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FIBA Olympic Tournament 2020: Belgium, USA to be in women’s group draw scheduled for March 21

There are some changes to the Olympic tournament format this year compared to past Olympics.

BASKET OLYMPIC QUALIFICATION TOURNAMENT BELGIUM VS JAPAN
Emma Meesseman and Kim Mestdagh will figure out which group they will play in on March 21.
Photo by VIRGINIE LEFOUR/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images

Now that Belgium has qualified for the Olympics while the United States has also played through qualifiers, the next step is to figure out which group they will play in.

On March 21, FIBA will conduct the draw for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan into three groups of four teams. Here are the teams that qualified before the tournament even though they participated.

  • No. 1 United States (2018 FIBA Womens’ Basketball World Cup Champions)
  • No. 10 Japan (Olympic hosts)

And here are the teams that made the tournament through the qualifiers:

  • No. 2 Australia
  • No. 3 Spain
  • No. 4 Canada
  • No. 5 France
  • No. 7 Serbia
  • No. 8 China
  • No. 9 Belgium
  • No. 17 Nigeria
  • No. 19 Korea
  • No. 23 Puerto Rico

There should be no surprise that nearly the entire Top 10 made the Olympics. The only exception to this list was No. 6 Turkey, who didn’t qualify because of a poor finish in Women’s EuroBasket 2019.

How will the Olympic Tournament go?

The Olympic Tournament will divide these 12 teams into three groups of four. Each team will play a round robin against the other three teams in the group. Afterwards, the first and second place teams from each group go to the quarterfinals while the top two third-place teams (based on record and points) also make the quarterfinals. The remaining teams are eliminated.

Once the tournament gets to the quarterfinals, it is single elimination.

Why are there three groups of four and not two groups of six?

This is because of FIBA and the International Olympic Committee’s decision. Part of the decision may be behind cutting the number of games needed to determine an Olympic champion in a two-week timeframe. That also allows the players to enjoy the Olympic atmosphere as a whole.

Who is the favorite?

No surprise, the United States. They are the five-time defending Olympic Gold Medal winners and every projected player on the team is a current WNBA starter or All-Star.

The Americans have the most concentration of individual talent, but younger backcourts from Europe could take advantage of an aging Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi tandem. Furthermore, do-it-all post players like Emma Meesseman have given the Americans more than they can handle there.

How far can Belgium go?

The Belgian Cats have surprised on the European and World Cup stage, advancing to the semifinals in 2017 and 2018, respectively. If they are very lucky, they could win a medal. However, like their big runs in EuroBasket and the World Cup, they need a favorable bracket.

Here’s how.

That likely means that the Cats have to start in a group without the United States. And if the Belgians make the quarterfinals, they would likely need to start that round without facing the Americans.

Which Mystics players are going to the Olympics?

I’ll use 2019 rosters since they are subject to change just in case a player re-signs somewhere else or is traded:

The Mystics will see two players from Belgium:

  • Emma Meesseman
  • Kim Mestdagh

And here are the Mystics in consideration for the USA Basketball women’s national team:

  • Elena Delle Donne (a shoo-in for the final roster as long as she’s healthy)
  • Ariel Atkins (she has a puncher’s chance if the selection committee wants more “3-and-D” type players)

Any other notable Mystics alumnae playing in Tokyo?

In general, there aren’t many international players in the WNBA anymore unless they’re Americans who have dual citizenship, or if they wanted to test the waters in a year where there is no EuroBasket or World Cup to worry about.

But anyway, here’s the short answer. Yes, there are two Mystics alumnae playing on Olympic-bound countries:

  • Bria Hartley, France — She has French citizenship through her mother’s side of the family and knew about it for a long time.
  • Jelena Brooks (née Milovanovic), Serbia — She played for Washington in the 2014 WNBA season.

If I missed any, please let me know!

Is the men’s tournament using a similar format in the Olympics?

I’ll write more on the men’s tournament once the qualifiers on their side are done in June, since Washington Wizards forward Rui Hachimura will play for Japan, the hosts.

However, the men’s Olympic tournament will use the same three groups of four format that the women’s teams are using. The qualifiers on the other hand, are a very different process but no Wizards players are expected to play in them.

Like Japan, the United States qualified because they were the second place FIBA Americas team in the 2019 FIBA World Cup. The other teams to win spots in the World Cup were Argentina, Nigeria, Iran, France, Spain and Australia.