Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Quick FIBA Americas U18 Championship Preview: Canada vs. United States

I will have a more comprehensive recap of the FIBA Americas U18 tournament in the coming days, but I wanted to do a quick preview of the upcoming championship game which is expected to air at 5:30 p.m. (ET). Here is a quick look at what to expect of the teams going into tonight's match up.

Canada (Men's national ranking: 25; Youth boys national Ranking: 6)

Results at FIBA Americas U18 Championship (4-0)

Group play:

  • Def. Brazil 101-59 (June 20th)
  • Def. Dominican Republic 79-67 (June 21st)
  • Def. Puerto Rico 91-70 (June 22nd)

  • Def. Argentina 91-82 in OT (June 23rd)

  • Dillon Brooks: 24.8 ppg, 65.9 2pt FG%, 44.4 3pt FG%
  • Christopher Ebunde Egi: 11.8 ppg, 8 rpg, 2 bpg
  • Montaque Gill-Cesar: 19.0 ppg, 4.25 rpg

What you should expect from Canada:

Canada is a team that has grown as a youth program over the past decade. With more younger players breaking into the NBA (Anthony Bennett and Tristian Thompson), and some on the cusp (Andrew Wiggins, Nick Stauskas and Tyler Ennis), it is easy to see why Canada is highly ranked in the World boys rankings according to FIBA (they currently sit at six, which is 19 spots better than their Men's team ranking).

Roy Rana is their head coach, who coaches collegiately at Ryerson University in Canada. Rana has also been the long-time World team coach at the Nike Hoop Summit and has helped the squad post three straight victories over the United States team the past three Hoop Summits. Rana utilizes his talent well, utilizing different kinds of press and match-up zone strategies on defense, and a free-flowing style of play on offense that emphasizes getting the ball in the post and action developing off the post man. (More on that in the recap).

Canada cruised through the preliminary rounds, but had a tough go with Argentina who finished second in Group B to Team USA. At times, Canada has looked like the best team in the tournament thanks to their surprising athleticism at all positions, and the go-to-guy ability of Dillon Brooks, who played last season for Findlay Prep (as well as the AAU Team CIA Bounce, which has been a place of development for many Canadian Jr. National team members both past and present). The most interesting player in the tournament has also been Chris Egi, a highly rated recruit who will be heading to Harvard next year to play for Tommie Amaker. While Brooks is a polished wing player with a versatile inside-out skill set offensively, Egi is more of a project who while skilled, has displayed a lot of inconsistency to go along with his flashes of promise. Egi seemed to break out with a 20 point 14 rebound and 4 block performance against Puerto Rico in their last group play game, but he fell back to earth in the semi-final, only scoring 7 points and grabbing 9 rebounds in 29 minutes of play. It will be interesting to see how Egi responds in the championship after a disappointing performance in the semifinals.

United States (Men's Ranking: 1; Youth boys ranking: 1)

Results at FIBA Americas U18 Championship (4-0)

Group Play:
  • Def. Uruguay 156-58 (June 20th)
  • Def. Mexico 100-46 (June 21st)
  • Def. Argentina 118-64 (June 22nd)

  • Def. Dominican Republic 90-56 (June 23rd)

  • Jalen Brunson: 12.8 ppg, 5 apg, 66.7 2pt FG%
  • Justice Winslow: 10.5 ppg, 5 rpg, 57.1 2 pt FG%
  • Myles Turner: 7.8 ppg, 4.75 rpg, 3.5 bpg

What you should expect from the United States:

The US has been the most dominant squad this FIBA Americas U18 championship, dominating their competition in group play and controlling an underrated Dominican Republic squad in the semifinals. Under head coach Billy Donovan (Florida) and assistant coaches Sean Miller (Arizona) and Ed Cooley (Providence), team USA has smothered teams with their pressure defense in both the half and the full court, leading to steals and easy buckets. Considering Canada's turnover issues in their semifinal game against Argentina (16 total), it will be interesting to see how they will handle the US's pressure in the championship game (21 turnovers forced in Semi-final against DR).

The US has been helped by sharpshooter Luke Kinnard, who is shooting 48.1 percent from beyond the arc and is the team's leading scorer at 14.8 ppg. However, guard Jalen Brunson is the one that makes the engine hum on both ends of the floor for Team USA. Brunson, the son of former Temple guard and NBA vet Rick, has been a two-way star for Team USA, leading the press on the defensive end, and creating easy shots for him and his teammates on the offensive side of the ball. Brunson has really stood out as one of the tournament's best players, and it'll be tough for Canada's guards to contain him in the championship game.

Justice Winslow is also another player that has provided a spark for the United States. Though he hasn't exploded off the stat sheet, the 6'6 McDonald's All-American is showing in Colorado Springs why Duke should be happy about his impending arrival in Durham. Winslow is a versatile wing that has a strong ability to score inside and outside, and he has been a matchup nightmare for his competition so far. Winslow is coming off a rather poor performance against the DR where he scored 0 points and only nabbed 3 boards, but he did have 13 points, 8 rebound and 2 blocks against Argentina in their last group play game. If the US can get a performance from Winslow closer to the Argentina one in the championship, I am sure Donovan and staff would be satisfied and confident in their chances against Canada.

Key matchup: Chris Egi vs. Myles Turner

It will be the Harvard vs. Texas commit going at it in the post in the championship game, as both players are eager to show basketball fans what to expect next season at the collegiate level. Though Turner hasn't been the offensive force people expected in this tournament so far (only 7.8 ppg), he has been a force on defense, averaging a team high 3.5 blocks per game.

Turner is a beast at 7'0 and 240 pounds and it is easy to see why ESPN rated the McDonald's All-American and Jordan Brand Classic participant as the no. 2 rated recruit in the class of 2014. Turner has been a matchup nightmare for most of the Latin American competition, highlighted by a dominant opening game against Uruguay where he scored 14 points, nabbed 8 rebounds and had four blocks. Unfortunately for Turner, his performances have declined, as he has failed to reach double digits in any game since his dominant opening game performance.

Nonetheless, it'll be interesting to see if Turner can raise his game on the biggest stage against arguably the best non-American post player in the tournament. If Turner can put his past three performances behind him and step up and have a good game similar to his opening performance, Team USA will cruise with this easily. Of course, it won't be a cakewalk, as Egi brings some skills to the table for Canada. ESPN rated Egi as the no.1 rated player out of Canada in the class of 2014 and the 24th best center prospect in the Nation. However, Egi will be outmatched physically as he gives a lot of size to Turner (Egi is only 6'8, 205 pounds) in the post. That being said, Rana is a resourceful and creative basketball coach, and it should be expected that Rana will utilize Egi in different ways to help Canada overcome the size disadvantage in the post not only on the offensive side of the ball, but defensively as well.

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