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2020 Olympic Betting Preview: Women’s Basketball

by July 19, 2021

Over the next several weeks, we’ll be providing comprehensive betting previews for every major event ahead of the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, which will run from July 23 – August 8. This edition focuses on the women’s basketball competition, which will be held July 26 – August 8 at the Saitama Super Arena.

As the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo approach, headlines are swirling in the world of women’s basketball. We’ve heard complaints about bias in the selection process for Team USA, we’ve seen Australia’s star player withdraw, and we’re waiting on news about Nneka Ogwumike’s status for Nigeria.

The United States enter the Olympics as heavy favorites to win gold for the seventh-straight games, but the competition appears wide open behind them.

Schedule of Events

July 26
Group A

South Korea vs. Spain
Serbia vs. Canada

July 27
Group B

Japan vs. France
Nigeria vs. United States

Group C
Australia vs. Belgium
Puerto Rico vs. China

July 29
Group A

Canada vs. South Korea
Spain vs. Serbia

July 30
Group B

United States vs. Japan
France vs. Nigeria

Group C
Belgium vs. Puerto Rico
China vs. Australia

August 1
Group A

Canada vs. Spain
Serbia vs. South Korea

August 2
Group B

United States vs. France
Nigeria vs. Japan

Group C
China vs. Belgium
Puerto Rico vs. Australia

August 4

August 6

August 7
Bronze Medal Game

August 8
Gold Medal Game

2016 Results

(Source: Wikipedia)

Why Should I Bet On This?

Sportbooks are working with a dearth of data to build lines for international basketball games (and tournaments). Unlike professional leagues, these teams don’t play each other multiple times per year, so it’s harder to gauge how good these teams are relative to one another. That creates an opening for smart bettors to exploit.

The second and third-ranked favorites, Australia and Spain, both enter these Olympics in relatively vulnerable positions. As a result, teams like Serbia, France, Belgium, and China could all make podium runs this year, and you can find them in the plus money to do so.

5 Things You Absolutely Need to Know

1. Liz Cambage Isn’t Playing
Liz Cambage, the four-time WNBA All-Star and former second-overall pick, will not suit up for the Australians this summer. She chose to prioritize her mental health (although this development lined up with a team investigation into a heated altercation that involved her). Her absence dramatically alters the landscape of this year’s tournament — Cambage earned All-Star honors at the 2018 FIBA World Cup after she averaged a tournament-high 23.8 points and 2.8 blocks per game. She also averaged 10.5 rebounds per game, the second-most. Australia finished second behind her strong play.

As a result, the Aussies entered the Olympics with the second-best odds to win gold. While their odds have worsened without Cambage, they remain the second-ranked team. They also topped Team USA without Cambage behind a 17-point, five-rebound performance from Ezi Magbegor. Cambage’s absence may not have doomed the Australian Opals, but it certainly has opened up the podium race.

2. Only the United States and the Soviet Union Have Ever Won Gold
Only two nations have ever won a gold medal in women’s basketball, and only one of those nations still exists. The Soviet Union won three times: 1976, 1980, and 1992 (as the Unified Team); the United States took home the gold in the eight other tournaments.

That’s worth noting for three reasons. First, the sportsbooks know that it’s difficult to bet against continued American dominance. Another winner would be entirely unprecedented. As a result, the betting odds for Team USA aren’t attractive. This leads to my second point — you’re more likely to make money by betting on group winners, individual games, and podiums.

My third and final point may be somewhat controversial — it’s unlikely, but this could be the year for a new winner to emerge. Team USA has struggled in friendlies, losing a matchup against the WNBA All-Stars and to Australia. Headlines about bias in the selection process abound, and the decision not to invite Nneka Ogwumike outraged some in the basketball world. If Team USA falters in these Olympics, expect the roster to look very different by the 2022 FIBA World Cup.

3. Tournament Structure
Both the women’s and men’s tournaments have the same structure. They’ll both feature twelve teams, which have been assigned to three four-member groups. They’ll play each groupmate in the preliminary rounds, and a total of eight teams will advance. Teams must finish top-two in their grouping or as one of the two-best third-ranked teams to move on.

The four best teams in the preliminary rounds will enter the knockout stage as seeded squads. In contrast, the bottom four will enter without assigned seeds, and a random drawing will determine the quarterfinal matchups. That means the bracket’s first-seeded team could face the fifth-best squad as early as the quarterfinals.

This structure also means that one team that fails to win its grouping will enter the knockouts with a seed anyway. That’s important to note given the group assignments — Group A features three squads with a realistic shot of winning it.

4. Team-by-Team Grouping
To fully understand who benefits from the tournament structure, let’s look at the grouping assignments for the 2020 Summer Olympics.

The two favorites, the United States and Australia, find themselves in different groups. They're both favored to win those divisions, so it's more of a race for second place behind them. In Group B, France looked excellent at the Eurobasket championship last month, but Nigeria could be a sneaky pick over them if Nneka Ogwumike's waiver gets approved. And in Group C, Belgium finished fourth in the 2018 World Cup and are coming off a strong showing at Eurobasket, while China boasts one of the biggest lineups at the tournament.

