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Women's Olympic Basketball Power Rankings - Volume 2
TOKYO (Japan) - The Women's Olympic Basketball Tournament is almost upon us and it's time to check out the second volume of the Power Rankings.
Taking into account roster announcements, injuries, absences, tradition, preparation games (or lack of thereof), and our first volume of the Power Rankings, here's how things look on the eve of the tournament in what has proven a tough task! There will also be a third volume to enjoy ahead of the Quarter-Finals.
#1 USA (0)
Qualifiers Record: Qualified as the 2018 FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup winners
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 1st
Things have not gone according to the script during the preparation period, with the American squad suffering not one, but two shock losses. First came losing to the WNBA All-Stars and then succumbing to an Australia team seemingly galvanized by the absence of centerpiece Liz Cambage.
For most nations, this would have to result in a downwards movement in the Power Rankings. But, with a class team like the USA, it arguably makes them even more dangerous and motivated to put things right in the Japanese capital.
You got that sense that as they tore past Puerto Rico after those losses to get back on a winning note. Despite these blips during prep, they're still the team to beat by some distance. History also shows that when it comes to the Olympics, the USA don't just win games and golds, they win big!
Will the one and only Sonja Vasic propel Serbia to a first ever Olympic Final?
#2 Serbia (0)
Qualifiers Record: 2-1 (2nd in Group A, Belgrade)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 8th
Maybe a lack of preparation games due to COVID-19 precautions benefits Serbia more than anyone. They used up so much physical and emotional energy in that glorious FIBA Women's EuroBasket title success. Re-charging the batteries and energy levels was always necessary if they want to employ their relentless defense again.
To justify this ranking they must keep their momentum going and certainly winning medals is a good habit with two golds and two bronze since 2015. After all, they were third and Rio, with this group arguably even better.
Head Coach Marina Maljkovic has opted to make one roster change with the more experienced Dragana Stankovic returning. They really can and should be aiming high with such a deep roster, super mental toughness, a great team ethic and all framed around their wonderful centerpiece and flag bearer, Sonja Vasic. Now find me someone who is not a fan of hers!
#3 China (+1)
Qualifiers Record: 3-0 (1st in Group B, Belgrade)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 9th
Is this is an 'over-bake' of the China basketball cake? Maybe, since they've not played anyone of any note in more than a year. Head coach Xu Limin has spoken about his fear of this while rolling into Tokyo in a wheelchair after rupturing his Achilles.
So on paper, it probably seems outlandish to bump them up onto the last step of the podium. Yet breaking down their roster, it is undeniable that they have an extensive frontcourt rotation that is up there with the best. Not only young debutantes Xu Han and Yueru Li, but real warriors like Ting Shao and Sijing Huang too. With Meng Li a do-it-all momentum shifter on the wing, it is going to boil down to the production of the backcourt - the key question posed in a recent feature.
If Liwei Yang and Yuan Li get it right, then China are going to be a tough nut to crack, while they might also feel more at home playing in Asia in what is their neighbors yard. But will they be too undercooked?
#4 France (+2)
Qualifiers Record: 3-0 (1st in Group A, Bourges)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 5th
Perhaps this is generous. But it's no knee-jerk reaction to a big win over Puerto Rico which didn't really prove anything other than what all of us already knew. The push upwards towards the top four is simple really. You look at the roster depth. You look at the talent. You look at the exquisite balance of experience and youth... Sandrine Gruda, Endy Miyem, Marine Johannes, and so on.
You then factor in being hurt by that fifth FIBA Women's EuroBasket Final loss in a row and the sense of a potential need and urgency to make amends. How can France not make the Semi-Finals? Come on. It's time. Forget waiting until Paris 2024.
The time should and can be now. It's time to channel that London 2012 spirit and application. Plus, it's owed it to their fans for not winning in Valencia.
Without Liz Cambage, will the Opals miss out on the podium, or will coach Sandy Brondello still get her team to deliver a medal?
#5 Australia (-2)
Qualifiers Record: 2-1 (2nd in Group A, Bourges)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 2nd
The one you have all been waiting for. Where to put the Opals after the departure of marquee star Liz Cambage: is your glass half empty or half full? The truth? They have been in every spot from 2-8 and you can probably justify each one of those. That's because we don't know which theory is correct. You know, the one about 'the departure of Cambage will galvanize the team and bring them together' as opposed to the 'the biggest stars are needed for the biggest clutch moments.'
In the end we have unashamedly sat on the fence somewhere in the middle and went for 5th. With the likes of Leilani Mitchell, Steph Talbot, Bec Allen and Ezi Magbegor, they have players that can get it done. It would not necessarily be a surprise if they stil medaled, and especially with a coach like Sandy Brondello who did so brilliantly at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2018.
It's just that niggling concern that if a game at the business end of the tournament is on a knife-edge and in the clutch, having Cambage to throw the ball too, or as a distraction for the defense is surely way better than not having her? All the other issues aside of course!
#6 Belgium (-1)
Qualifiers Record: 2-1 (2nd in Group A, Ostend)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 6th
Harsh? Maybe - although it does now match their FIBA World Ranking. Losing to Japan in preparation might in itself might not warrant a move downwards, but it was maybe more of the familiar pattern which unfolded during that contest. Namely, Emma Meesseman scores a bucket load of points, with someone playing a cameo. That has worked for Belgium many times of course.
But maybe to get onto that Olympic podium, they will need to show they can cope with Plan B on the rare ocassion their brilliant marquee star is having a quieter game. Belgium have a great rotation and a string of highly capable players. They have nothing to worry about if they play to their potential, meaning they can seriously enjoy this first ever Olympic outing.
