Earlier this week the latest batch of FIBA’s World rankings were published, updating for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. The one thing we learned above all else is that small sample sizes continue to be a big problem.
The highest climbers were Mexico (19, +5), Dominican Republic (20, +6), Senegal (30, +11), Ukraine (40, +5), and Egypt (41, +5). All of these sides heavily benefited from being in Spain, games in the World Cup are worth 5 times games in EuroBasket, 6.25 times FIBA Americas, and 25 times games in FIBA Africa Championships. The biggest surprise is that Angola, despite winning two games in Spain, actually dropped a place.
The scoring system and weighting however remains headache inducing. Points are awarded based on performances at the last 2 Olympics, 2 World Cups, and 4 continental championships. It’s understandable to try to not be too immediate in reaction but extending all the way back to Eurobasket 2007 seems a tad excessive, especially with it holding the same weight as 2013’s competition.
No ranking system will ever be perfect but a more balanced weighting, prioritising more recent events, would surely have an impact in making them more relevant or at least fun to dissect. Russia is ranked at 6, on talent they may deserve it but a dire 2013 and having to dig themselves out of a hole in EuroBasket qualification hardly makes it feel like they have earned it even with Olympic bronze in 2012. Great Britain holds a gaudy ranking of 22, pretty much entirely due to their playing at the London Olympics, as they failed to make it to Spain and went 0-4 in the EuroBasket qualifiers this past summer. Much as I love the idea of GB being good, it is just plain implausible to me to believe that they are so highly ranked while Iceland (who beat Great Britain home and away in those qualifiers) are wholly unranked because they have yet to play in the finals of EuroBasket. Qualifiers don’t count, which is nuts. Those games are competitive, they mean something, but they do zip for ranking points. As a result only 87 (three nations are tied for joint-85th) of FIBA’s 204 member nations are represented in the rankings. That reduces the scope of interest and it affects nearly every region.
International hoops also suffers from the sheer lack of games, or rather periods in which games are played. Competitive action should always come first and the game as it’s constituted isn’t suited to a neat ranking system. By making qualifiers a factor and adjusting the weighting, we can at least get a better idea of who sits where in the hoop hierarchy. It’s not about being definitive, that’s never realistic, it’s about providing a ranking system worthy of debate. That won’t just please fans, that will get them talking and debating more actively, which in turn is likely to please sponsors a whole lot more.