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Can Iraq do well at FIBA Asia Cup 2017?

BAGHDAD (FIBA Asia Cup 2017) - Iraq have made some waves with their performances dating back to last year, but can they make the jump to become one of the best teams in the FIBA Asia Cup 2017?

Iraq are certainly not among the most top-of-mind teams when it comes to the elite are even the better teams in Asia, but their play at last year's FIBA Asia Challenge and this year's WABA Championship have served notice of their rising through the ranks.

15 Mohammed Al-khafaji (IRQ) - Iraq v Thailand, 2016 FIBA Asia Challenge (IRI), Tehran(Islamic Republic of Iran), Second Round, 14 September 2016
Iraq surprised many when they finished among the top four teams at the FIBA Asia Challenge 2016, booking impressive wins over Gulf kings Qatar and East Asia powerhouse China in the process. At the forefront of their assault was naturalized player Kevin Galloway, who, interestingly enough, has been replaced by Demario Mayfield for this year's Asia Cup. Also stepping up were the frontline pair of Mohammed Al-Khafaji and Dhulfiqar Al-Hchaimi, who combined to average 22.4 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. With both Al-Khafaji and Al-Hchaimi ready and healthy this year, the Iraqis seem to have a solid core that can carry the team through some tough opposition.

This is something new national team head coach Mustafa Derin has personally witnessed at the ongoing 39th William Jones Cup in Chinese Taipei. The 48-year-old Turkish bench tactician took over the team last month shortly after talks with would-have-been head coach Erman Kunter fell through, and it seems the players have responded positively.

Iraq started their Jones Cup campaign with an emphatic 86-68 win over India followed by another victory over Japan, 79-70. They bowed to a Canadian club selection on Day 3, but spirits are high that they can bounce back throughout the rest of the tournament, which they are using to prepare for the Asia Cup.

What coach Derin will need to work on now is making sure that Iraq's backcourt will be solid. Mayfield's entry gives them added depth and size at the wing positions, but playmaking continues to be an issue with neither Omar Alazawi nor Ali Aljuboori really moving the needle in a significant way. If they matchup against teams with strong floor generals like China's Guo Ailun or Gilas Pilipinas's Jayson Castro, things can get ugly. Iraq's supporting cast is also shaky. They have a solid starting unit revolving around Mayfield, Al-Khafaji and Al-Hchaimi, but if guys like Ali Ismael and Ali Hamad cannot get things going off the bench, there will be a big drop in production in their second unit.

Iraq are pooled in what many believe is the Asia Cup's Group of Death. China and the Philippines were in the Final of the FIBA Asia Championship 2015, while Qatar have won the Gulf sub-zone for what seems like an eternity already. The Iraqis are, by far, the odds-on underdogs in their group, but if coach Derin can make his team focused and is able to push the supporting cast to step up, anything can happen.

Source: http://www.fiba.com/asiacup/2017/news/can-iraq-do-well-at-fiba-asia-cup-2017

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