Women's Olympic Basketball Power Rankings - Volume 3
TOKYO (Japan) - The Women's Olympic Basketball Tournament is entering its last stretch and with the Quarter-Finals looming, we look at who is on course to finish atop the podium.
Taking into account placing from Volume 2 of the rankings from the eve of the tournament, everything that has happened in the Group Phase and following the all-important draw for the Quarter-Finals, here are the last set of rankings before the medals get handed out.
#1 USA (0)
Qualifiers Record: Qualified as the 2018 FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup winners
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 1st
Still the team to beat, Team USA have not necessarily been at their best after a mediocre showing against Nigeria, a strong effort in the latter stages against Japan, and then being pushed hard by France - with the Americans only snapping the game open in the closing minutes. They still look a lock for gold because of their quality and depth, though the Americans probably still have an extra gear to find.
Breanna Stewart has been impressive and A'Ja Wilson outstanding with a debut Olympic tournament double-double so far. Sue Bird got those 100+ assists and her career-high at the Games which was tremendous. Three more wins from yet another title, it looks doubtful anyone will stop them.
#2 Japan (+6)
Group Record: 2-1 (France W, USA L, Nigeria W)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 10th
My heart ruling my head? Possibly. I said back in December that Japan could make the Final but then had them 8th heading into the tournament as they are without their centerpiece Ramu Tokashiki, making it unclear how they would cope. So far and despite losing to the USA, they have looked slick.
Playing some beautiful team basketball, Japan have so much energy and commitment, paired with passing and shooting talent. Nigeria coach Otis Hughley laughed when asked about guarding them. He underlined that when you give them space they shoot the lights out and when you get too close, you feel the wind of them driving past to the hoop. They're so well coached, they have a strong sense of purpose and identity, but of course Belgium will be a huge challenge in the Quarter-Finals. A true 50-50 game. Maybe I am just thinking too much about a fairytale after everything that has happened for the host nation. You can't blame me for that, right?
#3 China (0)
Group Record: 3-0 (Puerto Rico W, Australia W, Belgium W)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 9th
When you take into account the FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament, China are 6-0 with quality wins against Spain, Australia and Belgium. Head coach Limin Xu claimed it is a happy accident that China have made the Quarter-Finals, but I am not sure that is truly the case. They have that great frontcourt led by Yueru Li so far, rather than Xu Han as anticipated. Yet this team can also shoot.
Highly disciplined, China also benefit from having Yao Ming sitting behind them on the bench, whispering nuggets of advice quietly and out of the limelight. You can see the players gaining confidence from that - especially the forwards. The Quarter-Finals against Serbia could see them lose, of course, but you can't be anything other than impressed so far with a nation that looks like rising to the upper echelons of the women's global game in the coming years. I just feel relieved that they have shown why they were in the bronze medal position for the second volume of the rankings and I have no reason to move them now.
#4 Spain (+3)
Group Record: 3-0 (Korea W, Serbia W, Canada W)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 3rd
Let's be absolutely clear here. Having drawn France in the Quarter-Finals, you had might as well take a coin and flip it when it comes to who will advance to the Semi-Finals. They know each other like a married couple and have even played multiple preparation games together earlier this summer. The rationale for having Spain move up (and whatever happens in the Quarter-Finals) is that they are back. Yes, back from their FIBA Women's EuroBasket disappointment earlier this summer where they finished seventh.
The sparkle is back and the aggressive defense that disrupts teams is back. I love Astou Ndour and the job she has done, while Laura Gil is taking on the warrior job to new heights alongside her. Cristina Ouvina has played well, with Alba Torrens always ready to win games. Maite Cazorla is emerging, too. Coach Mondelo probably smiled when the draw was made. He knows it will be most probably decided on the finest of details. He knows how to beat France., but his team must look after the ball. We will see, but it's just good to see Spain not wilting like they did in the summer Spanish heat of Valencia.
#5 France (-1)
Group Record: 2-1 (Japan L, Nigeria W, USA L)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 5th
Yes, that trend of this volume of the rankings continues with the fact that it is 50-50 in the Quarter-Finals against Spain. The slight movement downwards is that, so far, France have beaten a very poor Nigeria team and this is all. Of course, they are capable of not only beating Spain but maybe going even further. What has emerged for me is a reminder that they have so much depth and talent, but the pivotal factor in their success or otherwise is surely tempo.
They turned it up against the USA and looked so much better. They looked powerful, dangerous and their talent came out from the shadows and into the light. Six players in double-digits, and young gun Iliana Rupert was super by the way.
I am convinced that had they played this tempo in Valencia, they would now be the reigning European champions. Why didn't they? Be bold, be brave France. Cut loose, turn up the speed dial. Put your collective feet on the gas and anything is possible. You don't have to always play conservatively and controlled. The force can be with you. Yes, it's like I have been taken back to the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2018 in Tenerife with these comments. Cut and paste.
#6 Belgium (0)
Group Record: 2-1 (Australia W, Puerto Rico W, China L)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 6th
Talking of cut and paste... You've guessed it, a 50-50 Quarter-Final game against Japan awaits. The Cats could win this and their Olympic debut ride could continue. The important thing is that they started this adventure positively with two wins and the China loss at least gives them the motivation to respond now. My issue is that I have seen nothing new or different. The pattern is exactly the same. Emma Meesseman dominates and they are left looking for two or three contributors to support this. She is amazing, but she can't do everything. Of course, some other players have done well at times in support. But now Belgium must show it collectively like never before.
