With Olympics almost here lets take a glance at what can we expect from teams in the next two weeks.
How they got there? As the winners of EuroBasket Women
Notable absences: Svetlana Abrosimova
About the team: Russians have the ability to surprise everyone both positively or negatively.
In 2011 they managed to do both within one tournament. They started off awfully with losses to Lithuania and Belarus and a barely scraped out win against Great Britain, but when the quarterfinals rolled around the Russians suddenly displayed the best overall basketball of at least the last three European championships. Important change during that tournament was not trying to play Svetlana Abrosimova at the point and putting Elena Danilochkina there. Danilochkina’s level of play increased and she was named the MVP of the tournament while Abrosimova wasn’t asked back to the National Team in 2012.
Now the key to the Russian success will be how well the trio of Hammon, Danilochkina and Evgenia Belyakova will gel together in the backcourt. Last time Russians played with Hammon on the roster the team was in shambles, finishing seventh behind 4 European teams, USA and Australia. If Belyakova would be comfortable being a spot up shooter, then Hammon and Danilochkina both require ball in their hands to be effective. In the pre-tournament games with Hammon on the squad both of them played together rarely with one usually substituting the other. Though coach Sokolovsky has admitted he’s thinking about playing them together. Reason why they will likely have to play together is named Ilona Korstin. Korstin’s skill set has rapidly declined – with age she’s gotten slower, thus less likely to get the only shot she can make – a layup. Only other thing she brings to the team is the ability to elbow opponents in the head, which might be useful considering they play Great Britain, again.
With Olga Arteshina and Anna Petrakova holding down the small forward position, the only players worth talking about are the posts. Back there the situation is interesting to say the least. In the absence of Maria Stepanova the Russians are left with defensive specialist (read: she’s an offensive non-factor) Irina Osipova and a bunch of so called youngsters. Rightfully so the top option from all of the youngsters currently appears to be Natalia Vieru after showing what she can do with the trust of the coach and some playing time last season with Good Angels Kosice. Coming in their relief are very solid bench options of Nadezhda Grishaeva and Marina Kuzina.
How they got there? As FIBA Oceania champions
Notable absences: Erin Phillips, Penny Taylor
About the team: The ship has sailed for this Opals squad.
With Penny Taylor out, the Opals are left with declining veterans and inexperienced youngsters. While medals are not out of question for the Australians, they are nowhere as near to USA as they were in 2004 or 2008.
You could count on Liz Cambage to score 15+ points in each game, but that’s oddly the only thing there isn’t much questions about. Lauren Jackson had a subpar tournament during the Worlds in 2010 and her play leading to the games in 2012 hasn’t been spectacular either. It’s anyone’s guess whether she can still show us she belongs to the best player in the world discussion right now.
One of the biggest issues for Australians is point guard play. In her fourth Olympic games they will be led by 37 year old Kristi Harrower. Considering her best tournament was in 2006, you can imagine how far past her prime Harrower is. Her backups Samantha Richards and Kathleen MacLeod have a thing in common with Harrower – they’re small. To add to that none of them has shown the ability to be a world class point guard which would be required for Australians in order to fight for the gold medal.
In absence of Penny Taylor, Belinda Snell has emerged as the top perimeter option for the Aussies which only speaks of how much they will miss Taylor. Neither Jenna O’Hea, nor Rachel Jarry have been able to connect from distance with any kind of regularity. All of this makes the Erin Phillips exclusion the more baffling. She could have played solid minutes at the point and has the ability to knock down the long distance shot with some consistency.
How they got there? As the winners of FIBA Americas Championships
Notable absences: Iziane Castro Marques.
About the team: American champions have overhauled their roster from the 2010 Worlds.
With four new players Brazilians have turned a page after their team failed to make quarterfinals in last two major competitions. But their main focus might not be on London 2012, but more likely Rio 2016.
Main weapon and option for Brazilians will be center Erika de Souza who has the ability to play against anyone in the world. In the post she will be joined by the youngster Damiris Dantas, for whom this will be a very valuable learning experience, Clarissa dos Santos and Franciele Nascimento. Judging by her quite poor season in Spain, Dantas might still be a work in progress. Dos Santos on the other hand already had some impressive showings leading up to the Olympics.
