See the original post for projections from 16 months ago; read on for the latest (which may not have changed much):
The only major international event played since the last World Championships were the men’s and women’s European tournaments. The top four men: Spain, France, Russia, Macedonia. Women: Russia, Turkey, France, Czech Republic.
FIBA also compiles rankings that reflect all the various zonal tournaments. Top men: USA, Spain, Argentina, Greece, Lithuania, big gap. Top women: USA (by a mile), Australia/Russia (tie), giant gap, Czech Republic, Spain.
Men: The USA and Spain are clearly the front-runners. After that, the picks are more difficult. France has Tony Parker, Boris Diaw and two other NBA-affiliated players, though Joakim Noah is out injured. Great Britain has two players who passed briefly through Duke — Luol Deng and Eric Boateng. But you can’t always judge by the number of NBA or former college players. Lithuania has a lot of Euroleague experience (as well as some players U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski will know from ACC play), and Russia is built around several players from perennial power CSKA Moscow.
France (ranked 12th) may be underrated, especially when you consider that France qualified for the Olympics ahead of fourth-ranked Greece. Then Nigeria knocked out Greece in the last-chance Olympic tournament, qualifying along with Russia and Lithuania.
Brazil (#13) is certainly underrated. They finished second at the Americas qualifying tournament behind host Argentina (the USA did not participate), and they usually give the USA a tough game. Argentina beat Brazil in the neutral setting of the 2010 Worlds. But on paper, Brazil’s roster is stronger, and the history is solid.
So we’re not changing. USA, Spain, Brazil
Women: A U.S. loss would be a shocker. Australia has three straight silver medals, and the Opals return roughly half of their 2008 squad, including world-class star Lauren Jackson, though several WNBA players have moved on.
Russia was far from unbeatable in the European qualifying tournament last year, barely getting past Slovakia in the opener and losing a group-stage game to Lithuania. Belarus beat them in the next round, and Britain got within three points. They woke up and stomped everyone in the knockout stages, and no one else has given any reason to doubt the rankings, the original projection or the 2008 finish. USA, Australia, Russia
Read on …
Men: Australia won its fourth straight Champions Trophy in December, beating Spain 1-0. The Netherlands won a 5-3 thriller with New Zealand for bronze, while Germany beat a disappointing Great Britain for fifth. The rankings: Australia, Germany, Netherlands, “England” (Great Britain sometimes splits into its constituent countries), Spain. A bit farther back: South Korea, New Zealand, then traditional powers Pakistan, Argentina and India. So Australia’s an easy call, but the other spots are more difficult. We’ll guess the British team bounces back at home. The U.S. men opted not to play in a qualifying tournament. The projection was AUS-GBR-GER; now Australia, Netherlands, Britain
Women: Argentina won the Champions Trophy over the winter on home soil, beating Olympic champion Netherlands in the semis and Britain in the final. The Argentina-Netherlands rivalry has been especially intense in recent years. Argentina has won four of the last five Champions Trophies and the 2010 World Cup. The Netherlands denied Argentina in the Olympic semifinals and in a penalty shootout in the 2011 Champions Trophy. The Netherlands and Argentina are 1-2 in the rankings and might seem unbeatable — except for the USA’s win over Argentina in the Pan Am Games. Yet the USA is ranked only 10th, perhaps because their Champions Trophy invitations keep getting lost in the mail. (Also because the USA fared poorly in the Champions Challenge, a tournament with a Champions Trophy berth at stake.) The rest of the rankings: Germany, “England,” China, New Zealand, Australia, South Korea. Projection was ARG-NED-GBR; now Netherlands, Argentina, Britain
Men: The big update from the last projection is that we have the rosters. If you’ve heard of a player in this tournament, chances are pretty good he plays for Brazil. Or possibly Spain. Good thing both of them were in the original medal picks. Unfortunately, so was Ghana, which was on a roll in youth action but neglected to qualify for the Olympics. The intriguing teams here are Mexico, Uruguay, Japan … and Great Britain.
Britain and Uruguay are in Group A. Mexico looks like the favorite in B. Brazil could get nine points from C with their eyes closed. Spain must face Japan but should still get through D. The important note: If Brazil and Spain win their groups as expected, they won’t face each other until the final. If either team drops to second while the other is first, they’ll play an uncomfortable quarterfinal.
Was BRA-GHA-ESP; now Brazil, Spain, Britain
Women: We’ll need to make one change — Germany didn’t qualify. Group F is more or less the group of death, with World Cup champion Japan along with Sweden, Canada and surely overmatched South Africa. Here’s the odd part — the Group F winner would play the Group F runner-up in the semis if they both advance that far. The other group winners — Brazil and the USA are the solid favorites — would play in the other semi. Let’s figure the USA gets revenge over Japan in the final, with Sweden getting an overdue medal and making Brazil’s federation pay for failing to support its talent pool. Was USA-GER-BRA; now USA, Japan, Sweden
Men: First, the good news — my buddies from Iceland are back.
