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  • The Sports Desk

The ABA Review Roundtable

Updated: Nov 3, 2023

The Ashoka Basketball Association (ABA) 7.0 saw the Mylapore Machas pick up their second trophy in three years, in an incredibly competitive affair which saw interesting matchups, shock upsets, and unexpected performances. Here, The Edict’s ABA coverage team — Kartikay Dutta, Sristi Bafna, Tanush Guha, Samhith Shankar, and Vishnu Prakash — review the weekend and look ahead to next year’s tournament!

1. Favourite game of the Tournament?

Samhith: Jyo (Jyotirmay Zamre) being amazing at basketball is not news to anyone, but after those first two games, I was regretting sticking with him in my fantasy team — it just was not clicking for him this ABA season. A close loss to Backshots was followed by a THUMPING to eventual bronze winners FBB (16-4), who made A2Z look like amateurs. Jyo would make me and my fantasy team proud in their final group stage match, though. A win for Erstwhile Aroma would see them qualify to the knockouts; meanwhile, most had already written A2Z out of the tournament. A fast start would see A2Z build up a hefty lead from the very start, and they never slowed down. A strategic powerplay taken exactly at the right time helped them blitz their way to 21-9, embarrassing their opponents who were left dumbfounded at the masterclass they had just witnessed. It was also the first walk-off of the tournament. The huge shift in points difference made A2Z the favourites to progress from their group, turning their fortunes around after two dismal opening games. Jyotirmay had arrived at ABA 7.0, and this wasn’t the last we’d see of him in this year’s tournament…

Sristi: After two disheartening losses within the Group Stage itself, Curry Chawal entered what could potentially be our last ABA match at this university, with the simple intention of enjoying the game. Advancing to the Quarter-Finals and retaining our legacy team status seemed a distant dream as we needed to defeat AKGP by a margin of at least 6 points. The game began with Curry Chawal leading by a maximum of 2 points in the first half. The team capitalised on Tanisha scoring well because of Varun Bahl’s known defensive prowess. However, in a remarkable turn of events, Joy Mehta nailed a stunning 3-pointer, making the score 11-8 with just 2 minutes to go. Despite Gian’s consistent offensive pressure, Joy scored another deep clutch shot, extending our lead to 15-10! Both power plays were called with 1 minute and 30 seconds remaining, as Deepanshu further upped the lead to 19-10. Despite a final basket by AKGP, Curry Chawal managed to win by a lead of 7 points — surpassing the 1-point requirement to eliminate the Billis and advance to the Quarter Finals! The entire crowd was spellbound, and every single person on that court was left speechless by the incredible team effort from both ends — a fitting end to an exceptional day of matches.

Vishnu: I was on the sidelines calling the BroCode vs Escobar game for our Twitter page, and I’ve never quite seen the Dhaba court as raucous and divided as it was for those 10 minutes. With everything on the line for Escobar, the pressure was on their talisman, Siddh Veer Bakshi, to power them through after an early loss to rivals Hypefly. On the other side was his teammate Akhil Madhavan, playing with an uncharacteristic sense of desperation — understandably, for someone whose last attempt it would be to win an ABA trophy. Akhil had the better teammates in Kaitlyn, Dogra, and Padam — but Aryamaan and Anandita did a fabulous job of keeping them quiet while coming up with some clutch buckets of their own. Kaitlyn’s free at the end of the game to win for Brocode was the closest it could have been to a point (how did it hit the rim twice?), and Escobar were just too good in OT.

Kartikay: Surely the one where the losing team’s superstar received a standing ovation from the crowd and his colleagues on the university team. Jyotirmay Zamre’s A2Z had the Machas under lockdown in a way rarely seen before, and used his thermonuclear missile of an outside shot to take 15-7 and then 17-11 leads. Unfortunately for him and his teammates, in a 15-minute game, Arjun Khanna’s energy, persistence, and experience helped him outlast his younger opponent, as he led a scarcely believable last-minute comeback for 20-19, finished with a trademark clutch layup and Vatsl’s defensive stop on a must-score last possession for A2Z. The stuff of champions in their sternest and, frankly, only playoff challenge.

