With a game in Russia, the second EuroBasket Women 2015 Qualification tournament is set to tip off today. This preview will attempt to bring you up to date with everything regarding this tournament.
Qualification tournament runs from June 8 until June 25. 22 teams have been split in six groups – four groups of four teams, two – of three teams. Everyone plays everyone else in their groups – once at home, once on the road. There is a total of 11 places available in EuroBasket Women 2015. All six group winners will advance automatically. They will be joined by the five best second placed teams. To determine who those best five teams are, only the games between each group’s best three teams will be taken in account.
EuroBasket Women 2015 field has been expanded to 20 teams from 16 last year. Nine teams have already qualified for the tournament – Hungary and Romania as the hosts of the tournament. Most of that tournament will be held in Hungary while Romania will host only first round groups as far as has been reported. Greece has qualified as the victors of first qualification tournament last summer between teams that weren’t playing in EuroBasket Women 2013. These three teams are joined by the six European teams that will participate in the World Championship – Turkey, Spain, France, Serbia, Czech Republic and Belarus.
EuroBasket Women 2015 will be gateway for the European teams to Rio 2016 Olympics where the top five will likely advance.
This is the team group draw for the qualification tournament.
Group A: Slovak Republic, Poland, Slovenia, Luxembourg
Group B: Great Britain, Lithuania, Belgium, FYR of Macedonia
Group C: Italy, Latvia, Estonia, Portugal
Group D: Montenegro, Ukraine, Germany, Finland
Group E: Sweden, Russia, Netherlands
Group F: Croatia, Bulgaria, Israel
Teams that participated in EuroBasket Women 2013 are bolded. As you can see at least one team that didn’t play in last year’s tournament will qualify for the next year’s due to the expanded field.
In general those are the teams that are favored to qualify. Outside of the bolded teams Poland is the team with the best chance to qualify. Depending on how their head-to-head games go Bulgaria and Israel could also be in a good position for one of the five teams placed second in their group.
Only team from Group A that played in last year’s championship – Slovak Republic – has seen a fair bit of changes to its composition over the year. Good Angels Kosice head coach Maros Kovacik has taken over the head coaching duties from Ivan Vojtko. After a break which ended with a maternity leave, veteran guard Zuzana Zirkova has returned to the National Team. Slovaks have also acquired the services of American born guard Kristi Toliver who will join the team for their final four games of the tournament.
Slovak Republic’s toughest opponents will be Poland, who are determined to return to EuroBasket Women after failing to qualify for the 2013 tournament and falling to Greece in the final of last year’s first qualification tournament. Poland will be able to count on center Ewelina Kobryn in their final four games of the tournament. Kobryn will be an essential addition for the Poles inside as they are without Magdalena Leciejewska and Agnieszka Szott-Hejmej.
Slovenia had a somewhat good start to their 2013 qualifiers campaign before a bunch of knee injuries changed their fortunes on the court. For them to advance the Slovenians have to hit the ground running and take the first two games against Slovaks and Poles before they receive help from the WNBA. Slovenians also have an addition to the roster via naturalization, only in their case it is from within the continent in the form of Spanish winger Helena Boada.
Luxembourg ending up with even one win would be a huge upset.
With the likes of Gintare Petronyte, Kamile Nacickaite, Marina Solopova, Vita Kuktiene and the return of Egle Sulciute after maternity leave, Lithuanians are strong favorites to move on from Group B.
If Belgium and Macedonia were stronger, Great Britain would possibly be in trouble, seeing as they are without their top player from year ago in Jo Leedham as well as two other players who topped the scoring in EuroBasket Women 2013 – Kim Butler and Chantelle Handy. Preparation games have shown that 21 year old center Temi Fagbenle will be relied upon to score under the new head coach Peter Buckle, though unlike in the friendlies opponents will likely plan on limiting her in the qualifiers.
Even though GB is unpredictable it’s hard to imagine a team like Belgium in its current shape managing to beat them. If players with international experience, like Emma Meesseman, Evelien Callens, Marjorie Carpreaux and Romina Ciappina were available for Belgium they would be in a much better shape.
