Women's Olympic Basketball Power Rankings - Volume 1
TOKYO (Japan) - The Women's Olympic Basketball Tournament is only a few weeks away and it's time to check out the first volume of the Power Rankings.
Taking into account recent performances at Continental events, roster announcements, injuries and absences, tradition and preparation games, here's how things look right now. However, there is plenty of time for significant movements ahead of a second volume to be issued before the showpiece event gets underway.
Qualifiers Record: Qualified as the 2018 FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup winners
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 1st
Seriously, have you seen the list of players who won't make it to Tokyo? If you made a USA 'second team', would they play the USA 'first team' in the Final? It's something we will never know of course, but the list of names of those who won't play is breathtaking. So now let's turn to those who will compete. This list is jaw-dropping. There is a GOAT, legends and also legends in the making. Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Sylvia Fowles, Breanna Stewart. Enough said. USA are the reigning champions, the champions-elect. Don't even try to think about knocking them off this number one perch!
Qualifiers Record: 2-1 (2nd in Group A, Belgrade)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 8th
Momentum. Momentum. Momentum. They are feeling it right now. The recently crowned 'Queens of Europe' never lost a game in Valencia last month as they landed their second FIBA Women's EuroBasket Women title. Before anybody starts getting ready to say this second spot is too high, remember Serbia did it the hard way. They played Italy, Spain, Belgium and France. They beat them all. And what about the TISSOT MVP Sonja Vasic, who will now carry Serbia's flag in Tokyo? Fairytales are what they do best. And remember, after their first-ever Euro title in 2015 they went to their maiden Olympics in Rio and got onto the podium with bronze. So maybe making the Final is not quite as far fetched as your probable first reaction to this ranking suggested? Yes, this group of players can ball, they're mentally tough and Coach Marina Maljkovic continues to do an amazing job.
Qualifiers Record: 2-1 (2nd in Group A, Bourges)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 2nd
Don't be triggered by this, Opals' fans. It just seems such a long time since Australia played at a major event and remember that there was a loss en-route to Tokyo when defeated by France at the FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournaments in Bourges last year. However, Liz Cambage remains the player everyone wants to follow and watch in this competition more than any other. She is just a brilliant centerpiece of a talented group. We would give anything to see a repeat of her last global outing in Tenerife at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup when she was sensational. Meanwhile, Bec Allen has inspired Valencia to EuroCup Women success in past months and otherwise all looks to be smooth. Now, let's see how these prep games go.
Qualifiers Record: 3-0 (1st in Group B, Belgrade)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 9th
You're shocked, right? Staggering overconfidence in what is still arguably an unknown quantity? Or, faith in what on paper at least looks like it is a well balanced and rather beautiful mix of experience and youth? Well, it's hard to look past the fact that China were unbeaten last year in the FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournaments in Belgrade when 3-0 - including an impressive victory over Spain. Meng Li was MVP of the competition and will continue to be a difference-maker. With Ting Shao always ready to lead and brilliant rising stars in Xu Han and Yueru Li, there is much to love. Plus, the last time the Games were held in Asia in 2008 (in Beijing), China made the Semi-Finals. A good omen, perhaps?
Qualifiers Record: 2-1 (2nd in Group A, Ostend)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 6th
There was a tangible change in the mentality of Belgium at the FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2021. On the day of the bronze medal game against Belarus, the likes of their tour de force Emma Meesseman really looked like she didn't want to be there. Belgium wanted to be in the Final. Four years earlier, they were loving winning the bronze medal. That disappointment and heightened goal and ambitions can be the fuel that drives them to have a deep run in what will be a historic first-ever Olympic appearance. That bronze in Valencia was still something to be proud of, but they clearly want more. If Julie Allemand continues in the same vein and Meesseman inspires like always, good things can happen. Take note of the form of Antonia Delaere, think about the experience of Kim Mestdagh, but the biggest bonus is the return from injury of unsung hero Jana Raman.
Qualifiers Record: 3-0 (1st in Group A, Bourges)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 5th
Before the ball was thrown up in the Final at the FIBA Women's EuroBasket in Valencia, everything had been going so well. It was seemingly written in the stars that runaway favorites France would end their run of four losing Finals and make it fifth time lucky. They were unbeaten, had the players, the tools, the form. Surely there was no way they could lose again - right? Wrong. Serbia tore up the script and seemingly won the mental battle as well as the physical duel on the court. Another major tournament bittersweet taste has thrown up more questions than answers. It was a familiar story. Then France lost their first preparation game for Tokyo against Spain, which was maybe a hangover from Valencia. But to their credit, they bounced back last weekend for a tight win.
