Rocky performances at the international level over the past couple of months have pushed Gilas Pilipinas back by eight spots in the latest FIBA world rankings released Monday.
Philippines, previously ranked No. 33, fell to No. 41 in the updated leaderboard and is now only the 8th-best Asian country after suffering the third-biggest drop among all squads in the continent.
Recent performances in the FIBA Asia Cup and in the last two windows of the World Cup qualifiers were taken into account for these latest rankings.
In the Asia Cup, Philippines failed to advance to the quarterfinals and ended their campaign in 9th place -- their worst finish in 15 years -- after a 1-3 record that only saw them beat India.
Gilas hardly fared better in the World Cup qualifiers, where they hold a 3-3 record through four windows of play.
Home wins against lower-ranked squads Saudi Arabia (73rd) and India (86th) served as silver linings, but Gilas has yet to truly earn a victory against an elite Asian squad after losing twice to New Zealand by an average of 35.5 points, and again to Lebanon in a close four-point loss with NBA player Jordan Clarkson leading the way for the Filipinos.
These rankings are not the purest measure of basketball performance, but it does a good job contextualizing the directions in which programs are trending.
And for an embattled Gilas team saddled with a wide range of issues on and off the court, the dip is telling -- especially when considering the fact that the Philippines ranked as high as 27th back in 2016 and has not scraped the 40s since ranking 45th in 2012.
As alarming as this may all sound, there's still a way for the Philippines to recover some standing and maybe even get some momentum going as the World Cup draws closer.
Gilas might already be qualified for the global tiff by virtue of being co-hosts, but every single win from now on counts towards correcting what has been a less-than-ideal build-up for 2023.
A likely road win against Saudi Arabia awaits Philippines on Nov. 13, but it's the assignment on the front end of that window -- a road game against Jordan on Nov. 10 -- that truly matters.
At first glance, Jordan's body of work does not look impressive.
Like Gilas, the Falcons own a 3-3 record, have sustained losses against New Zealand (100-72) and Lebanon (89-70), and one big dent on its record in a tough 72-64 loss to Saudi Arabia on the road in the first window.
But a closer look reveals a much more dangerous Jordan side.
Those first two games were played without Ahmad Al Dwairi (9.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.0 blocks, 60% shooting), a top-five center at the Asia level; and naturalized shooting guard Dar Tucker (18.0 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 43.8/38.1/81.5 splits), undoubtedly one of the deadliest scorers in the region today.
With the duo on board, Jordan went 2-1 in games that counted on their record, including a huge victory against Wael Arakji and Lebanon back in the second window.
Tucker and Al Dwairi being available for a roster that also has dynamic playmaker Freddy Ibrahim (9.5 points, 5.9 assists, 1.3 steals), reliable gunner Amin Abu Hawwas (14.0 points, 46.8/42.4/81. splits) and longtime national team vet Zaid Abbas (7.8 points, 4.2 rebounds) makes for a tough matchup for Gilas, who will likely be without Utah Jazz guard Clarkson against a Jordan side hunting for a crucial win to stay in the hunt for a World Cup ticket.
Gilas, though, should be able to field a highly-competitive roster this window, as players from Barangay Ginebra, San Miguel Beermen and TNT Tropang Giga will form a squad that also has Filipinos from the Japanese B.League, standouts from the UAAP, and one naturalized player in big man Ange Kouame or candidate Justin Brownlee rounding out the roster.
Before a second showdown with Jordan during the final day of the Asian qualifiers on Feb. 27, a highly-awaited rematch with Lebanon awaits on Feb. 24 at home.
There are no real stakes here as the Cedars have already punched their World Cup ticket last window, but this projects to be a blockbuster matchup because of the personalities and the history involved.
Lebanon -- the reigning Asia Cup silver medalists who pushed Australia to the edge in the finale last July -- holds the mental advantage after beating Gilas in Beirut last August and will again be led by Arakji, the 2022 continental tournament's Most Valuable Player who delivered the telling blows down the stretch in their first face-off last month.
The Cedars are expected to field a similar roster in a bid to continue ramping up their preparation for the World Cup, but they might face a vastly different roster next year as Gilas may continue to miss Clarkson's services with the 2022-23 NBA season still ongoing then.
It's too early to project who will play for Gilas in the final window, but it's not unreasonable to expect the team to field a similar mix from Window 5 as coach Chot Reyes and his deputies begin the process of finally assessing the most fit candidates for a World Cup roster spot.