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2012 Olympic Preview: Team Capsules

Kevin Pelton, StormBasketball.com | July 27, 2012

On the eve of women's basketball competition in the 2012 Olympic Games in London, StormBasketball.com helps you prepare with scouting reports on all 12 teams. I've ranked them based on schedule-adjusted point differential from all games played this summer, including friendlies and the competition in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament held in Turkey last month. For more on the method, including its limitations in terms of assuming teams play exhibitions as they will meaningful games in London, see my similar analysis of the men's field at Basketball Prospectus.

Gold Tier

UNITED STATES


2012 Rating: +33.0 (1)
FIBA Rank: 1
2008 Olympics: 8-0, gold
2010 World Championship: 9-0, gold
Qualified: FIBA World Champion
Olympic appearances: 8 - 6 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze
Storm ties: G Sue Bird, F Swin Cash

The USA's abbreviated warm-up for London was light on elite opposition--the best of the five opponents rates seventh among the 12 Olympic teams, by this measure--but dominant nonetheless, with an average margin of 33.6 points per game. Given the state of the rest of the world, the USA might just enter these Olympics as the biggest favorites ever. It's hard to find many weaknesses in this American squad.

Silver Tier

AUSTRALIA


2012 Rating: +13.9 (2)
FIBA Rank: t2
2008 Olympics: 7-1, silver
2010 World Championship: 7-2, 5th
Qualified: FIBA Oceania Champion
Olympic appearances: 7 - 3 silver, 1 bronze
Storm ties: F Lauren Jackson, C Suzy Batkovic, F Abby Bishop, F Belinda Snell
WNBA experience: Batkovic, Bishop, C Elizabeth Cambage, G Kristi Harrower, F Laura (Summerton) Hodges, Jackson, G Jenna O'Hea, Snell

The Opals haven't exactly blown away the opposition en route to London, but then Head Coach Carrie Graf was wisely conservative with Jackson's playing time in exhibitions. For example, Lauren Jackson did not play in last week's 64-58 loss at France. At full strength, Australia has far more talent than any team outside of the USA, and it's hard to see how opponents will match up with the frontcourt of Jackson and Liz Cambage. The Opals are still the heavy favorites to win Group B and reach the gold-medal game.

Bronze Tier

FRANCE


2012 Rating: +9.0 (3)
FIBA Rank: 8
2008 Olympics: Did not qualify
2010 World Championship: 5-4, 6th
Qualified: Olympic Qualifying Tournament
Olympic appearances: 2
Storm ties: G Edwige Lawson-Wade
WNBA experience: G Emilie Gomis, C Sandrine Gruda, Lawson-Wade, F Emmeline Ndongue

Storm point guard Sue Bird made it clear to reporters that she considers France the sleeper in the Olympics, and results this summer bear that out. France stumbled against Great Britain in Sheffield, but its only other loss in 13 games this summer came to Australia. Former Connecticut Sun center Sandrine Gruda is one of the most talented players in the competition, and the French put solid athletes around here. Post Isabelle Yacoubou - drafted illegally by the Atlanta Dream in this year's third round; she's actually a free agent - might be the best player in the world who has never played in the WNBA, and the combo of Celine Dumerc and former Bird backup Edwige Lawson-Wade is solid at the point.

RUSSIA


2012 Rating: +4.1 (4)
FIBA Rank: t2
2008 Olympics: 6-2, bronze
2010 World Championship: 7-2, 7th
Qualified: FIBA Europe Champion
Olympic appearances: 4 - 2 bronze
Storm ties: F Natalia Vodopyanova
WNBA experience: G Becky Hammon, G Ilona Korstin, C Irina Osipova, Vodopyanova

Aside from a stumble in the quarterfinals of the 2010 World Championship, Russia has consistently been one of the top three teams in the world for years. Reaching the podium in London will be more challenging without center Maria Stepanova, who suffered a torn ACL in the EuroLeague Final Eight and was lost for the Olympics. (Stepanova's injury was overshadowed by an identical one suffered by Australia's Penny Taylor.) Now, Russia's offense shifts more to the perimeter and guards Becky Hammon and Ilona Korstin. It's tough to tell from this year's results how much Russia misses Stepanova. Russia played just four exhibition games, splitting with Australia in mid-June and losing twice at the Czech Republic last week.

CZECH REPUBLIC


2012 Rating: +2.8 (5)
FIBA Rank: 4
2008 Olympics: 2-4, 7th
2010 World Championship: 6-3, silver
Qualified: Olympic Qualifying Tournament
Olympic appearances: 2
Storm ties: F Jana Vesela
WNBA experience: Vesela

The Czech Republic will try to replicate its magical run to the final game as the host of the 2010 World Championship on unfamiliar soil. While the Czech Republic lacks the star talent of other contenders for the podium, the team plays well together. The Czech Republic qualified in Turkey in workmanlike fashion, but the results against Russia show another gear that could allow the team to medal.

