Thursday, 3 September 2009

Canada/DR Preview: Biggest game in several summers not televised live

Win and they're in... lose and they are done. Most players and coaches would love to have things work out that way and athletes prepare for years for these types of situations. Canada vs. Dominican Republic, with the winner moving on to the semi-final round of the FIBA Americas championship but more importantly the winner earns a spot in Turkey for next summer's FIBA 2010 World Basketball championships.

Although Canada's coaching staff has shortened the bench during important games against the better teams in the tournament (Puerto Rico, Argentina, Brazil), relative to the Dominican roster, Canada has much more depth, especially with the emergence of 6'0" Tyler Kepkay, in his second summer with the National program. As the tournament progressed, Kepkay has not only done a reasonable job running the offense from the point, but the staff had him coming off screens and he was very effective as a scorer in spurts in both the Argentina and Brazil games. This allowed Canada to go basically nine deep in those tougher games (Anderson, English, Famutimi, Kendall, Anthony, Young, Rautins, Kepkay and Doornekamp). Also, 6'7" Jermaine Bucknor started a couple of games for Canada earlier in the tournament so he is an experienced tenth man.

The Dominican Republic depends almost exclusively on the ability of their three mid-to-upper echelon NBA players in 6'10" Charlie Villenueva, 6'9" Al Horford and 6'7" Fransisco Garcia. Garcia missed today's game against Mexico however DR still won by 20. Villenueva, Horford, Garcia and 6'2" guard Luis Flores all have averaged 30 or more minutes per game and only foul trouble in some games kept their minutes down. There is a big drop off in talent after that with only 6'7" forward Jack Martinez (8.4 ppg/6.7 rpg/22 mpg) scoring near double figures during the tournament. There are no apparent reasons why Garcia should not be ready for the biggest game in Dominican Republic basketball in over 3 decades.

Two days ago, all seemed bleak for DR as they trailed all afternoon against Uruguay. However, as a Dominican newspaper put it,
DR "pulled itself from beneath a truck” to keep its hopes alive in the world basketball championship, after a 31 year hiatus. After falling behind for 39 minutes and 10 seconds, Francisco Garcia stole a ball and scored the basket to put the Dominican team ahead 76-74. Then Uruguay stumbled as Luis Flores was fouled and scored on both free throws. The South Americans again fouled, this time Al Horford, who also hit both free throws, for the 80-74 final.

DR has not shown themselves to be a very detailed offensively or defensively and basically rely on Garcia and Villenueva to create for themselves and others. Horford, who will be a nice matchup for Canada's Joel Anthony, in these games has been a rebounder, defender with limited "go-to" value offensively. Canada's 6'5" Carl English has played arguably his best basketball in big situations ever for Canada during the past two days.

With Canada's depth and the confidence taken from staying with Brazil for the majority of Wednesday's loss followed by the trouncing today of Panama, this could be a very interesting game and one in which the Canadians matchup very well, especially in a one-game-winner-takes-all scenario. How Canada defends the Big 2 and keeps Horford off the offensive glass plus how well English can create will likely be telling factors tomorrow.

Unfortunately for Canadian viewers, the SCORE, which otherwise has done an outstanding job covering Team Canada during this tournament, has decided to not show this game LIVE! at 6 PM choosing to air it via tape delay at 10 PM tomorrow. The game is available via internet on FIBA TV.

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