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Emma Meesseman to play for Belgium in EuroBasket Women 2019 qualifiers, even before the World Cup begins

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For Emma Meesseman and Belgium, this round of qualifiers will likely determine if they can earn their first Olympic berth.

Joe Klamar, Getty Images

Belgium won the bronze medal in EuroBasket Women 2017 and a berth to next year’s FIBA World Cup. But there’s another EuroBasket Women tournament in 2019, and qualifiers will begin in mid-November.

Unless Belgium wins the World Cup next year, they will have to make EuroBasket 2019 to keep any hope of a 2020 Olympic berth alive. So, for now, they’ll have to work their way through EuroBasket qualifiers and make the tournament again. Mystics forward Emma Meesseman will play for Belgium again as they look to capitalize on their Golden Age.

To that end, we’ve compiled an FAQ on how qualifiers work and what has to happen for Belgium to win an Olympic berth.

Who is in Belgium’s group?

Belgium is in Group G. The other teams in the group are Germany, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic.

Will Meesseman miss time from the Mystics because of qualifiers?

No. All qualifiers are held during the fall and winter. Furthermore, the European basketball season often has intermissions during these periods to allow players to suit up for these games, just like you see in European soccer leagues.

When does Belgium play?

Here’s the schedule, from the Koninklijke Belgische Basketballbond (link in Dutch):

  • Saturday, November 11, 2017 - at Switzerland (in Fribourg, Switzerland)
  • Wednesday, November 15, 2017 - vs. Germany (Game in Kortrijk, West Flanders)
  • Saturday, February 10, 2018 - at Czech Republic
  • Wednesday, February 14, 2018 - vs. Switzerland (Game in Kortrijk)
  • Saturday, November 17, 2018 - at Germany
  • Wednesday, November 21, 2018 - vs. Czech Republic (Game in Kortrijk)

Who is the favorite in Belgium’s group?

Belgium is. They have a young roster and again, they won the bronze medal in this year’s EuroBasket. The only other team that has a shot to beat Belgium in this group is the Czech Republic, but they’ve been on hard times lately, according to FIBA Europe writer Paul Nilsen.

Tomas Satoransky would be thrilled to see the Czechs win the group with former Mystics center Kia Vaughn laying a couple of screens on Meesseman, but let’s be honest. This group is Belgium’s to lose, even if Meesseman doesn’t play in the qualifiers. The team is that good.

How does Belgium (or any team) qualify for EuroBasket Women 2019?

There are 16 teams in EuroBasket Women 2019. Serbia and Latvia will host the tournament in 2019, so they are not in qualifiers. In fact, they’re two teams that are good enough to make it anyway.

That leaves 14 spots up for grabs. All eight group winners get in. Of the second place teams in each group, their stats and records are compared against each other with the top six getting in.

What’s at stake at EuroBasket Women 2019?

2020 Olympic berths are at stake. The winner gets the gold medal and an automatic 2020 Olympic berth. The 2nd through 5th place teams earn a berth to the 2020 Olympic qualifying tournament. There will be 12 teams in that tournament from the champions of all FIBA regions (Europe, Americas, Africa, Asia) and the top five teams of the qualifying tournament will make the Olympics.

If the 2018 FIBA World Cup winner is a FIBA Europe team (Belgium or otherwise) and earns a top-five finish in EuroBasket Women 2019, then the sixth place team in EuroBasket Women 2019 gets a berth to the qualifying tournament. A similar thing would happen in all other continental competitions.

What are Belgium’s chances of making the 2020 Olympics?

Given that the core of the Belgian team is quite young compared to most of the traditional European powers in the south, Eastern Bloc, the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, I’d give them a 60 percent chance of making the Olympics. They can make the Olympics if they win the World Cup, but I don’t see them beating the United States. Assuming they don’t win the World Cup, EuroBasket Women 2019 is their next shot at it.

I wasn’t that high on the Belgians in 2016, but they have the “it factor” to go farther than most initially think.

What happens with EuroBasket qualifiers if Belgium wins the World Cup?

Let’s assume that Belgium beats Team USA in next year’s World Cup final with Emma Meesseman laying a hard screen on Elena Delle Donne, which opens her up to take a game winning shot. In that case, Belgium gets the Olympic berth, and maybe Meesseman gets a Royal Medal of Honor from King Filip and Prime Minister Charles Michel. But qualifiers won’t stop because of that. Therefore, Belgium will still play through the qualifiers and EuroBasket Women 2019 if they qualify.

As for EDD and Team USA since I named them, they would have to play at the 2019 FIBA AmeriCup and win that to qualify for the Olympics in case they don’t win gold. If the USA is 2nd place in the AmeriCup, then they still have one more shot by playing in the Olympic qualifying tournament. It’s a big deal for most countries in a good way. But for the Americans, playing in an Olympic qualifying tournament would be considered an embarrassment.

Okay, what do the Belgians think about their chances for EuroBasket Women 2019?