CANADA


2012 Rating: +2.5 (6)
FIBA Rank: 11
2008 Olympics: Did not qualify
2010 World Championship: 1-7, 12th
Qualified: Olympic Qualifying Tournament
Olympic appearances: 3
WNBA experience: C Miranda Ayim, F Kim Smith, G Shona Thorburn

Playing on Canada Day, our neighbors to the north secured the last spot in the Olympics by beating Japan in the final of the Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Had the seeding broken differently, Canada might not have needed to sweat it out. Canada was drawn in the same group as France, a tough break, and then lost a three-point game to Croatia in the quarterfinals. This ranking is probably a bit too lofty for Canada, but the results from the Olympic Qualifying Tournament suggest that Canada is on equal footing with the second tier of European teams. The biggest problem for Canada, and the next two teams in the rankings, is the way the groups broke out. With Australia, France and Russia all sure to advance, that leaves just one spot in the quarterfinal for Canada, Great Britain and Brazil.

GREAT BRITAIN


2012 Rating: -1.0 (7)
FIBA Rank: 49
2008 Olympics: Did not qualify
2010 World Championship: Did not qualify
Qualified: Host
Olympic appearances: First appearance

Great Britain's history competing at the highest level of international women's basketball is pretty much nonexistent, but the hosts held their own in warm-up competition. The British have to their credit a win over France and a 24-point blowout at the Czech Republic. Great Britain even put a bit of a scare in the USA during their exhibition in Manchester. Former American college standouts Jo Leedham (a third-round pick by the Sun) and Stef Collins (St. Bonaventure) supply some punch to Tom Maher's effective offense. Add in home-court advantage (5.5 points, over the course of exhibitions) and Great Britain vaults into the ranks of medal contenders. That's probably a bit hopeful, but don't be surprised if the British reach the medal round.

BRAZIL


2012 Rating: -2.9 (8)
FIBA Rank: 6
2008 Olympics: 1-4, 11th
2010 World Championship: 4-4, 9th
Qualified: FIBA Americas Champion
Olympic appearances: 5 - 1 silver, 1 bronze
WNBA experience: C Erika De Souza, G Adriana Moises Pinto

Even without former Storm forward Iziane Castro Marques, who was removed from the team last week for disciplinary reasons, Brazil still has some big names. Erika De Souza is a WNBA All-Star and young forward Damiris Dantas do Amaral was taken by Connecticut in the first round of this year's WNBA Draft. Since the 2006 World Championship, Brazil has been unable to translate that individual talent into team success. Brazil was competitive in losses to France and Australia in France last week, so maybe the team will coalesce without Castro Marques. Unfortunately, the upside is finishing fourth in Group B and getting to play the USA in the quarterfinals.

TURKEY


2012 Rating: -3.0 (9)
FIBA Rank: 21
2008 Olympics: Did not qualify
2010 World Championship: Did not qualify
Qualified: Olympic Qualifying Tournament
Olympic appearances: First appearance
WNBA experience: C Quanitra Hollingsworth, F Nevriye Yilmaz

When it comes to bizarre exhibition results, Turkey wins the prize. Turkey lost by 25 points at home to Montenegro and somehow managed just 34 points in a game at the Czech Republic. Turkey did cruise to a berth in London during the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, though playing at home takes some of the air out of those results. With a strong frontline of New York Liberty center Quanitra Hollingsworth and former WNBA forward/center Nevriye Yilmaz, Turkey does have an excellent chance of finishing third in Group A.

CROATIA


2012 Rating: -3.5 (10)
FIBA Rank: 31
2008 Olympics: Did not qualify
2010 World Championship: Did not qualify
Qualified: Olympic Qualifying Tournament
Olympic appearances: First appearance

First, don't read too much into that FIBA ranking. Alas, one shortcoming of the FIBA rankings is that they treat finishing 10th in EuroBasket the same as finishing 10th in the FIBA Asia Tournament, so Croatia ends up ranking behind Chinese Taipei (23rd). Still, Croatia came relatively out of nowhere to qualify. 6-6 center Marija Vrsaljko led Croatia with 14.7 points per game during the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, including 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting against Korea. Veteran shooting guard Sandra Mandir is a dangerous outside shooter.

CHINA


2012 Rating: -5.2 (11)
FIBA Rank: 7
2008 Olympics: 5-3, 4th
2010 World Championship: 2-3, 13th
Qualified: FIBA Asia Champion
Olympic appearances: 6 - 1 silver, 1 bronze
WNBA experience: F Miao Lijie, C Chen Nan

Four years after reaching the semifinals on home soil, China will have a difficult time reaching the medal round in London. The Chinese team is somewhat in transition. While veterans Miao Lijie and Chen Nan still play important roles, China spent its exhibition tour in North America in May - including a matchup with the USA at KeyArena - developing younger talent like 6-9 center Wei Wei. China was competitive with Brazil last week in France, but has otherwise struggled leading up to the Olympics.

ANGOLA


2012 Rating: -16.5 (12)
FIBA Rank: 27
2008 Olympics: Did not qualify
2010 World Championship: Did not qualify
Qualified: FIBA Africa Champion
Olympic appearances: First appearance

While the Angola men's team has dominated FIBA Africa, this is the women's team's first Olympic appearance. Wing Nassecela Mauricio was the MVP of the FIBA Africa Championship and gets help from forward Nadir Manuel. Angola lost all three of its friendlies in England by double-figures and will have a tough time winning a game in London.

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