Semi-Final Preview: Mexico
MEDELLIN (FIBA AmeriCup 2017) - It appears it’s Mexico’s new custom to make a stop at Argentina before reaching the American continent's glory.
For the third time in a row, the Mexicans will face the Argentines at a Semi-Final in an American continent tournament; thus, repeating the decisive duels that we witnessed in Caracas 2013 and Mexico City 2015.
The Mexican National Team is among the best four AmeriCup teams after winning three games in a row. This is now the first time the Aztecs reach this stage. In 2013, an inspired Mexican Team defeated Argentina (76-70), paving the way to what has been their only golden moment in the most important continental tournament. Two years later, Mexico wasn't able to take advantage of their position as locals. Argentina won (78-70) and took home the pass to the final; but most importantly, one of the two tickets to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
Now, in 2017, Mexico are facing Argentina once again after both teams dominated their respective A and B groups and advanced with no defeats (3-0).
Mexico survived the test Puerto Rico set for them at the group that played in the Colombian city of Medellin. Then, they beat Brazil and the hosts.
“We're focused on the Semis. We aren't looking beyond that. We're doing good,” said Point Guard Jorge Gutiérrez after Mexico won the Colombian side at Group A's last date.
However, it will be against Argentina that Mexico will have their greatest challenge in what has been this FIBA AmeriCup 2017. Argentina will play at home (Cordoba), after ending their opposition with an average of 87.7-points per game, the greatest amount until today in the current tournament.
“I think that we have to keep playing the defense like we've been doing. Coach says that the defense gives us the offense,” said Francisco “Paco” Cruz, Shooting Guard for the Aztec squad, before winning against Colombia.
Although Argentina were the best team in the offense during the first phase of the FIBA AmeriCup 2017, Mexico didn’t lag behind. They led Group A with an average of 83.3 points, the second highest, after the Argentines.
If Mexico want to surprise everyone when they play against the Argentine hosts- —and avenge their defeat at Semis when they played at home in 2015— they’ll have to dominate the backboard, a department where they were surpassed in average by their first-round rivals Puerto Rico (43.0) and Colombia (40.3). Mexico achieved 39.7 rebounds in their three first games.
Similarly, Mexico must protect their ball well and learn how to defend in group against the unselfish Argentines, who lead the FIBA AmeriCup 2017 with 21.3 assists per game, while the Mexicans only have 16.7.
Meanwhile, Mexico’s options towards the triumph will rely on their guards’ game —especially Gutiérrez and Cruz—, who in Medellin went from less to more at a shy game against the Puerto Ricans. They only achieved 12 points when they combined. Against the Brazilians and the Colombians, the outcome was different: they registered 31 and 42 points, respectively.
In their trajectory in continental games up to 2011, the highest point the Mexicans have reached was fifth place in the inaugural event in 1980, a feat they repeated four years later.
At Mar del Plata 2011, Mexico didn't qualify; and in 2013 they didn't miss out on the invitation to going to a Semi-Final for the first time in their history and reach the greatest basketball title in the Americas. In 2015, the Argentines crushed their dreams of taking the gold medal once again, and they also snatched away their Olympic pass.
Two years later, Mexico have revenge in their hands.