Indian basketball struggles to rise in FIBA Rankings in 2017


This article was first published in my ‘Hoopistani’ column for The Times of India Sports on December 10, 2017. Click here to read the original piece.

Often, no amount of statistical logic can dampen the pure jubilation of success. In July this year, in front of a packed stadium of cheering home fans at the Sri Kantaveera Stadium in Bengaluru, India’s multi-talented forward Shireen Limaye took a fearless three-point shot at the buzzer. The occasion was the Division B final of the FIBA Asia Cup for Women, the biggest basketball tournament in the continent. The opponent was Kazakhstan. The scores were tied.

Limaye made the shot. The crowd went wild. The rest of the team celebrated wildly mid-court. India won the final, and the victory assured them promotion to Division A.

It was one of the most memorable shots in recent Indian history, capping off India’s incredible 5-0 record at the tournament.

And yet, because the victory came against other lower division squads, it barely registered India’s rankings in relation to the rest of the basketball world. In fact, India’s rankings fell five spots in the year-end FIBA World Women’s Rankings. The main event of the FIBA Asia Cup for Women wasn’t India’s Division B victory, but Japan securing a three-peat at the championship in the thrilling Division A final over Australia.

FIBA calculates their rankings based on performances in top official FIBA competitions and their qualifiers, with points based on home and away games, strength of opposition, recency, region, rounds, and more.

Although India’s senior and youth women squads performed well in the lower divisions of their respective championships, their victories did not have a big effect on the final rankings of the year because of the strength of their opposition and the rounds they played in. India’s senior men’s team played in their own FIBA Asia Cup and World Cup qualifiers but performed poorly and failed to make gains in their rankings, too.

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India’s Senior Women’s team played in the FIBA Asia Cup for Women in Bengaluru, winning Division B after a 5-0 record. The team was coached by Serbian Zoran Visic and captained by veteran Anitha Paul Durai, who ended up as India’s top scorer at the tournament. 22-year-old Grima Merlin Varghese was the surprise package for the squad and should now feel confident of playing a major role in the team in the future, too. Raspreet Sidhu, Kavita Akula, Jeena Scaria, and Rajapriyadarshani Rajaganapathi, and Shireen Limaye were all part of India’s main rotation throughout the tournament. The team’s ranking fell five spots, 40 to 45.

The senior Men’s team played poorly in their corresponding tournament: the FIBA Asia Cup for Men in Lebanon in August. Even the coaching of NBA veteran American coach Phil Weber didn’t help to propel the team to better results. India finished the tournament 0-3 in the preliminary round and didn’t qualify for a chance at the knockout stage. Amjyot Singh led the team in scoring (13.0 ppg) and assists (4.3 apg) and was one of the squad’s few bright sparks. Amritpal Singh had the team’s best efficiency rating and led them in rebounds (8.7 rpg). Arvind Annadurai did a good job in his role while 17-year-old point guard Baladhaneshwar Poiyamozhi showed potential that he could rise to be an answer for the team in the PG position in the future.

At the FIBA World Cup 2019 Qualifiers, India’s Men began Group C with two uninspiring losses to Lebanon (away) and Syria (home). India were coached by Visic in these games, but the short-handed team failed to deliver. Their only bright spark was Satnam Singh – averaging 11.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game – but even he was expected to be much more dominant with the opportunity to start for the national team. India’s Men’s rankings stayed static at 64.

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Visic oversaw some happier times with the Women’s youth squad in Bengaluru’s FIBA U16 Asia Cup for Women. Like the senior women’s team, India dominated Division B of the competition, winning all five of their games in comfortable fashion and securing a qualification to Division A in front of their home fans. The biggest star to emerge for India from this championship was Uttar Pradesh girl Vaishnavi Yadav, who finished the tournament as Division B’s leader in points (20.4 ppg) and joint leader, with another Indian Neha Karwa, in assists (6.2). Yadav was also India’s second-best player on the boards, grabbing 8.8 rebounds per contest. The team’s captain Pushpa Senthil Kumar was also a major force in the post, finishing as the division’s second-best rebounder (13.2 rpg). Karwa was a steady presence for India all tournament, too, and could be a guard to watch for the future. The team’s efforts helped India rise one spot to 37 in the Girls’ rankings.

The 2017 FIBA U16 Asia Championship for Men, originally slated to be held in Malaysia, wasn’t held this year. Despite being out of action, the performances drop of teams in other regions actually helped India rise in the Boys’ rankings six spots to 46.

USA continued to dominate world basketball, ranking at No. 1 in the Men, Women, Boys, and Girls standings. This was the first year that Oceania teams were incorporated in Asia, and Australia became the top-ranked teams in both the Asian Men and Women’s divisions. China led the rankings for Asian Boys and Girls.

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India’s FIBA rankings at end of 2017

  • Men: 64 (65.0 points; Change 0).
  • Women: 45 (15.0 points; Change -5).
  • Boys: 46 (16.2 points; Change +6).
  • Girls: 37 (30.9 points; Change +1).

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