In contrast to Groups B and C, Group A appears wide open. Spain finished third in the 2018 World Cup, but Serbia beat them at Eurobasket. Canada finished a lowly seventh in the last World Cup, but they didn't have star point guard Kia Nurse.

Ultimately, if I were picking teams to qualify for knockout play, I'd take the three contenders in Group A (Canada, Serbia, and Spain) along with the United States, France, and Australia. Belgium, China, and Nigeria should compete for the seventh and eighth spots.

5. EuroBasket Women 2021 Was Last Month
I alluded to this in the section above, but we just saw four of these teams in competitive action last month. That data should help bettors handicap individual games -- and the whole tournament -- immensely.

Serbia won the tournament by a nine-point margin over France. Yvonne Anderson scored a team-high 18 points, while tournament MVP Sonja Vasić posted 12 points, eight rebounds, and six assists in the victory.

The Serbians beat Belgium and Spain to get there, too. They also went undefeated in group play, which Belgium and France did, too. In contrast, Spain fell to Belarus in their first game, so they'll enter these Olympics with a questionable recent record in international play.

Team Previews: Group A

Spain (Gold: +1800 at DK Sportsbook, Group A: +125 at DK Sportsbook)

Notable Players: Astou Ndour, Raquel Carrera, Maite Cazorla, Laia Palau.

Strengths: Passing, steals.

Weaknesses: Scoring.

Betting Outlook: Spain has fared quite poorly in international play of late, as they have lost to Serbia, Belarus, Russia, and China in the last two years. They got outrebounded by their opponents in three of those games despite having 6-foot-6 Astou Ndour in the lineup, with margins of 39-42 (Belarus), 31-39 (Russia), and 35-55 (China). They also shot below 40% in each of those losses, including a 29.7% shooting percentage against Belarus.

Isaiah's Advice: Spain's 5-4 record since 2020 suggests that the sportsbooks are overrating them because they won silver in 2016. But they ranked second in rebounds per game in Rio (41), a number that regressed heavily in their 2020 qualifier games (38) and at Eurobasket 2021 (36.7). I'm fading Spain at these Olympics and am targeting their group rivals instead.

Serbia (Gold: +2500, Group A: +190)

Notable Players: Sonja Vasić.

Strengths: Scoring, steals.

Weaknesses: Size.

Betting Outlook: Unlike Spain, the Serbians are riding high off their tournament win at Eurobasket 2021. They took down the Spanish by a seven-point margin with an incredibly efficient showing, and I suspect a similar performance from them in group play. Sonja Vasić went for a team-high 19 points on 50% shooting in the win. She went on to win tournament MVP honors. Serbia finished the tournament second in overall efficiency. They also topped Olympic rivals Belgium and France along the way, potentially setting them up for a podium run in Tokyo.

Isaiah's Advice: I expect Vasić and the Serbians to beat Spain again. However, that doesn't mean that they're locks to win Group C — the Canadians have an interesting roster that could cause problems for an undersized Serbian squad. Instead, I suggest that you take Serbia on the moneyline or against the spread when they face Spain. You could also take them to win a medal (+220 at DK Sportsbook) or to reach the semifinal (+110).

Canada (Gold: +2800, Group A: +220)

Notable Players: Kia Nurse, Natalie Achonwa, Bridget Carleton.

Strengths: Size, steals.

Weaknesses: Passing.

Betting Outlook: We don't have as much data on Canada relative to Serbia and Spain. Obviously, they didn't play in Eurobasket 2021, and Kia Nurse didn't play in the 2018 World Cup. That said, we saw them go 3-0 with Nurse in the 2020 qualifiers. They bested both Belgium and Japan with accurate shooting and effective rebounding. Their 42.3 rebounds per game at the qualifier ranked first.

Isaiah's Advice: Ultimately, I'm not sure where the Canadians will finish. They should qualify for the knockouts, but you won't make much money betting on them to do so — that line sits at -5000. I suspect that they'll lose to either Serbia or Spain, which would probably keep them out of the top four seeds, dooming them to a tough path to the podium. That said, their size makes them a decent pick to cover as 1.5-point underdogs against Serbia (-110 at DK Sportsbook).

South Korea (Gold: +50000, Group A: +20000)

Notable Players: Park Ji-su.

Strengths: Park Ji-su.

Weaknesses: Depth.

Betting Outlook: Park Ji-su headlines South Korea's lineup. At 6-foot-6, only three players in the tournament are taller than her, and none of them play in Group A. Unfortunately, the South Koreans have no other WNBA players or players over six feet tall. They finished a third-worst 14th at the 2018 FIBA World Cup and went 1-2 in their Olympic qualifier, beating Great Britain but losing in blowouts to Spain and Japan.

Isaiah's Advice: South Korea doesn't have a clear path out of Group A, so I would avoid betting on them.

