The Philippine men’s basketball team are all set to kick off their campaign at the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup in a rousing start, as returning head coach Chot Reyes looks to steer his squad to an upset win over heavy-favorite China on Tuesday at 6:30 AM US EST at the Nouhad Nawfal Stadium in Lebanon.

Build-up mishaps

The Filipinos encountered all sorts of challenges during their buildup for the tournament. Andray Blatche, who had been a big part in the team’s success in past international tourneys, decided to skip this year’s event for of several reasons.

Although the former Brooklyn Nets and Washington Wizards big man hasn’t specifically stated the factors behind his decision to take leave from the team, there were reports about Blatche’s safety concerns over the location.

Unlike the rest of the participating teams, the Philippines only had 12 days to prepare for the tournament as the country’s domestic league is currently in the middle of its third conference. Worse, three-time PBA MVP Jun Mar Fajardo sustained a calf injury two days before the team was scheduled to fly to Lebanon. Fajardo, who is supposed to fill in the shoes left by Blatche, traveled with the team but his status is questionable for the rest of the tournament.

China seeks to continue dominance

China is not fielding its Olympic team, but they still possess one of the deepest rosters in this competition. Not even the arrival of Oceania giants New Zealand and Australia changes Chinese’s objected in the FIBA Asia Cup. They want nothing less than a gold medal and a record 17th championship in the continental basketball showpiece.

Yi Jianlian and Zhou Qi may not be around to man the middle, but 7-foot-1 behemoth Han DeJun will be there to fortify China’s frontline. Olympic veterans Guo Ailun and Li Gen are also tapped to provide stability for this young squad.

Players to Watch

The Philippines are expected to challenge any team in the FIBA Asia Cup. Two-time FIBA Asia All-Star Jason Castro is back in the fold, so are electric guard Terrence Romeo, hustler Calvin Abueva, and defensive stopper Gabe Norwood.

Athletic bigs Japeth Aguilar and Raymon Almanzan will be manning the middle for the Gilas 5.

China will be dependent on the playmaking skills of Gou Ailun. The 23-year old guard will be the heart and soul of this team, though almost everybody in this squad can step up big time. Han DeJun will be an imposing presence in the shaded lane, and there’s no doubt he will give the undersized Philippine team all kinds of problems.

Prediction and Live Stream Info

Two years ago, China easily defeated the Blatche-reinforced Philippines in the gold-medal match. With no dominating big man in the middle, Gilas Pilipinas will live and die on their guard play. Unfortunately, that won’t be enough to upset China, not in this caliber of tournament. China over Philippines 78-68. Watch FIBA Asia Cup 2017 on TV5 (6:30 a.m US EST) or online on Sports5 Youtube Channel, Live Basketball TV.