Semi. Final. Day.
Never have I been so excited and nervous for a sporting event, well not since the World Cup. This edition previews two gigantic match ups. Great Britain attempt to reach their first World Championship final in 16 years as they take on Iran. The other semi-final will have USA and Australia battling it out in what is a repeat of the 2014 World Championship final.
To recap; we are tied with 12 predictions in the bank each. Ben got it back by putting his money on Spain in the very first game of the day today, and Spain rewarded him with a not-all-that-hard-fought win over a Turkey team that was on a mission to prove Mark wrong, supplying one of the most mailed-in performances in recent international wheelchair basketball memory.
After that, we drew on the remaining results. Poland shocked us both, and Germany and Brasil both took care of business, and both in a fashion that only just robbed Ben of the additional point for predicting margin of victory. After 3 full days of these predictions, neither of us have correctly called a margin of victory yet.
But that was bottom-half stuff. Let’s get real.
Before we start, we’d like to give a huge shout out to the Great Britain women, who today, created history by beating USA to make the semi-final for the first time ever. Helen Freeman top scored with 23pts followed by Amy Conroy who added 13pts and 6 assists. Not only this, but GB are now the only team to be represented in both the men’s and women’s semi-finals. Be sure to tune into the YouTube channel tomorrow at 14:45GMT to watch them in action against Germany. Good luck girls, we are all behind you!
SEMI FINAL GAMES
USA v Australia (12:30 GMT)
I would urge any lover of sport to watch this match. As already mentioned, these two teams faced each other in the World Championship final four years ago. In an incredible display of wheelchair basketball, Australia came away with the gold medal. Before this tournament Steve Serio, a class 3.5 from the USA team, stated that the World Championship gold was the one he was missing, from what has been an illustrious career. Australia will be looking to advance to the final to have a shot at winning back to back World Championship gold medals. Coming into this game, USA lead the way in scoring amongst all teams, averaging 75.4PPG. In addition to this, USA also have the lowest personal fouls per game at 8.8. Australia have also been scoring well throughout the tournament, they average 69.8PPG. However, a sign on the physicality in which they play at, with 16.2 personal fouls per game. Both teams like to run quick guard units, USA will look to 2.5 Jake Williams and 3.5 Steve Serio for their firepower whereas Australia will hold their hopes in 3.0 players Shaun Norris and Tom O’Neill Thorne. As well as hoping 4.0 Bill Latham can continue his dominance inside the key. Ball movement is key to the USA offence, this is backed up by statistics; lying 2nd for assists at a total of 134. This match is sure to go down to the wire, both teams look after the ball, rebound well and won’t give each other easy points. This is sure to go down as one of the greatest games of the tournament and if it is anything like the spectacle of 4 years ago, were in for a real treat.
Ben: This is almost impossible to call. Yes the USA have looked dominant throughout and are reigning Paralympic champions. But, have they come up against a team that will be as physical as Australia will be? I believe Australia will need to utilise their 4-3-3-3-1 line up to its maximum potential in order to get a result from this game. Both teams are extremely experienced, extremely talented and extremely passionate. Quite frankly, I am not qualified enough to break this match down and tell you guys what will win it for either team. I’m going to go with my gut instinct on this one then sit back and enjoy what will be an amazing game. USA by 8.
Mark: I think it’s tough to deny that the USA have been the statistically superior team to Australia – or anyone else, for that matter – throughout the tournament, but I’ve never been a great believer in how much weight those kind of stats carry into a knock-out game (2016 NBA Finals, anyone?). I think the result of this game will essentially be a case study in how much a team’s reputation matters once it gets to opening tip. Australia are rough, tough, straight talking and aren’t about to back down from anyone. There’s too much experience and championship legacy in this Australia roster for them to ever roll over, against anyone. That in itself makes this game worth watching.
While I would love to see the Aussies pull out an upset victory based on confidence that would have to be borderline-irrational to be enough to get the job done, I think this game will be played on America’s terms, if nothing else because their 12-man squad offers greater depth and versatility in terms of playable units than the two 5-man groups that Australia tends to deploy. The mid-heavy lineup that Ben mentioned is a relatively new wrinkle for a country that has gone 3-big for about as long as anyone can remember, and it certainly looks like it was put together as some kind of anti-USA task-force. If that group can play the USA to a draw for the bulk of the minutes, and the Aussies can get some bench scoring from Tristan Knowles and Brett Stibners, then we have a war on our hands.
That’s my dream scenario, but when push comes to shove, I think I have to go with the fact that virtually any doubts about the USA are, at this point, based in the fact that they’ve become so good that people can’t bare to see them win anymore. These guys are the gold standard, until proven otherwise, and nothing I’ve seen all week has given me any reason to doubt them. USA by 11.
Iran v Great Britain (14:45 GMT)
These two teams have looked like two of the best teams in the competition since their respective opening tip, albeit as a result of very different storylines. Great Britain are a traditional World Championship threat, and will be looking to make it back to the final for the first time since their runner-up effort in 2002. GB are looking to build on their history, while Iran are blazing a wheelchair basketball trail. Not marked as a legitimate contender before the tournament, Iran remain undefeated to this point, having defeated some quality teams to get here, most recently beating reigning European Champions and World Bronze Medalists, Turkey, in arguably the most hotly-contested game so far in the tournament. Iran are already assured of their highest-ever finish in a World competition, regardless of the outcome of this game.
This game should also provide a very interesting clash of playing styles; GB have had most success by being cooler, calmer and out-executing their opponents, as well as sharing the scoring load with consistent contributions from all of their rotation players. Iran have been very much the opposite, as they have thrived on favourable momentum swings in which chaos and smash-mouth basketball reigns for short periods, playing with bursts of intensity that no team has yet been able to match. Their scoring comes from their 3 high-point players, who combined for 66 (!) out of their total 76 points in the win over Turkey. Whichever team is able to first establish and continue to enforce their style of play may well get the win in this one.
Mark: Iran have been so much fun to watch. Those of you that know me (or have read the last few articles) know that I love an underdog and can say, with complete confidence, that I would be completely on Iran’s side if they were up against anyone other than GB. GB have the world-stage pedigree, but Iran right now are playing with as much confidence as any team I have ever seen, and have already proved they can win a big game when it comes their way. With that said, I’ve seen enough from GB, and know many of the guys well enough, to know that this is an opportunity that they’ve been preparing for for a long, long time, and certainly not one that they will see go by the wayside. Momentum is never a bad thing, but it also doesn’t mean as much at the business end of a tournament, where every team is bringing their best game, every time out. Iran have been fun, but GB are the better team, and they’ll prove it, however tough it gets. GB by 7.
Ben: I am nervous, but I am confident and have full faith in the lads. GB by 15.
Check back tomorrow!
Ben & Mark