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Asia Cup Group D preview: Can anyone topple powerhouse Australia?
BEIRUT (FIBA Asia Cup 2017) - With the Asia Cup 2017 just one night away, let's look at the only group we've yet to break down - Group D, which is made up of Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei, Japan and Australia.
Players to Watch: Starting center Duncan Reid has recently been snapped up by the Zhejiang Golden Bulls, and that gives credence to the tremendous potential the 2.03m slotman can provide. He is a a serviceable scorer and rebounder in the post and should be a solid contributor for Hong Kong here. Taking care of perimeter shooting will be veteran sniper Lee Ki. He has been one of the national team's most reliable outside threats since debuting for them in 2013, and he remains an integral part of their plans if they are to make any noise in this tournament.
Outlook: Yes, with not much size and depth, Hong Kong is perhaps the lowest rated team in the entire competition, but having talents like Reid and Lee means that they have some guys who can play at a high level. They will have matchup problems with Australia and Japan, for sure, but with East Asia rivals Chinese Taipei not having a number of their elite players, the door for a monumental upset seems left ajar for coach On Hing King and his wards. It will still take a lot for them to pull the rug from under the Taipei quintet, though, which means veterans like Fong Shing Yee, Wong Chun Wai, Lo Yi Ting and Chan Siu Wing need to step up big time.
Players to Watch: Without Quincy Davis and Tseng Wen-Ting, Chinese Taipei will have to rely on the last two MVPs of the SBL - Liu Cheng and Chou Yi-Hsiang - to do most of the heavy lifting. As good as both guys are, however, getting this squad past the first round is still not a certainty. Liu is one of the best two-way players in Asia, but with neither Davis nor Tseng to anchor the middle, even Liu will find it very difficult to carry the team to more than one win here. The onus for most of the playmaking and scoring will be on Chou, though for him to reach his potential in this competition, the 1.90m guard/forward will need to put on a scoring show for the ages.
Outlook: The last time Chinese Taipei played at a continental competition without Quincy Davis, they finished sixth out of nine teams, losing 4 of their 7 games. They may not fare as well here, especially with both Japan and Hong Kong going all out and Australia fielding one of the tallest and deepest teams in the entire field. This is obviously not the same team that won the EABA crown earlier this year, but if young studs like Hu Long-Mao and Chiang Yu-An can raise their game while also drawing good numbers from veterans Lu Cheng-Ju and Wu Tai-Hao, they may still find themselves contending for a seat in the Quarter-Finals.
Players to Watch: We will finally see Yuki Togashi at the highest continental basketball competition, and that has got to get Japanese fans plenty excited. Togashi has been one of the top point guards in Japan the past few years, but for one reason or another he has just not been able to play for Japan a this level. Now that he's in tow, however, Togashi should give the Akatsuki Five additional speed, shooting and playmaking. His running-mate in the backcourt will be Makoto Hiejima, who had a breakout performance in 2015, averaging around 16 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals per game. He has a wicked midrange game, and he should be a marked man for Japan's foes.
Outlook: In terms of pure depth, Japan are the second-best team in this group, but if Togashi, Hiejima, big man Kosuke Takeuchi and naturalized player Ira Brown can all record big numbers, they have an outside chance of upsetting even the mighty Aussies. All things considered equal, though, Japan should not have a difficult time defeating Chinese Taipei and Hong Kong, but the real acid test will be in the Qualification to the Quarter-Finals, where the Akatsuki Five could potentially meet anyone from Korea, Lebanon or New Zealand. Still, if coach Julio Lamas can somehow wield his magic and bring out the very best in his players, don't be surprised if Japan finish in the Top 8.
Players to Watch: Olympic veteran David Andersen is expected to play a leadership role for the Boomers in this tournament, especially since, at 37 years old, he is one of the elder statesmen in the entire competition. The 2.13m center probably won't put up double-doubles on a regular basis, but his presence and experience will be huge in terms of guiding the Aussies' plethora of rising stars. One of those up-and-comers is guard Jason Cadee, who has narrowly missed the cut for the senior Boomers roster a couple of times. Cadee is a very capable playmaker and defender, but his bread-and-butter really is his three-point shooting. Cadee made more than 2 triples per game in the NBL, and his ability to space the floor will be crucial for coach Andrej Lamanis.
Outlook: The plain and simple is this - Australia are the heavy favorites to win the title. They are at the top of our recent Asia Cup Power Rankings, and have a terrific balance of size, speed, shooting and experience. Together with Andersen and Cadee, another Olympian, Brad Newley, will be leading this team, while other key players like Daniel Kickert, Mitchell Creek and Cameron Gliddon will be important to their success. The Boomers should top this group and proceed directly to the Quarter-Finals, where they will be the favorites once again to move on to the Top 4 and the Final.