Opportunity knocks and very loudly. Another well-coached team playing stylish basketball, do they have the mental and physical toughness to not only beat Japan, but go even further? They just have to stand up because being a technically good team is important, but they have to still make shots and meet the physical demands. It really is in their hands now. What a chance they have.
#7 Serbia (-5)
Group Record: 2-1(Canada W, Spain L, Korea W)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 8th
Harsh? Well yes, of course it is. Because, they can beat China in the Quarter-Finals, but having Team USA in their bracket means their previous dreams of making the Final are surely over. At least our previous ranking position now looks over! So far, we have seen the good, the bad and the ugly - in that exact order. The win against Canada (despite many turnovers) was the good start, then they were bad against Spain and well beaten, prior to collecting maybe the ugliest possible win against Korea. There has been talk that the failure of some other high-profile Serbian athletes at the Games has heaped extra pressure onto the players. With Sonja Vasic clearly struggling physically and that translating into her ability to recapture the magnificent MVP form she displayed at the FIBA Women's EuroBasket earlier this summer, another podium looks a longshot. You never know, though, as Serbia are at their best when they have their backs to the wall, but I can only judge with my own eyes what I have seen. Maybe there's just not much juice left in the energy tank. They do look mentally exhausted.
#8 Australia (-3)
Group Record: 1-2 (Belgium L, China L, Puerto Rico W)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 2nd
The distraction and disruption of the Cambage exit and controversy was not ideal - nor playing Belgium and China. The Opals also had to work extra hard to scrape they margin of win needed against Puerto Rico to advance. It was imperative that they did it. Mainly because it kept their run of making the last eight intact and maintained the proud Opals legacy, rather neatly, one that head coach Sandy Brondello was part of as a player. Credit to Marianna Tolo and Cayla George for their displays under the hoop, showing there is life after 'you know who' if she does not return.
Throw in Ezi Magbegor who has perhaps been the best player despite her tender years and there is light at the end of the tunnel. Only that tunnel will continue for a bit longer - now they have the USA in the Quarter-Finals. The one big concern looking ahead to the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2022 is probably in the process of shifting from what happens in the frontcourt, to what happens in a backcourt that looks short on firepower. Anyways, just a relief they made the Quarter-Final cut.
#9 Canada (0)
Group Record: 1-2 (Serbia L, Korea W, Spain L)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 4th
We got exactly what we expected from Canada. Just under 18 months ago, I had them slated for potential bronze after they went 3-0 in Ostend at the FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament. But they have since gone backwards. As said in previous editions, a lack of prep and their senior stars not all going to the FIBA Women's AmeriCup showed. Inconsistent, not aggressive enough, they couldn't impose their will on teams - or at least it would seem.
Canada also look too one-dimensional at times. Fair play to Bridget Carleton, who was something of a breakout player in the tournament. But Canada's big-hitters were not able to just show up in camp and then turn it on like a tap - as predicted. The term 'Canada Basketball' was used a lot in post-game conferences, but I have to confess that I am not sure that I know what this means anymore. It is the identity and pattern of play that needs revisited because fourth in the world as per their ranking looked wildly overbaked on this evidence. Some work to do for everyone involved because 2021 has been a disaster after their awful 4th place in the Americas, too.
#10 Korea (+1)
Group Record: 0-3 (Spain L, Canada L, Serbia L)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 19th
The power rankings script was read by Korea, whose lack of offensive firepower and depth was exposed in Tokyo, as anticipated. They didn't shoot well enough and when they did find their range it showed what they might be capable of as they pushed Serbia hard and almost upset the European champs in the last game of the Group Phase.
Ji Su Park was impressive as usual, while Leeseul Kang and Kim Danbi were solid enough. Hyejin Park offers hope for future tournaments of course and showed more glimpses of her potential. But it is 2010 since they last won at this level (Olympics or Worlds) and that is a long losing streak. However, they worked hard, never gave up and came close against both Serbia and Spain so Korea can be proud of their Tokyo 2020 campaign.
#11 Nigeria (-1)
Group Record: 0-3 (USA L, France L, Japan L)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 17th
Nigeria were in a difficult group and that is undeniable. Also, in the words of head coach Otis Hughley Jr, they gave the USA their best punch in their opening game. But they were a complete disaster against France and then dominated by Japan who were too good and too quick. This was a tournament with a lot of talk leading into it, but all along it seemed a bit hollow and so it proved on the court. There was nothing to back it up and the team missed the experience and presence of Evelyn Akhator who was injured. Meanwhile the focus around Williams and Ogwumike before the tournament and their eligibility did not help and perhaps Nigeria would be better to insert a lazer beam of focus on getting youth teams to continental and global youth events on a regular basis and building something tangible for the long term to underpin the seniors.
#12 Puerto Rico (0)
Qualifiers Record: 0-3 (China L, Belgium L, Australia L)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 23rd
It was a great achievement to get to Tokyo, but a probable lack of conditioning looked to hurt them. I expected more. But some key players looked out of shape and that impacted their performance in a big way. Well-beaten in every game, their lack of height is always going to hinder them. But that is why their guards need to be in the best possible shape for these big tournaments. Of course, it is tough for the islanders with a domestic league that has such a short life, but Puerto Rico can aim higher. Hopefully, the players inspired more kids to pick up a basketball through participating here in Tokyo and they can also be proud of that AmeriCup Women Final appearance in June.
*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.