Beginning with tomorrow’s game vs. Dominican Republic (10:00 AM ET start) in the Round of 16, there is no more margin for error for Canada at the FIBA U-17 World Championships in Spain. If the old adage that over the course of a long tournament, even a very good team like Canada will experience one tough day, observers can point to the opening game of the tournament vs. Australia – a game in which the Canadians needed lock-down “d” in the final 4 minutes and some clutch, high-end offensive performances including the winning “and 1″ from 6’5″ R.J. Barrett – as the one that Canada got out of their system. In Canada’s defense, the Australia game was the first for both 6’9″ Simi Shittu and 6’5” R.J. Barrett with Barrett joining the team just about 48 hours prior to the opener.
What has been noticeable since that Australia game is Canada’s collective work on the defensive side of the ball, first of all being much better at guarding the ball and thus limiting the need for rotations. Just as importantly is how well Canada is able to run the floor and impart their superior athleticism on their opponents.
In the Dominican Republic (0-3 with losses to Bosnia, Korea and France by 30), Canada gets an opponent they are familiar with after decisively handling DR in the semi-finals of last summer’s FIBA Americas tournament. Canada turned an early 18 point lead into 30 mid way through the third quarter en route to a 95-49 pasting in which all 12 Canadians played at least 10 minutes. In that game, Canada held Dominican’s to just 1 for 20 shooting from 3 and dominated the glass 58-24 including 22 offensive rebounds as our size and athleticism shone.
Without looking too far ahead, if Canada is able to handle DR, the team will get another off-day on Wednesday in preparation for their quarter-final game vs. the winner of Turkey/Mali to be played at the same time tomorrow as Canada’s game. By the way, Mali is a land-locked west African country, with French as the official language. Turkey finished 2-1 in their group with their only loss by 18 to the #1 ranked U.S.A. while Mali went 1-2 with their victory over the disappointing Argentine’s who went winless in the preliminary group round. As previously mentioned, the bracket is set up such that Canada’s opponents in the semi-final could be Spain and with the U.S.A. in the finals.