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Looking at India ahead of its clash with the Philippines
by rick olivares
There have been a couple of huge upsets in this FIBA Asia.
There was that opening day 75-73 shocker that Palestine pulled on the Philippines. And there was that 72-64 eyebrow-raiser that an already eliminated Chinese Taipei fashioned over over erstwhile unbeaten Qatar. And last Sunday, there was India winning one of its biggest games in its young basketball history with a 73-70 victory over a Palestine squad that swept its first round assignments.
India finished the 2013 FIBA Asia Championships, 11th in a 15-team field with a 2-6 record winning its two matches by an average of 17.0ppg and losing its six other assignments by an average of 23.8ppg.
In that tournament, six-foot-three forward Vishesh Bhriguvanshi led India in scoring with 13.1 ppg and 5.8 rpg while 6’8” center Amjyot Singh normed 9.6 ppg and 6.8 rpg.
In the 2015 edition of the FIBA Asia Championships, at this stage early in the second round, India is 3-2, and are 2-0 in the second round following wins over Palestine and Hong Kong, 76-71.
You might say that it is only halfway through and the Indians who count cricket as its national game and not basketball could stand to lose more.
Before we dig into FIBA Competition, 7’2” Satnam Singh, who played in the 2013 games in Manila, is the first Indian to be drafted in the NBA when the Dallas Mavericks selected him 52nd overall. And their performance in this 2015 FIBA Asia tournament has Indians taking notice that perhaps there is a sport where they can excel outside cricket.
Even without Satnam who is playing in the NBA D-League at the moment, here’s one barometer that the Indians are performing better.
In the 2013 games, Iran crushed them by 44 points, 102-58.
In their first round battle of the 2015 FIBA Asia, Iran won only by 22 points. That is half the previous tourney’s margin. During that 2013 massacre, Iran won each and every quarter. This tourney? India looked bad in the first period before they rebounded in the second frame where they actually outscored the defending champions, 19-12. They also hung tough in the second half, as they scored 36 points to Iran’s 49. The Iranians had that 27-11 first quarter buffer to hold off the Indians rallies. As Bhriguvanshi said post-match, “We played with better cohesion against the Iranians but we were beaten by a far more experienced line-up."
Amjyot Singh is one reason why the Indians are playing better. The lanky 23-year old center is showing an improved post-up game and a stronger drive to the basket. He is now averaging a double-double for India with 25.4 points and 7.0 boards an outing.
India’s other center, 6’10” Amritpal Singh is averaging 11.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game giving the Young Cagers a trio who can carry them.
Bhriguvanshi in this 2015 competition is norming 14.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 5.2 assists.
Looking at the Philippines match-up:
Prior to the Hong Kong match, India was 11th in the 16-team field averaging 76.5 points per outing. The Young Cagers will go up against the second highest scoring team in the tournament in the Philippines whose 89.3 points a match is behind Iran’s high of 101.8 points.
Team Philippines will go up against a tall Indian line up (average height is 6’4”) but is still raw for all their accomplishments
The Filipinos know the capabilities of this Indian team as they met in the 2014 FIBA Asia Cup where the Filipinos prevailed by a mere four points, 70-66. The Philippines played well in the first half but the second half was another story as the Indians outscored the Chot Reyes mentored squad 33-25. Like the recent Iran match, India started slow. They rallied and held the Philippines scoreless in the last four minutes of the match.
Amjyot Singh didn’t play particularly well in that match as Amritpal and Bhriguvanshi led India. But Amjyot looks a lot more spry and athletic now.
They are more concerned how their guards will match up against the Philippines’ corps led by Jayson Castro, Terrence Romeo, and Dondon Hontiveros that is better playmaking-wise as well as offensively and defensively.
There are two imperatives for the Philippines. One is to take out India’s guards in order to make it difficult for the Young Cagers’ bigs to get the ball in a position they like.
Second, the Philippines’ big men (Asi Taulava, Sonny Thoss, Ranidel De Ocampo, and Marc Pingris) to stay foul free and to attack the young Indian line-up inside. There is concern that the Filipinos’ play drops when center Andray Blatche (especially after he hurt his ankle against Japan) and point guard Jayson Castro take their customary rest. If the Philippines wants to go even more deep in the tourney the other starters as well as the bench must hold their own.