Qualifiers Record: 2-1 (2nd in Group B, Belgrade)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 3rd
Does this seem harsh? Possibly. But this is where they finished as co-hosts at the FIBA Women's EuroBasket. However, on the flip side, they lost by very fine margins, with a number of close games not going their way. They do have a scoring deficit at times and the misfortune of Alba Torrens missing out due to being tested positive for COVID-19 was a hammer blow. She is back now and that is a real boost. This next generation needs to step up that little bit more to show they can continue the torch that head coach Lucas Mondelo lit all those years ago. Spain has been truly amazing, including that first-ever Olympic Final in Rio. But after losing some veterans, they are not exactly in full transition, but they do have a lot of work to do. Remember they have to win in Tokyo and take gold to go to the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup - something that is a reality check for a nation so brilliant over the last decade or so.
Qualifiers Record: Host nation
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 10th
When Japan played so nicely in Ostend at the FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournaments in February of last year, everything looked so good. In fact, the podium looked like a real possibility. Then, a nightmare cocktail of COVID-19 delaying the Games, subsequent serious injuries - including marquee star Ramu Tokashiki (pictured) and the most recent confirmation that there will be no home fans in the Saitama Arena - have all taken the air completely out of the balloon for the host nation. It's not exactly grim as they have some excellent players and a standout coach in Tom Hovasse. However, it's just not how things were supposed to be.
Qualifiers Record: 3-0 (1st in Group A, Ostend)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 4th
Shocked by this? Well, when the nation ranked 4th in the entire world is ranked in real-time last month as only 4th on their continent, things are perhaps not quite right. Before everyone screams about the players who were not playing in San Juan as mitigation, let's remember more than half the roster who were playing in Puerto Rico will be in Tokyo. Sure, Canada will get some big guns back for the Olympics. But the critical question is this - with COVID-19 limiting the number of preparation opportunities, was there any better preparation than competitive games at the Women's AmeriCup? So for Canada not to have their full strength roster at this tournament, less than two months before Tokyo looks worrying. Maybe those who missed can parachute in, turn on the tap and everything will be rosy. Certainly the sight of the super Natalie Achonwa and Kia Nurse will be particularly welcomed. Canada can take this power ranking and stick it on the locker room door for motivation. Because one thing is clear - they need to do better. And remember, this is a nation that should be pushing for the podium. They have the talent.
Qualifiers Record: 1-2 (2nd in Group A, Belgrade)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 17th
Having Nigeria down here in 10th is just savage. We are guilty as charged of pushing the African champions, who did so brilliant on their last full major outing at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup, way, way down. It borders on being disrespectful. But look at the teams above, who are you taking out and moving down? Wow - it underlines how competitive this tournament is going to be! It's so tricky as Nigeria did well at the FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournaments in Belgrade as well. But the real issue is that group they have been placed into in Tokyo. France - ouch. Japan - ouch. USA - double ouch. We will leave this resting here for now for you all to muse over.
#11 Puerto Rico
Qualifiers Record: 1-2 (3rd in Group A, Bourges)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 23rd
It's great that Puerto Rico are preparing to step out at their first-ever edition of the Games and that is exciting not only for the coaching staff and players but the whole nation. However, it looks a tall order for them to get the historic first win they crave. It was a bitter-sweet experience when they hosted the FIBA Women's AmeriCup last month as they reached the title game with a super win against Canada (even if their opponents were missing key players). In the end they took silver - although they lost to a very young USA team by some distance which was maybe a slight disappointment. Still, with Jen O'Neill, Jazmon Gwathmey (pictured), Ali Gibson and Pamela Rosado, they showed they have got some game - evoking memories of that win against Brazil in the FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
Qualifiers Record: 1-2 (3rd in Group B, Belgrade)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 19th
There is work to do for Korea to convince anybody they have the capability of getting past the Group phase. They booked their pass to Tokyo with a close and hard-fought victory against Great Britain in Belgrade but you have to go back more than a decade for the last time they won a game at the global level in terms of a major tournament. This was at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup in 2010. They are looking to end a 7-game losing streak at the global level proper when they take to the court in the Japanese capital. They are going to have to seriously turn up the offensive dial to snap that run of losses.
*The power rankings are entirely subjective and are in no way a true, accurate ranking system. All comments are purely those of the author.
The Women's Olympic Basketball Power Rankings are put together by our panel, led by FIBA's women's basketball specialist Paul Nilsen. He eats, sleeps and breathes female hoops and is incredibly passionate about the promotion of the women's game at all levels. Paul uses an extensive network of players, coaches, clubs and Federations to shape his work and opinions.