Head Coach Philip Mestdagh thinks this team can actually win EuroBasket Women 2019. Here’s what he told the Koninklijke Belgische Basketbalbond (in Dutch), more or less:

With all due respect to our opponents: Germany, the Czech Republic, and Switzerland, we must go out there and win six out of six games. We were put in the first-tier pot of qualifier seedings, so the goal is to maintain that position. With the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo in mind, the goal is to get a Top-5 finish in EuroBasket Women 2019. If we can, then there isn’t any reason why we can’t win EuroBasket Women 2019 either.

Basketball isn’t particularly popular in Belgium compared with the Eastern and Southern European countries, but this team’s good. Are people out there supporting them for their home games?

According to the KBBB, ticket sales aren’t a problem at all. In fact, there’s a waiting list for the home games in Kortrijk. Kortrijk is a city of about 75,000 in the southeastern part of West Flanders province. It’s about 60 miles southwest of Brussels and 20 miles north of Lille, France.

Meesseman and several other players on the Belgian women’s team are from West Flanders. Therefore, it makes Kortrijk a better place to have a home court advantage than a larger city like Antwerp or Brussels. It’s also a closer commute for fans from there.

It’s also not a conicidence that West Flanders appears to have the best women’s basketball development in Belgium — at least recently. Sorry to repeat it again, but that’s because Meesseman, several other players, AND Philip Mestdagh are from there. Of the players on the EuroBasket Women 2017 team, everyone was a Flemish (or Dutch speaking player) except for point guard Marjorie Carpreaux, who is a Walloon (French speaker). Furthermore, no one was a Brusselaar (mostly French speakers).

That’s kind of interesting, because the Belgian men’s basketball team’s players in EuroBasket 2017 mostly came from the big cities, like Brussels, Antwerp, and Liege. For example, Belgium men’s and Baylor senior point guard Manu Lecomte is from Brussels:

On this women’s team, most of the EuroBasket Women 2017 team is back, but they did add former Cal point guard Hind Ben Abdelkader in consideration for qualifiers. She couldn’t play in EuroBasket, in part because of injury. She should be a nice addition to the team if she makes it.

Who’s in the other groups?

  • Group A - Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland, Montenegro, and Slovak Republic (a/k/a Slovakia) make up the four teams in this group. Slovakia made the quarterfinals in this year’s EuroBasket Women, while Montenegro finished last in their group. Kristi Toliver naturalized for Slovakia, so she would be a welcome boost for qualifiers and beyond if she chooses to do so.
  • Group B - Estonia, Poland, Belarus, and Turkey make up this group. Turkey is the presumptive favorite here, though they lost in the quarterfinals to Greece, the fourth place team in EuroBasket Women.
  • Group C - Albania, Lithuania, Hungary, and Russia make up the four teams in this group. Russia is the favorite and have Maria Vadeeva, one of Europe’s rising stars leading the way. But Hungary has some WNBA talent of its own like Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley who both naturalized for them. Vandersloot played for Hungary in this year’s EuroBasket, but not Quigley.
  • Group D - Portugal, Great Britain (a/k/a the United Kingdom), Israel, and Greece make up this group. Greece was the fourth place team in EuroBasket Women, where they lost to Belgium in the semifinals. The Israelis and British are probably going to fight for second place.
  • Group E - Finland, Romania, Slovenia, and France are in this group. France was the silver medal winning team in EuroBasket Women and this group should be a piece of cake for them. Slovenia looks like the best team of the rest since they’re the only other team that played in this year’s EuroBasket Women.
  • Group F - Bulgaria, The Netherlands (a/k/a Holland), Ukraine, and Spain are in this group. Spain won EuroBasket Women and should find this group a piece of cake. The Ukrainians are the favorite for second place, but the Netherlands has enough younger talent to make their first EuroBasket Women in 30 years. If the Dutch women’s soccer team can win Euro despite facing major odds, why can’t the basketball team?
  • Group H - Macedonia, Croatia, Sweden, and Italy are in the final group. Italy was the only team to make EuroBasket this year where they lost in the quarterfinals to Belgium.

On the men’s side, EuroBasket is just every four years now. Why didn’t the women’s game do the same?

The women’s side decided to keep the older system in place where Olympic champions get World Cup berths and World Cup champions get Olympic berths.

Under the older system in men’s basketball through the 2016 Olympics, FIBA had continental tournaments every two years to determine who else gets those other berths in the Olympics of World Cup like the women’s teams always have. The men have since decided to move the World Cup to a different year and qualifying system that even required the United States, the defending Olympic gold medalists, to participate in continental and qualifier play for future berths. The women however, haven’t done that yet.

Okay, why are qualifiers starting even before the World Cup?

Because the qualifiers last over a one year period.

Why isn’t the USA in FIBA AmeriCup qualifiers like almost everyone else?

Under the current system, the Olympic champion gets a berth to the next World Cup and the World Cup champion gets a berth to the next Olympics. The Americans have been remarkably successful winning every Olympics AND World Cup since 2008. Therefore, Team USA never had to play in qualifiers for the FIBA AmeriCup/FIBA Americas Championship since 2007, the year after they won the bronze medal in the 2006 FIBA World Championship for Women.