With the cutting of Castro Marques it appears that all of the burden on the perimeter will be on the shoulders of Adriana Pinto. In the tournament in France she appeared to do quite well in that role, but we’ve yet to see teams scheme against her like it will be the case when the tournament starts. Outside of Adriana, it’s hard to guess whether anyone else will be able to shoulder the burden on perimeter – they have plenty of players who have scored in double digits in the continental championships only for their production to drop to 4-5 points per game in the major competitions.
How they got there? Through FIBA Olympic Qualification tournament.
Notable absences: Kalisha Keane.
About the team: As is the case with Great Britain, Canada will be no pushovers in the Olympic tournament and might come up with a surprise or two.
With no standout offensive talents on the team, Canada win games by keeping them close with their defense. If the referees decide to call the game tightly they might have some trouble keeping up.
Courtnay Pilypaitis had a terrific Olympic Qualification tournament, but statistical evidence from a larger sample of games in EuroLeague Women makes one wonder if she can keep it up. In ELW she’s been a 33% FG shooter instead of 46% shooter that she was in the five games in the qualifiers. On the other hand Kim Smith didn’t have her best tournament in Turkey so you can look for improvement in her game. Terese Gabrielle should provide some stability at the PG, but the rest of the guard corps are pretty much hit-and-miss.
Down the middle the Canadians have a bit more depth with Lizanne Murphy, Miranda Ayim, Krista Phillips and Tamara Tatham. Without anyone particularly standing out, the Canadians were the top rebounding team of the qualification tournament, even outrebounding France in their game.
If anything group B will provide us some interesting post battles throughout the tournament.
How they got there? As the host nation of the Olympics.
Notable absences: None.
About the team: With home court advantage, the Brits shouldn’t be taken lightly.
They have shown they have to be reckoned with by defeating France and Czech Republic in recent months. To some observers those victories have made them question whether the hosts have peaked too early and if there are any cards in the deck they haven’t revealed to their opponents. Under coach Maher it would be weird if they hadn’t prepared some surprises to the opponents.
One thing they will not be able to hide is their backcourt duo of Jo Leedham and Natalie Stafford – the key to the Brit success. Being healthy will mean that Leedham will have a much bigger role and influence than a year ago in Poland when she was just returning from injury, having not practiced much with her teammates. A better Leedham will mean more opportunities for Stafford. Now if only the Brits had someone/anyone better than Stef Collins at the point guard and they might even be near to repeating what China did in 2008 making the semifinals.
Julie Page and Kim Butler were leading the British frontcourt in 2011 with about 10 points for each. In 2012 the picture might look different – neither had a particularly good club season and neither stood out in the months to the Olympics, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if either of them has been surpassed by Azania Stewart. Stewart’s game has grown in the past season, not to mention she’s the tallest person on the roster.
How they got there? Through FIBA Olympic Qualification tournament.
Notable absences: None.
About the team: France is returning to the Olympics after missing previous two by finishing two places out of the ones that would have given them a place there.
France will be led in the battle by a very formidable frontcourt, depth of which can only be surpassed by the Americans. Sandrine Gruda brings them instant scoring ability, Isabelle Yacoubou brings power, Emmeline Ndongue is the ultimate banger inside who will do for them the little things that aren’t mentioned in boxscores, and then there are the established Endene Miyem and Elodie Godin backing them up.
Point guard duo of Dumerc and Lawson-Wade could prove to be the best outside of Bird and Whalen, though even they will not be able to hide the issues that plague the French on the wings where there are no consistent outside scorers.
In 2011 teams used it to their advantage, playing zone and basically asking the French to shoot themselves in the foot. Having shot less than 30% from behind the arc as a team, the French currently have an uncertain situation with their top threepoint maker – Emilie Gomis, who has been sidelined with a calf injury for a week now and likely will not be playing in the first couple of games. Even if she gets healthy she’s unlikely to be playing anywhere near 100% which will hurt the already struggling guard corps even more.