Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

2015 FIBA Asia: Looking at the QF battle between Lebanon & the Philippines

Lebanon's Jean Abdel-Nour and Jay Youngblood talk during a lull in their battle with Jordan.

Looking at the QF battle between Lebanon & the Philippines
by rick olivares pic from fiba

One of the FIBA tournament’s hottest teams (second only to host China) goes up against a sputtering squad that has seen better days.

The Philippines, ranked #31 in the world, has won five straight after losing its opening assignment against Palestine. Lebanon, ranked three places behind the Filipinos, have not been the power they once were since Fadi El Khatib and Joe Vogel were in uniform. They are 3-3 heading into their quarterfinals match against the Filipinos. 

The Lebanese are making their first appearance in the FIBA Asia Championships after missing out the last tourney in Manila. Lebanon was suspend by the cage body for government interference in the national sports association’s affairs, hence, their missing out in the event despite finishing third in the West Asian cage championships.

In their return, the Cedars, as Lebanon is nicknamed, have struggled for they have a young squad (average of 26 years of age). The studs who led them to glory in recent years — Fadi El Khatib, Joe Vogel, Loren Woods, Matt Freije, Ali Mahmoud, and Rony Fahed have all retired from national team duty.

Its more recent stars, Jean Abdel-Nour and Rodrigue Akl have been struggling. Abdel-Nour, who inherited El Khatib’s spot at the three-spot has 7.5 points per game.

Filipinos got their first look at Abdel-Nour during the 2011 FIBA Asia Champions Cup held in Manila where Lebanon’s Al Riyadi won the championship over Mahram Iran. Abdel-Nour scored 21 points to back up El Khatib’s international swan song with 41 markers.

Naturalized player Jay Youngblood has carried Lebanon with 19.0 ppg with power forward Mohamad Haidar adding 14.3 points and 6.7 boards per game. Ahmad Ibrahim who also plays small forward and has only played in three matches, is outperforming Abdel-Nour with 12.3 points in 15 minutes per game (the latter plays over 25 minutes). Shooting guard Amir Saoud puts up 11.3 points per game while shooting 48% from three-point country.

Matching up against the Philippines:
Lebanon has a lot to be concerned about. 

They can score, no doubt, as the Cedars are the fourth highest scoring team in the tournament averaging 84.3 points per game. However, the Philippines is second behind Iran with 90.5

Defensively, head coach Vesselin Matic’s troops aren’t that great. The Lebanese are 10th in rebounding 39.8 boards an outing. The Filipinos on the other hand, grab 49.0 a match. That’s a 10 rebound difference.

They are one of the better squads in taking care of the ball as they commit 13.7 errors an outing. But the Philippines is one of the better ball handling teams as they only give the ball away 11.7 times a game.

But the greatest concerns for Matic (who coached Iran to the 2009 FIBA Asia Championship) is his team's propensity for endgame collapses.

In their six matches in the competition so far, the Cedars have been outscored in five of six last periods including overtime. Luckily, they tend to score a lot earlier providing them with a buffer to withstand those searing last ditch rallies.

The Filipinos, in their three matches of the second round saw them overhaul first half deficits. Once they took the lead they never let go.

As for the match-ups, can the Lebanese stop Jayson Castro and Andray Blatche? Do they have an answer for Terrence Romeo and Clvin Abueva who have proven to be impact subs for Philippines head coach Tab Baldwin.

Starting point guard Wael Arakji is only 21 years old. He will be matched up against Castro who is eight years his senior. The Lebanese guard stands 6’4” while his Filipino counterpart is 5’10”. Castro however is much much quicker and has a wealth of big game experience. Arakji averages 9.5 points and 3.2 assists while Castro scored 16.2 points and passes off 2.3 assists. Edge to Castro.

At shooting guard, Youngblood has the edge of Dondon Hontiveros with a stat live of 19.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, and 3.0 apg to the latter’s 6.2 ppg and 2.2 rpg. Edge to Youngblood.

At small forward, Abdel-Nour will go up against Gabe Norwood. Abdel-Nour has better stats than the Filipino but the latter is a defensive stopper. Edge to the Lebanese player but slightly.

At power forward, 6’8” Bassel Bawji scores 7.0 ppg and pulls down 5.8 boards an outing. Matched up against Marc Pingris who produces only 3.0 ppg and 2.5 rpg. Edge to Lebanon.

At center, the 6’8” Haidar (14.3ppg and 6.7 rpg) loses out to Blatche who norms 16.2 ppg and 8.0 rpg. Edge to the Philippines. 

Lebanon might have the edge with three starters but Castro and Blatche are arguably all-tournament.

Definitely, the battle will not be won on paper. Both teams have their own weapons. The Philippines though is the favorite to prevail because of their momentum and they are peaking at the right time. The bench that also delivers will also have a bearing on the outcome of the match in this win-or-go-home affair.

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