Crunch-time: Men’s World Championships knockout-stage preview

What’s up, guys?

 

My name is Mark. I haven’t written on here for a while, but any long time readers of the RAW Coaching Blog might remember me and be accordingly happy or sad about the fact that I am back writing blog posts.

 

This is my first post for a while, but I’ve actually just got back involved with RAW Coaching as one half of a dubious podcast-hosting duo with my friend and teammate, James MacSorley.

Yes, this is just as smooth of a segway as you think it is. Go check out the first episode of our podcast here.

 

Anyway, I’m back right now because we’re getting to the business-end of the Wheelchair Basketball World Championships and Rosie asked me if I’d be able to put together a bit of a write-up as to what I thought might happen.

She actually asked me on Friday night, and I just haven’t had time to get writing since, meaning it’s now Monday and the end of the group stages for the men’s competition. Looking back at the results and standings as of right now, it’s made me so glad that I didn’t try to call the group results in advance, because this is the craziest international competition I’ve ever seen and every game seems to be an upset up to this point. If I’d have posted my predictions before the group stages and it had wound up like this, I’d never have been able to show my face on the RAW Coaching Blog again.

 

So what I’ve done and taken the preview idea and focused it on the first set of crossover games, the games that will decide which 8 teams move on to the quarter-finals.

As you might know, James is kind of busy right now, what with the whole battling-it-out-for-a-second-world-championship-in-two-years thing, so I’ve had to call in a bit of help for this article.
Ben Fox is going to be joining me for this one. Ben has been recovering from heart surgery for the last few weeks, giving him plenty of chance to watch every second of the Worlds and blow my WhatsApp up as the upsets roll in.

 

So the deal is that we’re going to write up a quick preview of each game, and then we’re each going to predict our winners to advance in the tournament and what we think the margin of victory will be. In short:

  • 1 point for each correct result prediction
  • 1 additional point for your predicted winner winning by your predicted amount
  • LOSER BUYS COFFEES FOR THE WHOLE OF NEXT SEASON

 

Let’s get started…

 

Crossover Games

USA (B1) vs Morocco (A4)

Reigning paralympic champions and world championships silver medallists, the USA, finished top of their group and will take on African champions Morocco in their crossover.

Mark: Nothing to see here. USA by 37.

Ben: I agree with Mark, USA are strong favourites to progress and I can’t see Morocco causing any upsets. USA by 42.

 

(Photo by Michael Schwartz & Uli Gasper)

Japan (C1) vs Spain (D4)

Two of the most surprising teams in the tournament meet. Japan soundly put away Italy and dismantled the reigning European champions in Turkey, before losing to Brazil in the last game of the tournament. Paralympic runners-up Spain lost all three of their games in Pool D, a surprising result even in arguably the most evenly-balanced group.

Mark: Tough call here, as Spain aren’t your typical bottom-seed in a crossover game and have shown they can beat anyone on their day. Spain have also had some success against Japan in some friendly competitions leading up to the Worlds. I’ve believed in Japan for a while now though, and would like to be proved right. Japan by 8.

Ben: This will prove to be an exciting game, two very different styles. Japan like to press and hussle and Spain opt for a ‘inside’ game and will try to dominate the key. Throughout this tournament I have been impressed with Japan and their organisation, especially in their big win over Turkey. I was not expecting to see Spain bottom of their group, late stretches in the game just haven’t gone their way. BUT, I think Spain’s size will be the deciding factor. As well as the pace of the twins. Spain by 10.

 

Great Britain (B2) vs Germany (A3)

European foes collide as GB and Germany go at it again on the world stage. Germany came into the tournament hot, winning their final two friendly competitions leading into the World Championships, but could only manage third in Pool A, with their only win coming against Morocco.

Mark: Two teams playing like polar opposites right now. GB’s only loss coming to the tournament favourites and Germany’s only win coming against one of the tournament’s few ‘easy pickings’ teams. For all of the host team’s talent, I don’t see them putting together 40 minutes Worth of basketball that will beat a GB team that’s firing on all cylinders coming out of the group. GB by 19.

Ben: It’s going to be a crazy atmosphere inside the arena for this one! Expecting the crowd to try and make it tough for GB. GB played well in their last pool game, showing their scoring and defensive dominance. I believe the transition pace as well as shooting talent from the lads will be too much for Germany. GB by 16.

 

Canada (A2) vs Poland (B3)

Two of the more enigmatic teams come head-to-head here as Canada will look to make a statement, trying to prove themselves one of the tournament’s true contenders on the back of the returned Patrick Anderson. Annual dark-horse Poland have struggled so far, only able to gut out a 1-point win against South Korea to keep themselves from finishing bottom of the group. Poland have proved themselves dangerous in this position before, however, as their squad boasts enough shooting to win them almost any game if they get hot enough.

Mark: Counting out Poland is never easy, as we’ve seen them win some big games when it’s been least expected of them. Their inconsistency has almost worked to their advantage before, but they seem to be more all-or-nothing than ever right now. Poland might hang with Canada for 2 or 3 quarters, but I’d put my money on Canada’s experience and calm demeanour pulling them through this one. That said, if ever there’s a game for an upset, this is the one. Canada by 11.

