As the books close on another eventful collegiate basketball season on both sides of the border and the basketball world’s near-term focus shifts to the N.B.A. playoffs, we are already priming for the Canadian men’s 2016 summer campaign which begins in Manila, Philippines between 5-10 July at one of two, six-team Olympic Qualifying tournaments (OQT).
Our National team, presently #26 in the FIBA world rankings, has been placed in Group A along with Turkey (#8) and Senegel (#31) – Canada will need to finish in the top 2 in this group to advance to the semi-finals and with a win there would move to the championship game where the winner gets a spot in Rio. Group B consists of France (#5), New Zealand (#21) and the host Philippines (#28). Note again that only one team in the Philippines qualifying tournament moves on to Rio so Canada must win the tournament championship game to qualify.
The complete schedule for the tournament has been set as follows:
Tuesday, July 5th: Group A – Turkey vs. Canada; Group B – France vs. Philippines
Wednesday, July 6th: Group A – Canada vs. Senegal; Group B – Philippines vs. New Zealand
Thursday, July 7th: Group A – Senegal vs. Turkey; Group B – New Zealand vs. France
Friday, July 8th: Rest Day
Saturday, July 9th: Semi-Finals – A1 vs. B2; B1 vs. A2
Sunday, July 10th: Championship Game
While we intend to take a comprehensive look at the potential Canadian roster in future posts, today we take our first of several quick looks at Canada’s opponents in the Philippines, beginning with #31 Senegal. The west African nation – a former French colony – is probably best regarded for their wonderful 2014 campaign at the FIBA World Championships in Spain when Senegal upset heavily-favored Croatia in the round of 16 before being eliminated by the host Spaniards in the quarter-finals. That summer was the coming out party for 6’10” Gorgei Dieng, now completing his third season as a starter/top-end rotation forward with the Minnesota Timberwolves, where he is a teammate of Canada’s Andrew Wiggins. Dieng has been a 40 minute per game guy for Senegal in the past two summers and will be Canada’s focus when the teams meet on Wednesday, July 6th.
Senegal’s path to this summer’s Philippines qualifier began after qualifying for Afrobasket 2015 in Tunisia as a wild card. Senegal quickly surprised many by ripping through the qualifying round with 3 consecutive victories including a dramatic 74-73 win over defending champions Angola on a buzzer-beating tip-in by 6’6″ Antoine Mendy (Orleans Loiret – France Pro A). Senegal pushed their record to 5-0, advancing to the Final 4 with easy wins over Uganda and Algeria to set up a semi-final matchup with FIBA #25 Nigeria. In a classic OT battle, Nigeria, which went on to win the tournament, outscored Senegal 12-3 in the extra frame to claim an 88-79 win. Senegal then settled for fourth place after losing 82-73 to Tunisia in the third place game. Nigeria is the Afro qualifier for Rio with Tunisia moving to the Italy qualifier and Angola attempting to qualify via the Serbia OQT.
This summer Senegal welcomes a new Head Coach in 7’0″ Mamadou N’Diaye, a familiar face to fans of the Toronto Raptors (2001-2003), who takes over from Cheikh Sarr. N’Diaye takes over a program that during last summer’s 5-2 campaign played their top 4 players virtually all 40 minutes led by 6’11” Gorgei Dieng who did not come off the floor in any of their pivotal games in Afrobasket 2015. Dieng, who was a 1st round NBA draft pick after capturing an NCAA championship at Louisville in 2013, averaged over 20 ppg last summer and was the offensive focus both inside and out for Senegal last summer. Dieng was also a one-man machine in their 2014 win over Croatia at the FIBA World’s in Spain. 6’0″ veteran 33 year old pg Xane D’Almeida averaged about 10 assists in the important tournament games and also rarely came off the floor as Senegal’s one true point. 6’6″ Antoine Mendy, a 32 year old veteran of the French Pro A league and the hero against Angola averaged about 18 ppg in the key games. 6’8″ 35 year old forward Maleye N’Doye (Furman ’04) and also a veteran of the French Pro A league, logged virtually full minutes also, averaging about 8 ppg in the big games. The remainder of last season’s team played sparingly albeit with 6’11” Ibrahima Thomas (Cincinnati ’11) coming off the bench as Senegal’s main three point threat. Thomas hit 3-6 3’s vs. Nigeria in the semi-final loss.
At least two key pieces from their 2014 campaign did not play last summer and are likely to be available for Philippines, beginning with 6’10” Mouhammed Faye (SMU ’10), a 30-year old power forward who contributed big minutes in 2014. As well, 7’0″ Hammady Ndiaye (Rutgers ’10), the Big East Defensive Player-of-the-Year in 2010 and a 2nd round pick of Minnesota that year should return after not playing last summer.
Several top prospects from Senegal dot NCAA rosters, most notably 7’6″ Mamadou Ndiaye, who just completed his junior year at UC-Irvine, where he averaged 12.2 ppg/7.2 rpg and almost 3 blocks per game as the tallest player in the NCAA.
Senegal may have the most pure athleticism of any opponent Canada will face with a stable of long, wiry wings and forwards. In Dieng, Senegal presents a legitimate scoring NBA forward (teammate of Andrew Wiggins). However, a lack of depth overall, especially in the back court and a reliance of Dieng for the majority of their scoring and offensive touches, could present a challenge for Senegal.