tiebreaker has to be favorable There are also an instance where three teams tied with 1 win, in 2010's Group C, made it. Again, the ties have to be favorable; in other words, the Philippines must beat the teams it is tied against, or at least not lose big. A glory win against a powerhouse will go to naught if the Gilas boys can't beat a weaker team, then lose out on tiebreakers, as what happened to Lebanon in 2006, where they beat France (and Venezuela), but lost out big vs. Nigeria to be eliminated on tiebreakers.

It's also a good idea to see how past Asian teams have fared in the World Cup. Let's see for example, Jordan in 2010. In 2009, the Philippines lost to Jordan in the quarterfinals, so we can see how Gilas would've fared. Jordan went winless: losing by 1 in Australia in the opener, and mostly blowouts thereafter, although they did lose by single digits to Argentina (Gilas' group mate). Lebanon won once in 2010, against Canada, and were eliminated; France made sure there were no upsets this time. Iran and China played, but I'm omitting them since Gilas haven't had a competitive game against Iran or china recently that was close, so we can't based their performances and compare it to the Philippines'.

What do we see from these results? Lebanon was able to beat weaker Americas teams; Venezuela and Canada, and Jordan was able to hang tough with an Australian team. What does this say? It means that the Philippines can beat a weak team from the Americas, and can be beaten by an African team. So the question would be, is Puerto Rico the "weak Americas team", and can Senegal be beaten?

That's for a future post.

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