Ben: This is a tough game to call. Poland have the ability to cause teams trouble with their three shooters in Piot, Bandura and Fillipski. However Canada have played well this tournament, beating the hosts and running Iran close after a difficult start. Patrick Anderson (the greatest ever) and Nik Goncin have been leading the way for Canada and I expect that to continue. Canada by 18.  

 

(Steffi Wunderl Photography for Rollt. Magazine)

Italy (C2) vs Argentina (D3)

Two teams who have arguably over-performed so far in the tournament, making it very difficult to try and call who is really the stronger team. Argentina probably have more known talent and experience on their roster, which guided them to wins over the Netherlands and paralympic silver medallists Spain. Italy are a less experienced team but seem to always be ready for the challenge, as they showed in convincing wins over Brasil and European champions Turkey.

Mark: My favourite plot to this game is that Adolfo Berdun and Alber Esteche are going against almost their entire club-team roster, with a large portion of Italy’s national team playing for Briantea Cantu. I don’t know who has the advantage there, which doesn’t really help the fact that this game is about as difficult to call as there is in the crossover round. I genuinely can’t find a reason to pick a convincing favourite here, so I’m going to with with something as simple as Argentina having the best player in Berdun. Argentina by 4.

Ben: I expect this to again be another tight affair. As Mark mentions above, Berdun and Esteche come up against a number of their club team mates from Cantu. Argentina played extremely well to beat Japan, a game in which was interesting to watch. Argentina for me have slightly better balance on the floor offensively, with Gustavo Villafane knocking down some big shots against Japan. However Italy will be bouncing after their win against Turkey, a real confidence booster which I think will see them past Argentina. Italy by 8.

 

(Photo by Michael Schwartz & Uli Gasper)

Iran (A1) vs South Korea (B4)

Iran register as one of the surprises of the tournament, as one of only two teams that remain undefeated after the group stages, with the other team being the USA. Iran have looked very legitimate and, despite not boasting the international reputation of some of the tournament’s favoured teams, would definitely provide serious competition for any team that would be unfortunate enough to meet them in the quarter-final.

Mark: Tough one to call for either of us really, as these are two teams that European fans don’t get a whole lot of exposure to. South Korea are no joke, and they seem to be one of those teams that gives everybody a tough game, but Iran have put their stamp down and made it tough to argue with the prospect of them advancing. Iran by 15.

Ben: Having not seen a great deal of either team, I have zero reason to be confident in my prediction. However, Iran’s three big will prove a major factor. South Korea to stick with them for a quarter or two and then run out of steam. Iran by 19.

 

Australia (D1) vs Brasil (C4)

A rematch of Rio’s 5th/6th playoff game, where relative unknowns Brasil stunned the more historically-successful Australians in the closing seconds. Brasil finished last in their pool despite a win over the group-topping Japan and, as ever, will refuse to go down without a fight. The Australians, however, look reinvigorated since the last time the two teams met, as they showed by topping the ultra-competitive Group D.

Mark: I really do like Brasil, and have a lot of respect for how hard they play and how their overall game seems to add up to a lot more than the sum of their team’s parts. Even with that said, I think anyone would be a fool to try and count out an Aussie team that’s come into this tournament with a point to prove, after a couple of (by their standards) down years in world competitions. Australia by 9.

Ben: Before the tournament started, I had Australia to be fighting for a medal. Despite their surprising defeat to Netherlands, I still see Australia as a threat. Brasil have been an exciting team to watch, showing a lot of passion everytime they take to the court and giving a great account of themselves. On this occasion I believe Australia will comfortably advance to the next stage. Australia by 18.

 

(Photo by Michael Schwartz & Uli Gasper)

Turkey (C3) vs Netherlands (D2)

In another match-up between European rivals will see the pleasantly-surprising Netherlands try and prove themselves against Turkey, one of the more disappointing teams of the competition so far. Don’t count Turkey out yet though, the last time these two teams played each other, Ozgur Gurbulak made 7 3-pointers.

Mark: The Netherlands have been playing really well in their wins against Spain and Australia, and I think many of the other teams in the tournament will be rooting for them to upset Turkey here. Turkey weren’t themselves in the group games, but I think they’re a different animal when the games take on a little extra meaning in the knockout rounds. Don’t bet against Turkey, it never ends well. Turkey by 22.

Ben: I have honestly been very disappointed in Turkey this tournament. Before the tournament I would have predicted them finishing top of the group with 3 wins out of 3. Netherlands on the other hand have surprised me hugely. After losing to Argentina, I feared they could face a long road ahead. However, two bounce back wins over Spain and Australia have seen them qualify in second with confidence flowing. BUT, as Mark pointed out, you’d be a fool to count Turkey out of this tournament yet. I have a sneaky feeling things will click for them. Turkey by 15.

 

This brings our crossover-round predictions to a close. I think we both feel pretty good about our predictions right now, but if this World Championships stays as unpredictable as it has been so far, this article could force us to kiss any credibility goodbye. If that isn’t enough reason for you guys to follow the Worlds results, I truly don’t know what is!

Keep up with the RAW Coaching Twitter account over the next few days to see how our predictions are panning out, and who’ll be buying the coffees from now on.

 

Peace,

Mark & Ben

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