Tanush: KD’s already covered what would have been my top pick, but a close second for me was the group stage matchup involving the Mylapore Machas and Pineapple Express. Both teams entered their third group stage game undefeated (2-0), setting the fixture up as a battle for supremacy. It delivered on that billing, and then some. Arjun Khanna’s Euro Step+layup was deadly and repeatedly tore open Pineapple, who utilised a combo of deep 3(2-point)ers from Rohan Gupta with Aditi Nawrekars’s magical fadeaways in the paint. They were helped by Bamal playing the role of a marauder in the paint, attempting to stave off Khanna’s barrage of layups. Vatsl’s timely screens in his Pick & Roll combo with Khanna, his grind on the boards, and finishing off Khanna’s were a critical differentiator. With the game tied at 11-11, another major (unfortunate) twist came in the form of Bamal going down hurt. The Pineapple roster didn’t give up, though, and even without one of their key players, matched the Machas blow for blow. Rohan and Khanna equalled to 17-17 to take it to overtime, where Vatsl again showed up big with a late bucket. Khanna then finished off the valiant pineapples with a final Euro Step + layup. What a game, and perhaps the only glimpse we got of Pineapple at their best.

2. If not Aditi and Arnav, who would be MVP?

Kartikay: An overtime loss meant Chhatti Pass failed to get through a behemoth of a group, but a lot of what went right for them was achieved through the energy and intensity of Shirin Shakir, who covered every inch of the court and was also dead-eye from the two-point line — a genuine game-changer in the group stages. For the cis-male category, Arjun Khanna’s bid for a second ABA MVP saw him lead an incredible Machas as they scored 20 points in 3 consecutive games, and followed that up with 21-point walk offs in the semifinals and finals. The kind of offensive production that is as difficult to argue with as it is to defend.

Sristi: I actually believe that both Aditi and Arnav were the best contenders for MVP. The MVP doesn’t necessarily have to be the objective best player across the tournament: they just play a role within the team that nobody else can assume, and in a way are irreplaceable. Aditi has repeatedly proven herself to be a fantastic playmaker and was undoubtedly the backbone of Pineapple Express this ABA. Despite Bamal’s unfortunate departure in the most crucial part of the tournament, Narwekar was able to work around competent line-ups for the team. Pineapple put on a fantastic show in the Quarter-Finals and performed exceedingly well against FBB, losing to them by just 1 point! Arnav Sahni was a known threat on the defensive end, but his skills on the offensive end were beyond par in this league. Even though there were a lot of well-rounded teams at ABA 7.0, FBB managed to utilise players’ skills extremely well and the majority of this credit rightfully goes to Sahni. He would assume different roles throughout the game in accordance with the opponent and the way the team was performing — undoubtedly the makings of an MVP!

Vishnu: Shirin and Kaitlyn would have been top contenders for the Non-Cis–Male MVP had they made it out of their tough groups, with both of them putting in impressive shifts in their early matches. Aashna is the obvious option, I suppose, but a left-field contender would be APL MVP Anandita Saksena, who massively outperformed expectations. In the cis-male category, any of Khanna, Dogra, Vatsl, and Shubhay would have a rightful claim to the title.

Samhith: Aashna contributed immensely to the all-round performance that FBB put up game after game. She won most of her match-ups, giving FBB a clear advantage against every opponent. Interestingly, her best statistics came in the Quarter-Finals against Pineapple Express when she matched up against Aditi, recording 3 points and 3 rebounds. Of the three teams that won silverware, Aashna was easily the most important non-cis-male player to their side.

I think Sahni’s all-round performance and role as a team player while bolstering his side to an impressive 3rd place finish most definitely deserves the MVP. But if I had to choose an alternative, I needn’t look beyond the reason that Sahni and co. played the 3rd place match and not the finals: FBB vs TopBar, Sahni with the more balanced team, holding their own for the first half, as TopBar struggled to mount much serious threat. In the second half, however, there was no contest as Shubhay feasted on every opportunity. He ended the game with 19 points and 1 assist — 20 point contributions out of the total 21, the highest in the whole tournament! Single-handedly carrying your team to the finals of ABA surely makes you a top contender for MVP.

Tanush: My non-cis-male MVP alternate choice would have been Ananya Pritam, whom I desperately wanted Hypefly to use in a more expansive role. A switch player, she combined timely backdoor cuts to get free under the basket with playmaking ability and a nifty mid-range jumper. This was all topped with lockdown offence, with no fear in guarding the opponent teams' top offensive threat.

3. Biggest Surprise?

Kartikay: Arnav Sahni was always recognised as an incredible lockdown defender, but he was on a different planet as he raised his game tenfold with a smorgasbord of powerful drives and layups, pull-up jumpers, and clutch two-point shots from the arc. Supported by two very capable scorers in Krish Goenka and Aashna Thomas, Sahni led his team from the front as they squashed their group stage opposition by a 27-point differential, and earned his MVP plaudits by excellently combining his typically dominant defence with efficient playmaking and creative shot-creating. Also, an honourable mention to members of the football teams (Nikhil Mishra, Jaidhar Vasishth, Dhruv Achappa, and Anandita Saxena) for reminding us that a ball is a ball, and ball don’t lie.