Watching Belgium play is usually a joy and nobody would be shocked if they went all the way to the medals. They just have to make sure they are switched on mentally from the get-go.
#7 Spain (0)
Qualifiers Record: 2-1 (2nd in Group B, Belgrade)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 3rd
With nothing much having happened since the first ranking, it's a hold of position for Spain. Trying to assess them in the rankings for the FIBA Women's EuroBasket was tough. We went high and they finished 7th. It would be ironic if this time, they're ranked 7th and finish high. With Coach Lucas Mondelo at the helm, you can't rule it out.
They always have the potential to find a way and have two bonafide All-Star Five candidates if they do well in the form of Alba Torrens and Astou Ndour. With Maite Cazorla having showed good signs at her first ever major senior tournament last month alongside the even younger Raquel Careera, the 2016 Rio Finalists might be quietly confident that too many people have written them off too quickly.
It's also comforting to know that our FIBA Expert Panel were all over the place on the prospects of Spain - from dark horses for the podium to another person thinking they are going to struggle. It underlines how difficult it is to predict how they will perform, but they can certainly use revenge as a driving force when they face Serbia as they look to make up for that agonizing Quarter-Finals defeat in Valencia last month.
Japan will look to push the tempo and will be ready to cut loose with their shooters from the perimeter
#8 Japan (0)
Qualifiers Record: Host nation
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 10th
Perhaps Japan has justifiable cause to have expected a slight upwards movement for having shown their teeth against Belgium in that preparation victory. They may be 8th in these rankings but they have every opportunity to still make a podium push, with one of the FIBA Expert Panel members tipping them to still medal - even without Ramu Tokashiki.
Their opponents are still going to find it seriously tough to play against their unwavering intensity and the fact that they don't run on the court, they sprint. And they sprint hard. Their defense will be well-coordinated and everyone knows they will cut loose from long-range and turn up the dial on overall tempo, hoping nobody can live with them.
With Coach Hovasse having worked for several years for this tournament, there will be many neutrals willing them towards success as they are such great fun to watch and Tokyo could do with a fairytale story for the home fans. But things are still not quite how everyone had envisaged personnel-wise, which means it's hard to push them up higher.
#9 Canada (0)
Qualifiers Record: 3-0 (1st in Group A, Ostend)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 4th
First, a huge congratulations to Miranda Ayim for being selected to carry her nation's flag at the Opening Ceremony and finding out from Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. This is great recognition for someone who is arguably an unsung hero and has diligently performed so well. But will Ayim enjoy her last outing at this event? It's a cut and paste from the first rankings assessment really isn't it? They have the talent and they have that memory of some fine displays at the Qualifying Tournaments in Ostend last year. Even if it feels like a lifetime ago.
On paper, they have every chance to make a mockery of this rating down in 9th. But they have to somehow come together with limited preparation as a group and hit the ground running. That is always difficult. Who handles the ball in clutch moments is still a pertinent question. Kia Nurse, Bridget Carleton, Natalie Achonwa Miranda Ayim and Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe - plus the vastly experienced Kim Gaucher means Canada could make a podium tilt.
But the build-up doesn't give much cause for confidence.
#10 Nigeria (0)
Qualifiers Record: 1-2 (2nd in Group A, Belgrade)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 17th
What happened during preparation in Las Vegas did little to justify a move upwards, since Nigeria didn't do anything on the court to suggest they can navigate their way out of a very tough group. Additionally, much of the focus has been on who might be able to play, namely Ogwumike and Williams - rather than those who were always going to be the players stepping out. Now those two won't be playing, the spotlight is back on those tasked with trying to exceed the solitary victory attained at the 2004 edition.
They are capable of making this 10th place ranking look inaccurate and indeed one of the FIBA Expert Panel recently tipped them for the podium! They will rely heavily on Ezinne Kalu, Promise Amukamara, Adaora Elonu and Victoria Macaulay, but will certainly miss the ferocious rebounding prowess of Evelyn Akhator who has been ruled out with an injury.
Will Korea win their first game at a major senior global tournament for the first time in more than a decade?
#11 Korea (+1)
Qualifiers Record: 1-2 (3rd in Group B, Belgrade)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 19th
The modest rise of one place for Korea is more down to them benefitting from the judgement below on Puerto Rico than anything else. Korea look marginally more likely to be able to win a game at this tournament than their fellow underdogs. As a reminder, though, they have not won a game at a senior global tournament in 11 years.
The good news is that they do have more or less a full quota of their leading players. Hyejin Park, Ji Su Park, Danbi Kim are all very capable performers, along with and Jihyun Park who was selected as one of the young guns to watch at the tournament. The big issue that Korea has is their consistency and limited firepower, but if they can play good defense, then they will give themselves a chance at least.
#12 Puerto Rico (-1)
Qualifiers Record: 1-2 (3rd in Group A, Bourges)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 23rd
Despite an encouraging display at the FIBA Women's AmeriCup, they suffered big losses in their preparation games - albeit against quality opposition in the shape of medal contenders USA and France. Their ranking in the last spot is certainly no surprise, of course. But because women's basketball is so unpredictable, you can't rule out Puerto Rico causing an upset. However, their group is full of opponents that will be able to possibly dominate inside.
It's essential Puerto Rico box-out as a team and stand up physically to China, Belgium and Australia to keep themselves in with a shot heading into the last quarter of each match-up. Also, all eyes are on the scoring power of Jen O'Neill and whether she can handle the inevitable defensive attention coming her way.
Whatever happens, they will be in great spirits and will enjoy this major slice of history!
*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.