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What Mystics fans need to know about the 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup

Stewart W. Small

With Elena Delle Donne being named to the USA Basketball women’s national team roster on Thursday, now is a good time to give you an overview on how the FIBA Women’s World Cup works.

But more specifically, we’ll look at what’s at stake for the Mystics, and us, the fans.

When and where is the World Cup?

It will be held fromSeptember 22-30, 2018 in Spain.

Which teams are playing? How did they get there?

Country How they got here Capital Last WC Result FIBA RANK
Country How they got here Capital Last WC Result FIBA RANK
Spain Hosts Madrid 2nd, 2014 2
France EuroBasket Women 2017 2nd place Paris 7th, 2014 3
Belgium EuroBasket Women 2017 3rd place Brussels DEBUT 28
Greece EuroBasket Women 2017 4th place Athens 11th, 2010 21
Turkey EuroBasket Women 2017 5th place Ankara 4th, 2014 7
Latvia EuroBasket Women 2017 6th place Riga DEBUT 26
Japan 2017 FIBA Women's Asia Cup Champions Tokyo 14th, 2014 13
Australia 2017 FIBA Women's Asia Cup 2nd place Canberra 3rd, 2014 4
China 2017 FIBA Women's Asia Cup 3rd place Beijing 6th, 2014 10
Korea 2017 FIBA Women's Asia Cup 4th Place Seoul 13th, 2014 16
Canada 2017 FIBA Women's AmeriCup Champions Ottawa 5th, 2014 5
Argentina 2017 FIBA Women's AmeriCup 2nd place Buenos Aires 14th, 2010 15
Puerto Rico* 2017 FIBA Women's AmeriCup 3rd place San Juan DEBUT 22
Nigeria 2017 Women's AfroBasket Champions Abuja 16th, 2006 34
Senegal 2017 Women's AfroBasket 2nd place Dakar 16th, 2010 17
*Yes, Puerto Rico is part of the United States, but FIBA and the IOC consider it to be a separate country.

What are the headlines?

  • The USA is going for its 10th FIBA World Cup title - The Americans have their faults given the age of their backcourt players from the 2016 Olympics. But they’re still favored to win on paper, even if there’s a major shakeup.
  • Three nations have their World Cup debuts - Puerto Rico, the bronze medalists in the Women’s AmeriCup makes their first appearance. Two European nations: Belgium and Latvia, make their debuts as well.
  • Spain will go for their first Gold Medal global tournament after dominating EuroBasket Women 2017 - The Americans’ toughest test will be Spain, who won EuroBasket Women last summer and were the silver medalists in the 2016 Olympics AND the 2014 World Championship, the name of this tournament before taking on the World Cup name.

Who are the darlings in the World Cup?

By darling, I mean the “new kid on the block” that many neutral fans find hard to hate, but have a shot to make the quarterfinals. Two teams stand out: Japan and Belgium.

Japan won each of the last three FIBA Asia Cups, even with Australia joining the division recently. The Japanese also were in the 2016 Olympic games and have one WNBA player in Ramu Tokashiki, who has been a solid player off the bench for the Seattle Storm since 2015.

Japan is also going to play the Olympics in 2020, given that they are hosting it, so this team has nothing to lose. If anything, Japan wants to show that they are a legitimate power on the world stage before the Olympics.

Belgium is the other darling. Emma Meesseman is their centerpiece of course, but she has a lot of young help around her with a strong backcourt in Kim Mestdagh and Julie Vanloo. Long time WNBA player Ann Wauters is also there.

They “came out of nowhere” to win 3rd place at EuroBasket Women 2017 in their first European tournament in 10 years. But to be honest, this moment was coming for quite some time. They’re the 2nd lowest ranked team in this tournament, but those FIBA rankings take eight years into account, so it’s flawed.

How does the tournament work?

The 16 teams are put into four groups of four where they play a round robin. The group winners go to the quarterfinals while second and third place teams enter a playoff round for the remaining quarterfinals spots. Every game after the group stage is a single elimination affair.

The groups will be determined at a later date, most likely in the spring.

How does the World Cup affect the Mystics?

The Mystics may not be at full strength at the start of the season. Because the World Cup is in late September, the WNBA season will probably start around early to mid May.

Some players may arrive in Washington without any training camp under their belts or miss games at the start of the season because they have three players on Russian superteam UMMC Ekaterinburg. Those players are Emma Meesseman, LaToya Sanders, and Kristi Toliver, who just signed there earlier this week. UMMC’s season could end as late as May 7, 2018 if they make the PBL Finals.

Because she missed time last year, will Emma Meesseman miss time for the World Cup?

No. Not until we hear otherwise.

First, the regular season and postseason doesn’t overlap with the World Cup. Second, the Mystics have a window of opportunity to win a WNBA title now, but windows often close quicker than we’d like.

And finally, here’s what she said in an article published on Het Nieuwsblad, a Belgian Dutch language newspaper in the Brussels area last year before EuroBasket Women. The article is in Dutch of course, but here’s what Meesseman had to say about balancing between her WNBA and Team Belgium commitments:

Meesseman absolutely wanted to start the season with the Washington Mystics of the WNBA before joining the [Belgian women’s national team]. “I didn’t want to return from EuroBasket Women 2017 and realize that I have to adjust to a new playing system in just a short period of time. Also, it was difficult to choose between two dreams: the WNBA or EuroBasket Women 2017,” said Meesseman, who is beginning her fifth season for the Mystics.

Who wins? Belgium or the USA?

If these two countries played against each other, the United States should win comfortably. But that said, Belgium could make things a little interesting with the three point shots. They also have youth in their favor in the backcourt, should the Americans return their 2016 Olympic lineup once again and those guards play sluggish ball.