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My FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Power Rankings after the First Window
A total of 20 Qualifiers games were played in the first window, with a handful of teams emerging undefeated and rising to the top of their respective groups.
In this week's column, I'll rank the countries that have already seen action based on how they performed in the first window, and try to see what we can expect from them moving forward.
Team Melli had two lopsided wins to open their FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers campaign, beating Syria by 46 points and then Qatar by 43. Hamed Haddadi & Co. clearly have no plans on taking it easy against anyone as they try to qualify for the biggest basketball tournament in the continent.
The Cedars may have missed last year's FIBA Basketball World Cup, but dominant wins over Iraw and Bahrain have clearly announced to rest of Asia how the Lebanese are hell-bent on reclaiming their place among the continent's basketball elite.
3. New Zealand
The Tall Blacks' huge 108-98 win over perennial tormentors Australia sent tremors across the entire Qualifiers' spectrum, breaking a slump against the Boomers while also cementing their spot at first place in Group C. They also gave upstarts Guam a reality check with a 113-94 road win in Yigo Village.
The Koreans looked a bit shaky during some quarters in both of their wins against unheralded ASEAN sides Indonesia and Thailand, but remember that coach Kim SangShik opted for a relatively young group and played without the aid of naturalized big man Ra GunA. Coach Kim will likely have to retool his roster if they want to beat promising Philippines in the next window, however.
The Falcons seem to have found the heir apparent to Sam Daghlas at their point guard spot, with Freddy Ibrahim really coming to the fore in both of Jordan's first window victories. With the 23-year-old leading the way alongside rising stars Amin Abu Hawwas and Yousef Abuwazaneh, Jordan are looking to have a bright future.
Many felt Chinese Taipei looked menacing after a 104-point drubbing of Malaysia, but Japan dowsed water on the Taipei quintet's flames with a 96-57 win at the Taipei Heping Gymnasium this past Monday. New naturalized player Ryan Rossiter looked pretty awesome as well with 17 points, 19 rebounds and 7 assists in his debut for the Akatsuki Five.
The Boomers lead the second tier of these rankings, especially after a surprising loss to the Tall Blacks in Brisbane. Coach William Weaver's wards rebounded well with a 115-52 win over Hong Kong, but that was expected anyway. Games against Guam and New Zealand in November may prove to be acid tests for this squad devoid of their NBA stars.
Coach Mark Dickel steered Gilas Pilipinas clear of potential disaster in Jakarta via a 100-70 win over Indonesia, but don't let the final point spread fool you - the Filipinos had to work for the win. Granted this is a relatively young core, though, so props still need to be thrown their way, but against Korea in the next window, they may need more of the usual suspects back in the fold.
9. Chinese Taipei
Everyone's jaw dropped to the floor after their 152-48 blowout of Malaysia, but Chinese Taipei surely would have traded a ton of points from that win to augment their scoring total against Japan, which brought them back to earth. Some new faces like Tseng Hsiang-Chun and Huang Hung-Han, though, are making fans dream of a bright future.
The Steppen Wolves seem very motivated in the Asia Cup Qualifiers, eager to rise in the ladder of Asian Basketball and reclaim past glory. They succeeded in withstanding a 44-point explosion from Sani Sakakini on February 21 to prevail, but they couldn't follow it up with another triumph as they fell short against Jordan, 71-68.
Yes, the Bahrainis lost big time to Lebanon on February 24, but that was after a resounding win at home in Manama against a game India, 68-67. CJ Giles has been a difference-maker for this team, but will his presence be enough to get more wins and finish among the top two teams in Group D?
The Young Cager should have finished with two wins in this window, but a late defensive lapse against Bahrain left them with a loss too open their campaign. Still, there are some bright spots for coach Veselin Matic. The returning Vishesh Bhriguvanshi has proven he can still hack it, while big man Amritpal Singh continues to be a force of nature in the middle.
The Guamanians were pretty dominant in the Pre-Qualifiers, but it's clear they'll have a lot of improving to do now that they're playing with the big boys of FIBA Asia. Despite the loss to Australia, however, there were flashes of brilliance from coach EJ Calvo's side. Curtis Washington is clearly an elite big man, while Earnest Lee Ross, Jr. and Joseph Blas, Jr. are also solid.
Tyler Lamb proved how he can carry a team on his shoulders, scoring 28 points as the Thais gave Korea a bit of a scare in Seoul. He may need to score that heavily in every game, though, if the Thais want an outright berth in the Asia Cup unless his teammates can show more consistency in their own offensive performances.
Sani Sakakini is the motor of this Palestinian quintet, and they will go only as far as he can take them. That's not necessarily a bad thing because Sakakini is an elite big man in Asia, but they will need much more depth if they are to compete at the next level. Their lopsided win over Sri Lanka was expected, but the loss to Kazakhstan leaves a lot to be desired.
The Syrians were hardly a match against mighty Iran last February 20, but they succeeded in foiling the Saudis on February 23, 75-70. This team is anchored on 7ft 3in/2.20m giant Abdulawahab Alhamwi, but there are other guys who have shown they can contribute like Wael Jlilaty, Rami Merjaneh and Jamil Saddir.
17. Saudi Arabia
Veteran Mohammed Almarwani came through for Saudi Arabia in their big win over fellow Gulf side Qatar, 68-57, but a loss to Syria dampened their spirits. Still, there is potential in the Saudis, and if they can find consistency in production and execution, they are a threat to finish among the top two in their group.
Twin blowout losses don't accurately reflect the potential of Iraq, but they certainly don't make them a contender as well. The 19-point defeat to Lebanon wasn't much of a shocker, but losing to India at home by the same margin was definitely not what they were expecting.
Losing by an average of 31.5 points is never a good thing, but head coach Rajko Toroman will likely use the experience gained by his wards to prop them up for crucial matches in the second window against Thailand and once more against Korea. They will need key players Lester Prosper and Brandon Jawato, though.
How the might have fallen, eh? Judging by how they played in the first window, Qatar, once among the elite of the continent, seem like they do not have the depth to match up with their foes in Group E. That's what double-digit losses to Saudi Arabia and Iran can do.
21. Hong Kong
Duncan Reid and his team played just one game in the first window, and well, it was not a good one. They travelled to Brisbane to face the Boomers, who were looking to salvage some pride after a loss to New Zealand. The result? Getting blown out by 65 points.
22. Sri Lanka
The Sri Lankans may have had some memorable moments in the Pre-Qualifiers, but so far, the first window is something they would certainly rather forget. There are some interesting talents to watch here, but by and large, coach Susil Udukumburage's squad found themselves severely overmatched against Jordan and Palestine.
Nobody likes being remembered as the team that lost more than 100 points in the first window of the Asia Cup Qualifiers. Here's to hoping more of Malaysia's main guns get called up for the next windows.
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