While Macedonia has a choice of two naturalized Americans – Chrissy Givens and Ashley Paris, who could very well score 20-30 points in each of their games, there really is not much else on that team.
Having been able to qualify for EuroBasket Women 2013 quarterfinals, Italy is one of the top teams in the field, though their this year’s model has had a rough time getting wins in preparations – they have suffered defeats to Netherlands, Ukraine, Belgium, Bulgaria, Great Britain and Israel. Their only two wins came against China and Netherlands. From that team Italians don’t have their second leading scorer and top rebounder Kathrin Ress this time around as well as rotation players Sabine Cinili, Benadetta Bagnara and sidelined most recently with an injury – Ilaria Zanoni. On the other hand American born center Emily Correal has been naturalized after only a season in the Italian league.
Latvia will look to advance to their sixth consecutive EuroBasket Women Final tournament. Under old new head coach Ainars Zvirgzdins the roster that lost in all three first round games last year is looking for a boost in their inside game with the return of Zane Tamane to the National Team, as well as Aija Putnina and Kristine Vitola from injuries, with Zenta Melnika set to make her National Team debut. Their perimeter on the other hand, has gotten weaker with the retirement of Kristine Karklina.
Estonians will be very familiar with their Southern neighbors as they have been playing in an united league the past two seasons, though the Latvian teams have taken all of the silverware in those seasons.
It’s hard to imagine either the Estonians or Portuguese being able to do enough to upend the two teams that are more or less regulars in EuroBasket Women Finals by now.
Due to the political situation in Ukraine, all of their group home games have been moved their opponent’s courts. As a result this group is the only one in which teams play their head-to-head games in successive games.
Despite having somewhere between 40 and 50 registered basketball players in the whole country, Montenegro should be the class of Group D if only for having two of the top three scorers in EuroLeague Women – Jelena Dubljevic and Shay Murphy, who has joined the National Team for the first four games. Iva Perovanovic, Jelena Skerovic and Snezana Aleksic aren’t too shabby, either.
After the draw, this blogger though that the fight for second place in this group is the most wide open among the six. As the tournament is almost here, that might not be the case. With the additions of Olesia Malashenko and, most importantly, Valeria Berezhynska, Ukraine has added two more scoring threats inside alongside Aleksandra Kurasova and Alina Iagupova. Now they are clearly favorites to claim the second place. Toughest thing they might have to overcome is playing all of the games abroad.
Finland and Germany have shown they are to be considered with in previous years (Finland defeated Latvia, who qualified for EuroBasket Women 2013, Germany won the additional qualification tournament in 2011 to reach that year’s tournament), but for them to qualify many things have to fall in place. One of those is a favorable schedule, which means that both have as good of a chance to reach the Final tournament as ever.
Group E is the most clear-cut. It has the best team that didn’t reach the World Championship… and Russia. Both Sweden and Russia should see themselves through to the next round unless one of them somehow manages to totally blow out the other in two game series that could mean them ending up as the sixth second placed team.
Swedes have almost all of their top players assembled with the lone exception being injured Elisabeth Egnell. A quick reminder – in EuroBasket Women 2013 Qualifiers they swept the series against the eventual champions Spain.
Russia meanwhile isn’t at full strength with the likes of Vidmer, Danilochkina and Zhedik not playing for various reasons, but there are still plenty of talent in there to easily see them through.
For Netherlands it will be a good experience, squaring off against two top level teams that will definitely be aiming at Olympics in 2016.
Despite their struggles in 2013, Croatia is still the top team in Group F. Even though they are without Iva Ciglar, there are still plenty of weapons with Ana Lelas, Antonija Misura, Luca Ivankovic, Iva Sliskovic to name a few.
After Croatia it is pretty hard to determine who could end up as the second best.
Israel has a fierce and quick perimeter with Shay Doron and Liron Cohen leading the way. Bulgaria meanwhile has the naturalized guard Doneeka Hodges in their lineup, with Milena Tomova emerging as the top domestic play in preparation games.
Israel has some issues with height that were compounded with the injury to Ekaterina Abramson. They hope that naturalized center Dannielle Diamant will prove useful inside like she was in the preparation games.