Before all our predictions and predilections, let us give you the schedule for the men’s semifinals later this evening. First up, at 5:30 pm Pool A topper ONGC takes on the second placed Pool B team Indian Air Force. 7:00 PM will see the tip off of the 2nd men’s Semi Final game between the unbeaten Indian Overseas Bank from Pool B versus Punjab. Both these matches will be telecast live on our trusted DD Sports. You can also follow the live streaming plus commentary on
YouTube.

Right. So here we are! At the business end of the 28th RMBT! All teams have showed us their worth through a series of league matches. Some teams depended on the individual brilliance to carry them forward, for others, it was the display of perfect unison between 5 players on court that overcame all obstacles. After all, a fist is stronger than 5 fingers! What we are left with now are 4 teams that managed to blend both—great individuals playing as a team, in varying degrees.

ONGC versus Air Force, 5:30 PM

ONGC is the only All-Star team in this tournament. Their line-up includes three players who have been India captains, in the form of Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Trideep Rai and Riyazzudin, apart from internationals, point guard Mohit Bhandari, forward Yadwinder Singh and centre Murali Krishna. This team has depth, experience, size and versatility.  Vishesh Bhriguvanshi is well and truly the brightest among the stars on his team averaging 25 ppg in the league stages. Vishesh has been very compact throughout and in every game he has showcased some new move making him truly exciting to watch. He does the little things consistently right, which makes all the difference between being a good player versus a great player.

Air Force has been carried primarily by their back court internationals Joginder Singh and Narender Grewal. Giving them spirited support is undersized center Parveen Kumar. Air Force’s strategy throughout this tournament has been to push the tempo of the game through Joginder and Narender. Their offense is generated primarily through transition baskets, and against a set offense, point guard Joginder’s ability to get to the centre of the rival defense and kick it out to his team mates for the open mid range jumper.

Against ONGC, this task gets difficult because of the size mismatch down low. The mere presence of Murali Krishna’s 6ft 8 inch frame has dissuaded opposition players from driving in. Air Force will also have to contend with Yadwinder and substitute forward Shabeer Ahmed on the interior. Senior Coach of the Air Force, Jora Singh will have a lot to deal with today. One area that makes Air Force stand out is their energy which never drops. The same can’t be said about ONGC, which prefers a more slowed down approach. 34-year-old ONGC centre Murali Krishna has shown the tendency to tire after the first quarter of play. Air Force will have to somehow get ONGC to play their brand of run and gun basketball to have any hope of going through to the finals.

IOB versus Punjab, 7:00 PM

This match promises to be a more even contest. IOB topped their group (Pool B) with seemingly minimal effort. They never looked hurried, or rushed. It is only when you look at the margin of their victories that you realize that they have been doing a number of little things right throughout the league phase. After beating Air Force 72-65, they dominated the remaining two matches, against Maharashtra 78-45, and defending champions Western Railway 43-28. IOB’s comparative advantage so far has been their cumulative experience and balanced attack of quality perimeter and post players. The side includes current and former internationals like Hareesh Koroth (7), Vineeth Ravi Mathew (5), Rikin Pethani (4) and Mihir Pandey (9). Rounding off their starting five is the young and exciting no. 15 Pratham Singh, who has already represented India at the junior level and is fresh off his match winning performances in the 3 on 3 Nationals that ended earlier this month.

They do have a couple of areas that will worry them before this match. Their best spot up shooter Hareesh Koroth has been in poor touch so far from distance. Thankfully, their other 2 guard, Pratham finally found his shooting touch in the last league game against Western Railway. Centre Rikin Pathani will have to be more aggressive and pressure the interior defense. A bit too often, he was seen to immediately kick the ball out whenever he received it on the high post, without trying to first contract the defense towards him. This could also be one of the reasons for the poor outside shooting percentages of his team.

Punjab will continue to employ their much talked about zone defense. They will hope that Hareesh and Pratham have another bad shooting night. You can be guaranteed that any broken play by IOB will be met by a searing counter offensive led by the ever hungry Amritpal Singh, who has never had a bad day in any of their games so far.

That’s all with our preview folks! Let the men’s semi finals begin!

Gopalakrishnan R
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