Sristi: The most pleasant surprises of this ABA were primarily “one-man teams”: teams centred around Tier 1 cis-male players giving significant spotlight and playing time to first-timers. Notable examples include FBB’s Sahni-Aashna and Sahni-Goenka duos, as well as Mylapore’s Khanna-Goswami pair. While both teams initially relied on Sahni and Khanna as playmakers, the dynamics shifted with the progression of the tournament. Krish occasionally took on the point guard role for FBB in critical moments, and Vatsl proved to be the exact support Khanna needed to propel Mylapore to the finals. While Sahni dazzled the audience with his shocking offensive prowess in addition to an acclaimed defensive stronghold, Vatsl’s stats speak for themselves, managing double-doubles in the semis and finals (double-digit points+rebounds). He also had multiple steals and blocks every single match and was the offensive backbone that carried Mylapore when their marquee player fell short. He was the difference between a 3rd place finish last year and the win this year for the Machas. Sharing the spotlight with Arjun Khanna as a 1 million buy at the auction, almost matching him blow for blow against opponents when it mattered the most is an unimaginably impressive feat, and the most surprising factor for me this ABA.

Vishnu: Shubhay. I knew he was good, but I did not know he was THAT good. The group stages felt almost like a formality for TopBar and their freshman talisman in Shubhay, with him spearheading second-half comebacks with a characteristic nonchalance. His dribbles consistent, shooting range unlike any other, and ability to find space for himself to cause havoc was a joy to watch. His first big test was against Escobar in the Quarter Finals, where he outplayed SVB to register a shock win for TopBar. He’s probably locked in as an Right To Match option for TopBar next year too, and he’ll look to go a step further and win the ABA crown.

4. Team of the tournament

Kartikay Dutta: Definitely the two MVPs, Arnav Sahni and Aditi Narwekar. You could put both together and still have had 20 million to work with in the auction, leaving plenty of room for a dependable third option such as the touted steals in Krish and Vatsl, or even the slightly more expensive but just-as-impressive lieutenants in Nikhil Mishra and Shirin Shakir.

Sristi: Shubhay, Vatsl, Aashna: Shubhay would be unbeatable at layups and 3-pointers, leaving Vatsl to rebound the ball and finish baskets. Aashna would be great at mid-range jumpers and a strong defensive force.

Vishnu: Aashna, Arjun, Shubhay. I’ve already waxed lyrical about Shubhay, and the entire college has done the same for Arjun for the last three years, so I’ll avoid speaking about them. Aashna really came into her own in the knockout stages of the tournament, as my Pineapple Express team found out in the Quarter-Finals. She was especially brilliant in the third-place match too, ensuring that the impressive FBB team ended the tournament with some silverware.

Samhith: Aditi Narwekar, Lakshya Bamal, Rohan Gupta :)

Tanush: Keeping budget in mind, Shubay, Vatsl and Ananya Pritam — covering all three levels of scoring and combining two lockdown defenders with Shubay. At ABA 7.0 prices, you would still be left with enough to complete a roster that breezes through the tournament

5. What we want from ABA 8.0

While there were some very impressive performances from the teams that had to balance their auction strategy, the single solitary superstar continues to be the way to go for winning the ABA. The two finalists spent 114m and 109m on their number one players, leaving a combined 17 million for their other 10 players. For the sake of strategy and competition, introducing systems to place these superstars in check and allowing lower-tiered players to show off their quality could do wonders for increased competition and engagement across the tournament.

Solutions could include introducing a maximum number of playable minutes, which demands more depth in auctions, and having a post-regulation Elam Ending format contested between just the non-cis-men, which automatically makes them the only potential match-winners and forces owners to view and value them as such during the auction.

The 12-second shot-clock was violated a few times, and while we’re aware of the difficulties in stringent timekeeping, this is a crucial part of the game that can’t go unaddressed.

Lastly, one of the worse moments of this season was the confusion regarding scores during the dying moments of the A2Z-Mylapore quarterfinal. We can’t have stoppages in play to confirm points totals, and we hope the scorekeeping next year is more efficient. Multiple games were decided by just a point and there were at least a few scoring controversies that could have blown up badly in the intense and very emotionally-charged environment.

ABA 7.0 capitalised on the promise that the previous two post-pandemic tournaments had already shown. From on the court with tactical innovations and increased platforming for non-cis-male players, to off it with a slate of collaborations with the university's clubs and societies, ABA really stitched together campus culture in a way only sports really can. This event set the template for the distances such events can go, and bodes well for a fantastic year of sports still ahead of us.

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