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FIBA Asia Cup: How Gilas can play Iraq

MANILA, Philippines – The 2017 FIBA Asia Cup has been marked by one surprise after another.

The win heard all around Asia was the Philippines upending China. How about Iraq tripping Qatar? How about those young New Zealand Tall Blacks taking down seeded Lebanon?

And now, mere days after almost everyone shaking their head that Gilas Pilipinas would get knocked out of the group stage, the Filipinos are shooting for the Group B lead and a chance to move into the next stage of the competition.

Standing in the Philippines’ way is Iraq. It isn’t a lowly side Gilas will be facing. It is one tough and bruising team that is climbing up the West Asia standings. They battled the Philippines tough in the recent William Jones Cup. And they look to continue to do the same.

Iraq is a defensive squad — aside from the physicality of their defense, they bettered Qatar in the steals and blocks department (12-6 and 5-0, respectively). Despite grabbing fewer defensive rebounds, 26-34, they scored more fastbreak points than Qatar 14-12.

Their weakness is inside the paint, hence scoring fewer points inside and less rebounds.

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Iraq is kind of new to basketball. Like other newcomers, they opt to shoot from the outside. Three of their key scorers — naturalized player Kevin Galloway, who began playing for them last year with the FIBA Asia Challenge Cup in Iran, and shooting guards Karrar Hamzah and Hassan Abdullah — jack up a lot of 3-pointers.

Iraq collectively attempted 33 shots and only hit 11 (33 percent). In the three days of competition, the only team to attempt more shots from that distance was Australia (35 attempts and that was their second game – a 99-58 obliteration of Hong Kong. Against Qatar, Iraq attempted 33 shots. So you know the three is a major weapon in their arsenal.

They keys — offensively — again for a victory by the Philippines is for the outside shooting to click and win the inside game.

The inside battle is crucial. If Raymond Almazan, Christian Standhardinger and Japeth Aguilar can score inside and turn the lane into a no-fly zone, Gilas can run. And they can throw taller defenders against the shooters.

The uptempo game suits Gilas. But as in the case of the win over China, the halfcourt game —especially against a younger and inexperienced Chinese side — can work their way as well.

Defensively, if Gilas can stop Iraq from getting good outside looks, that takes away a huge chunk of their offense. The onus is on Iraq’s Turkish head coach Mustafa Derin to devise a way to beat the Filipinos’ disciplined and organized defense. If he can get his bigs to play strong inside, if he can get Galloway untracked and attacking the basket instead of attempting jumpers, that could cause problems.

Derin has worked wonders with his home country’s national side as an assistant and head boss of their Under-18 squads that have had podium finishes. Getting his team to the next round will be a huge feather on his cap.

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