FIBA: So, a team goes 0-3 in pool play and is now in the final? How did that happen?

UPDATE: Mali ended up pulling of its second upset, if you can call it that, in two days beating Senegal in the final 82-80 to win the 2020 FIBA U18 African Championship. Final Standings: 1. Mali (2-3 record), 2. Senegal (3-2), 3. Egypt (4-1), 4. Guinea (1-4).

The team with the best record of 4-1 finishes third… go figure.

On the women’s side basically the same thing happened, yet this time Egypt benefited, and Mali got screwed. Egypt turned back Mali 68-63 to win the U18 Africa crown despite entering the final with a 1-3 record and having lost to Mali twice in the pool play double round-robin. Mali finished group play a perfect 4-0, yet their one loss relegated them to second place. Final standings: 1. Egypt (2-3), 2. Mail (4-1), 3. Senegal (1-3).

Mali finishes 4-1 and beats Egypt two out of three games, yet must settle for second place… what?

What should they have done in the three-team women’s event? A double round-robin, as they did, or a triple round-robin with six games each and team with the best record is the champion. Straightforward and fair to all.

SUMMARY: Both 2020 U18 African champions finish with losing records! Only in 2020...

By ALAN WALLS

Welcome to the International Basketball Opinion, the only blog specifically dedicated to international basketball news, business and current events. 

After a four-month absence catching up with my family in El Salvador after being quarantined in Panama for five months the TIBO blog is back!!! 

The FIBA African U18 Championships, men and women, are taking place this week in Egypt.


Despite COVID-19 ravaging the globe, and Africa being no exception (various national and continental competitions have been canceled or postponed such as the NBA/FIBA Basketball Africa League), FIBA and FIBA Africa have decided to push forward with the U18 championships.

Due to many African countries still being on mandated lockdowns, existing travel restrictions and simply many nations not being able to properly assemble and train their national teams, ONLY three women’s teams and four men’s teams are participating in the biannual events. 

On the men’s side Mali will meet Senegal in today’s (Wednesday) final. That Mali is in the final should be of no surprise to anyone that follows international basketball as Mali is ranked #1 in the FIBA Youth Men rankings for Africa and they finished 2nd to the USA at last year’s FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup in Greece. 

BUT..., how does Mali go 0-3 in pool play and still find itself in a final?

This is how…

With only four teams in the men’s event, FIBA Africa set up the competition as follows:

  • All four teams in one pool for round-robin play, three games each.
  • All four teams, independent of their records, advance to the semifinals – this is the problem – 1 v 4 and 2 v 3.
  • Semifinal winners advance to the finals. Losers play for 3rd place.
  • Five games each team. Simple, straightforward and everyone is happy.

 And everyone is happy…? Right?

Just ask Egypt!

Here are the records after pool play:

  • EGYPT 3-0
  • SENEGAL 2-1
  • GUINEA 1-2
  • MALI 0-3

Therefore, the undefeated Egypt had to take on the winless Mali again in the semifinals. Is it fair that a 3-0 Egypt had to beat the same team in a matter of days again just to get to the final?

No, not at all. It is difficult to beat the same team twice in just three days, and Egypt should have been rewarded for their perfect play in the pool games.

As I predicted, Mali played with nothing to lose and upset the host team 79-70!


If Mali is to beat Senegal in the final, they will be the 2020 U18 African champions with a 2-3 record, while Egypt could finish in 3
rd place with a 4-1 record.

Make sense to you? It does not to me…

FIBA! Think ahead and think outside the box. This could have and should have been prevented by thinking ahead, examining potential scenarios and coming up with some creative solutions.

I understand FIBA Africa wanted to guarantee five games to all four participants, but should that take priority over competitive integrity and making sure every game matters?

NO!

With this format, it guaranteed that the six pool play games did not matter one bit.

Here are a few ways I would have conducted this four-team tournament guaranteeing four to five games per team, that ALL games matter and that teams are rewarded for their consistent play.

Option 1: #1 and #2 advance straight to the final:

  • All four teams in one pool for round-robin play, three games each.
  • The top two teams based on record and point differential advance to the final.
  • Bottom two teams play for 3rd place.
  • Four games each team.
  • Simple, straightforward, fair and everyone is happy.
  • In this case, the final would have been host Egypt (3-0) vs. Senegal (2-1).
  • If you MUST play five game each, make the finals and 3rd place two-game aggregate-score series. These would be very competitive and suspenseful!

Option 2: pool games carry over to two-game aggregate-score semifinals:

  • All four teams in one pool for round-robin play, three games each.
  • All four teams, independent of their records, advance to the semifinals: 1v4/2v3.
  • However, the pool play games carry over and the semifinal games serve as game #2 of a two-game aggregate-score series. For example: Egypt won their pool play game vs. Mali by 16 points (77-61). The semifinal (game #2) was won by Mali by 9 (79-70). Egypt would have won the two-game series by 7 (147-140).
  • Semifinal winners advance to the finals. Losers play for 3rd place.
  • Again, the final would have been Egypt (3-1) vs. Senegal (3-1).
  • Five games each team. Simple, straightforward, fair and everyone is happy. 

Option 3: #1 advances to final, #2/#3 play-in game:

  • All four teams in one pool for round-robin play, three games each.
  • #1 is rewarded for their play in the pool games, advances directly to the final.
  • #2 and #3 play one semifinal game with the winner advancing to the final.
  • #4 seed goes directly to the 3rd place game vs. the loser of 2/3.
  • Again, the final would have been Egypt (3-0) vs. Senegal (3-1).
  • 1/4 play four games, 2/3 play five game. Simple, straightforward, fair and everyone is happy.
FIBA, what do you think?

-------------

 

Author Alan Walls is an American international basketball coach and administrator with over 25 years of experience on the youth, high school, NCAA, professional and national team levels in 16 countries and on five continents.  Walls has worked with the national federations of Turkey, Romania, Palestine, Mongolia, Kenya and El Salvador as well as coached or conducted camps and clinics throughout the United States – including his native Hawai’i – Mexico, Costa Rica, Argentina, China, Hong Kong and Israel. Walls is the founder and Secretary-General of the United Nations of Basketball (2020 launch).

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