A team loses all group games at FIBA U18 African Championship but still reaches the final! How??

From the International Basketball Opinion Blog.

The FIBA U18 African Championship took place last week in Egypt. For both men and women.

The COVID-19 is ravaging the globe, and Africa is no exception as various national and continental competitions have been canceled or postponed, such as the NBA/FIBA Basketball Africa League.

Nevertheless, FIBA and FIBA Africa decided to push forward with the U18 championships.

However, many African countries are still being on mandated lockdowns, and there are existing travel restrictions. Hence, many nations were not able to properly assemble and train their national teams. Therefore, ONLY four men’s teams are participating in the biannual events.

Mali met Senegal in the final. That Mali is in the final should be of no surprise to anyone that follows international basketball. After all, 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
  • Five games for 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
  • SENAGAL 2-1
  • GUIENEA 1-2
  • MALI 0-3

Therefore, the undefeated Egypt had to take on 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!

Make sense to you? It does not to me…

Mali ended up pulling off 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. Egypt, on the other hand, finished with a 4-1 record and ended in 3rd place! Final Standings: 1. Mali (2-3 record), 2. Senegal (3-2), 3. Egypt (4-1), 4. Guinea (1-4).

Women’s U18 African Championship

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 FIBA U18 African Championship 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 plays 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 the 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…

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 the record and point differential, advance to the final.
  • The bottom two teams play for 3rd
  • Four games for 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 games 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
  • Again, the final would have been Egypt (3-1) vs. Senegal (3-1).
  • Five games for 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 games. Simple, straightforward, fair, and everyone is happy.

FIBA, what do you think?

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