The European Championship is basically the World Championship in this sport, and the shocker in January’s Euro tournament was the showing by Olympic and world champion France. Denmark beat Serbia 21-19 in a low-scoring final, Croatia beat Spain for third, and Macedonia beat Slovenia for fifth. France ranked 11th, just behind Iceland.
Maybe some countries didn’t get up for the Euros in the winter between Worlds and the Olympics? But in any case, Denmark was second at Worlds and first at Euros, so we have to consider them a favorite. Was FRA-DEN-ESP; now Denmark, France, Spain
Women: No Euro competition yet in 2012, so we don’t have a compelling reason to make a change. Norway, France, Russia
Men: The USA’s Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers had a disappointing time in the World Championships last year, getting KO’d in the Round of 16 and watching two Brazilian teams — Emanuel Rego/Alison Cerutti and Marco Araujo/Ricardo Santos — battle for the title. They were still second in the Olympic qualification ranking behind Emanuel/Alison and just ahead of Germany’s Julius Brink-Jonas Reckermann, who knocked them out in Worlds. Fourth place is the USA’s Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal, then the Netherlands’s Reinder Nummerdor/Richard Schuil and Brazil’s Pedro Cunha/Ricardo Santos (yes, Ricardo switched partners). So we have two European pairs amidst the usual USA-Brazil teams, while the Chinese teams have finally lost their 2008-inspired luster. Was USA-CHN-BRA; now USA, Brazil, Germany
Women: Two-time gold medalists Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh have made a long, slow climb back to form, losing a tough three-set final to Brazil’s Larissa/Juliana in the World Championship final. They’re a strong third in the rankings behind Larissa/Juliana and China’s Zhang Xi/Xue Chen. The other American team, Jen Kessy and April Ross, is a solid fourth, just ahead of the other Brazilian team, Talita Antunas/Maria Antonelli. We bet against May-Treanor and Walsh in the initial projections, but would you do that now that they’ve come so close to the world title? Was BRA-USA-CHN; now USA, Brazil, USA
Men: We’ve had a few competitions, including Olympic qualifiers, since the initial projections. Start with the 2011 World Cup, where Russia, Poland and Brazil (in that order) qualified for the Olympics. The USA finished sixth, behind Italy and Cuba but ahead of Argentina and Serbia. Then the USA beat Cuba in the semifinals of the North American qualifier and went on to sew up its spot with relative ease. Serbia, our initial pick for silver, lost to Italy in the European semifinals and needed to win a last-chance qualifier to make it to London.
Skip ahead to the World League, a big competition as well as an Olympic tuneup. The USA went on a nice run here, winning its group ahead of France and Italy. Germany beat Bulgaria and Argentina in a weaker group, though Bulgaria advanced to the six-team final as host. Poland and Brazil went 1-2 in their group, with Brazil advancing as the best runner-up. Then the shocker: Cuba finished ahead of Russia.
The six-team final starts with three-team groups, and the USA and Bulgaria ousted Germany through a convoluted points system after the three teams split their matches. The other group: Poland, Cuba and a disappointing Brazil. The USA beat Cuba to reach the final and lost to Poland.
So Poland has finished second and first in the last two big events. Everyone else has been hit or miss, with the USA no less consistent than anyone else. Was BRA-SRB-RUS; now Poland, USA, Brazil
Women: Slightly easier. The World Cup qualifier standings: Italy, USA, China, Japan, Brazil, Germany. World Grand Prix standings: USA, Brazil, Turkey, Thailand, China, Cuba. Was RUS-USA-BRA; now USA, Brazil, China
Men: The 2011 World Championship semifinals and final were decided by one goal. When the water settled, Italy had beaten Serbia for the title, and Croatia beat Hungary for third. Serbia had already qualified for the Olympics, so the other three semifinalists clinched their berths here. The USA, which struggled in group play, had one-goal games through the knockout rounds — a 9-8 loss to Hungary in the quarterfinals, a 9-8 win over Germany in a placement match, then an 11-10 loss to Spain in the fifth-place match.
As with volleyball, water polo’s World League is a big event and good warmup. The order was reshuffled a bit: Croatia, Spain, Italy, USA, Kazakhstan, China, Australia, Brazil. But Serbia and Montenegro each declined to participate. Was SRB-MNE-CRO; now Serbia, Italy, Croatia
Women: Perennial favorites Australia and the USA were upset in the quarterfinals at the World Championships and wound up meeting for fifth place. Greece beat China for the title; Russia beat Italy for third place.
Order was restored in the 2012 World League. The USA blasted through its qualifying group and beat Australia in the final. Greece beat China for third, followed by Russia, Germany, Canada and Italy. (Update: Greece, however, failed to qualify for the Games.) Was USA-RUS-AUS; now USA, Australia, Russia