Tale of the Tape: Can the Philippines end its 56-year Asiad slump against South Korea?

Enzo Flojo on Aug 27, 2018 07:56 AM
Can the Philippines end its Asiad slump against South Korea?
Can Jordan Clarkson be the big difference as the Philippines tries to topple age-old rival South Korea? (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
This dance never gets old. As fearsome and dominant as China has been in Asian basketball, South Korea has been the classic foil and wrecker of Philippine hoop dreams.

And today, once again, those Koreans stand in our way of getting into the medal round at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Needless to say, our national team's beating South Korea today will be monumental, but for our boys to actually pull it off would be nothing short of a minor miracle. Remember that the last time Yeng Guiao coached the national team in 2009, he lost to South Korea not once but twice. Remember that the Philippines last beat South Korea in the Asiad way back in 1962 -- that's 56 years' worth of eye-gouging frustration for every Filipino basketball fan worth his tri-colors.

Okay, now that we're here and we're armed with a bona fide NBA player, though, can our national team actually hand the Koreans some humble pie?

Let's see how our boys measure up against our notorious nemesis.

Frontline: Advantage South Korea

Unlike China, South Korea won't be parading any hulking 7-footers, but their frontline will be bannered by former PBA import and current naturalized player Ricardo Ratliffe. The 6'8" forward-center has been a veteran import in the Korean Basketball League (KBL), where he started playing in 2012, and leading him to seamlessly integrate himself into the Koreans' style of play. Not since the days of Seo Jang Hoon has South Korea seen such a dominant low post operator, but that's exactly what Ratliffe is for their national team here. To date, Ratliffe is averaging 23.3 points and 13.0 rebounds per game while also shooting 62.5% from the field.

Our best bet to match up with him is 6'8" Filipino-German Christian Standhardhinger, who has put up 16.5 points and 6.5 boards per game while shooting 50.0% from the floor in our Group D assignments. Standhardinger has a score to settle with the Koreans, too, since the last time he played them, the Filipinos got bamboozled, 118-86, also in the quarterfinals of the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup. Standhardinger had 17 points and 4 rebounds in that loss, and he will certainly want to return the favor to the Koreans here. He'll need to raise his game a notch, though, if he wants to hamper Ratliffe's production.

Now, a couple of other Korean bigs to watch are southpaw shooter Lee Seung Hyun and rising star Kang Sang Jae. Lee had 14 points the last time he played the Philippines, while Kang has been averaging 11.7 points and 6.0 rebounds per game in the Asiad. The onus will be on JP Erram and Raymond Almazan to try and stifle their play.

Wings: Advantage Philippines

South Korea's head coach Hur Jae recently said that they have a special gameplan to try and stop Cleveland Cavalier wingman Jordan Clarkson. The Filipino-American is likely too talented to be completely sidetracked by any defensive scheme at this level, but of course, the Koreans are welcome to throw anything at him, including maybe the kitchen sink.

Despite that, Clarkson's presence alone gives the Filipinos an edge on Korea's wingmen, despite the latter having near-immaculate levels of outside shooting. Most of Korea's perimeter players will probably be preoccupied trying their darnedest to stay in front of Clarkson, and just like the defenders China assigned to the former Los Angeles Laker, Korea's wingmen will also probably more often fail than succeed.

Clarkson is just too gifted a scorer for anyone in Asia to completely hold him down, and though he can shoot his own team out of a game, he has also proven that when he catches fire, there's pretty much nothing the opposing team can do but watch slack-jawed.

On the other hand, Gabe Norwood and James Yap (along with Maverick Ahanmisi) will need to work extra hard trying to contain Korea's snipers. Over three games, South Korea has connected on nearly 44% of their threes, sinking an average of 14.0 triples per outing. That spells trouble for the Filipinos, who, in turn, average 11.5 threes per game on 32% accuracy from beyond the arc.

The guys that Gabe and James need to shadow are Lee Jung Hyun, Heo Il Young, Jeon Jun Beom, and coach Hur's own son, Heo Ung. Both Gabe and James remember those two defeats in 2009, though, so you can bet both veterans will carry some additional motivation into this encounter.

Backcourt: Advantage South Korea

Yes, we have both Stanley Pringle and Paul Lee in our backcourt, but both may pale in comparison against a peak-form Kim Sun Hyung, otherwise known as the Jayson Castro of Korea. And whereas Castro goes by the moniker "The Blur," Kim's nickname in the KBL is "The Flash." The 6'2" floor general was a big reason Korea embarrassed the Philippines in last year's Asia Cup, scoring 21 points on top of 4 assists, 3 steals, and 2 triples. In that game, Kim outplayed both Castro and Terrence Romeo.

Pringle and Lee will probably welcome this challenge, and it should bring out the best in both pros. Remember, however, that Korea's backcourt goes deeper than Kim. A notable player is 6'7" guard Choi Jun Yong, who was a matchup nightmare for Gilas Pilipinas in the Asia Cup. The lanky but agile Choi recorded 9 points, 4 assists, 2 blocks, and 1 steal against Gilas in 2017, and his length will definitely be bothersome as he tries to guard either Pringle or Clarkson in this joust.

Also proving problematic will be old hand Park Chan Hee, who had 9 points and 9 assists against Gilas last year, and coach Hur's second son, Heo Hoon, widely touted in Korea as the next great playmaker for the national team. The 5'11" Heo is just 23 years of age and will blossom into a fine point guard for them in the very near future.

Coaching: Advantage South Korea

I hate to say it, but when it comes to beating the Philippines, Korea's Hur Jae is nonpareil. This is a guy who, in my memory -- as a player or coach -- has never lost to a Philippine team in any FIBA Asia or Asian Games fixture. Heck, he scalped coach Yeng Guiao's Powerade Team Pilipinas two times in 2009 -- 69-56 in the elims and 82-80 in the battle for 7th place.

To say that coach Hur has had our number is an understatement, and it sure seems like coach Yeng will need to think at least three steps ahead for the Philippines to finally shatter coach Hur's iron curtain of dominance.

Of course, there is no doubting coach Yeng's skill or experience, but the reality is coach Hur has had more collective experience in international basketball. He coached the Korean national team from 2008-2009, took a break, and then returned to action in 2016. History and current standing will dictate that coach Yeng is the underdog in this head-to-head.

Overall, if we thought China's Great Wall was tough to scale, wait till we get caught up in the whirling dervish that is South Korea. Lead scout Ryan Gregorio and coach Yeng have long warned of Korea's trademark speed, shooting, and passing, and we can expect all will be on full display later as the winner moves on to the semifinals and the loser wallows in tears.



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