Team Previews: Group B

United States (Gold: -1100, Group B: -5000)

Notable Players: Breanna Stewart, Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Brittney Griner, A'ja Wilson — basically, the whole roster.

Strengths: Scoring, passing, size.

Weaknesses: Momentum, three-point shooting.

Betting Outlook: Team USA has a lot of things going for it. They have won every gold medal since 1996, boast a stacked lineup full of WNBA stars, and have one of the tournament's two tallest players, the 6-foot-9 Brittney Griner. While they absolutely deserve to be gold medal favorites, their pair of exhibition losses to the WNBA All-Stars and Australia is a cause for concern. Poor shooting sunk them against the Opals, as they went just 2-for-18 from beyond the arc in the loss, but they recovered against Nigeria by going 9-for-16. Time will tell which Team USA takes the court in Tokyo.

Isaiah's Advice: You won't make much money betting on the United States to do anything except cover a spread. Liz Cambage's decision to sit out these games made Team USA's futures lines even less profitable, too.

France (Gold: +1900, Group B: +900)

Notable Players: Sandrine Gruda, Héléna Ciak, Endéné Miyem.

Strengths: Scoring, passing, size, steals.

Weaknesses: Star power.

Betting Outlook: The French recorded the third-most points, fifth-most rebounds, third-most assists, fifth-most steals, and fifth-most blocks at the 2018 FIBA World Cup. They did so without any of their individual players ranking top-five in those categories. Something similar happened at Eurobasket 2021 — they led the tournament in points and rebounds per game and finished third in assists and fourth in blocks — all without an individual contributor carrying the workload. They finished fifth in 2018 and second in 2021, but they were more efficient in those tournaments than the results suggest — France ranked fourth in 2018 and first in 2021. They also led their 2020 Olympic qualifier in efficiency, which helped them to a nine-point win over Australia despite Liz Cambage's 20 rebounds.

Isaiah's Advice: If any team can upset the United States in group play, it's France. They have a deep and balanced roster, and their squad has improved considerably since their fourth-place finish in Rio. That said, you're better off taking France to reach the finals (+360 at DK Sportsbook), win a medal (+150), or make the semifinals (+100). France is at least a top-three squad entering Tokyo, so exploit their fourth-longest odds to accomplish those feats.

Nigeria (Gold: +10000, Group B: +10000)

Notable Players: Ezinne Kalu, Nneka Ogwumike (?), Chiney Ogwumike, and Erica Ogwumike.

Strengths: Steals.

Weaknesses: Shooting.

Betting Outlook: Well, we're still waiting to hear the results of Nneka Ogwumike's appeal to FIBA, so we don't know exactly how Nigeria will look heading into these Olympics. That said, they fell to Team USA without her after getting heavily outrebounded — the United States recorded a whopping 45 boards to Nigeria's 24. That said, the team led the 2018 World Cup in steals per game, and they out-stole Team USA by 14 to 8 in the matchup.

Isaiah's Advice: Nigeria has an incredibly high ceiling if Nneka Ogwumike and Elizabeth Williams get approved to play. However, that call is entirely in FIBA's hands now. If you're willing to stomach the risk that she doesn't play, betting on Nigeria now offers immense upside. At the moment, your best bet would be to take them to make the knockout stage (+350 at DK Sportsbook); they have the third-longest odds to do so. Nigeria making the knockouts will come down to whether they can beat Japan and record strong enough numbers against the United States and France to edge out China or Belgium. They could do so with Nneka Ogwumike, but they probably won't without her.

Japan (Gold: +10000, Group B: +4000)

Notable Players: Yuki Miyazawa, Maki Takada, Nako Motohashi.

Strengths: Steals, passing, home-court advantage.

Weaknesses: Size.

Betting Outlook: Like Nigeria, Japan records a ton of steals. They ranked second in the metric at the 2018 FIBA World Cup and had two individual leaders in steals, Maki Takada and Nako Motohashi. Motohashi also finished second in assists per game. However, size is a much bigger issue for Japan. They have just five players who are at least 6-foot, and they have no players taller than 6-foot-1. For some perspective, their three group rivals all have centers who are at least 6-foot-4. The size disadvantage doomed them to a 1-2 record in qualifying play, as Belgium outrebounded them by 34-24 and Canada by 42-36.

Isaiah's Advice: Japan has shorter odds to make the knockout stage (+270 at DK Sportsbook) than Nigeria, but I disagree with that decision. Although Japan may have made the knockout stage in Rio, Nigeria finished ahead of them in the 2018 World Cup, and I'm out on them for these Olympics.

Team Previews: Group C

Australia (Gold: +1500, Group C: -220)

Notable Players: Leilani Mitchell, Stephanie Talbot, Alanna Smith, Ezi Magbegor.

Strengths: Scoring, three-point shooting.

Weaknesses: Adjusting.

Betting Outlook: The Opals will have to adjust their strategy to compensate for the loss of Liz Cambage. They successfully did so in exhibition play against the United States, but as I mentioned earlier in the article, it's hard to overstate how much Cambage contributed to their prior international success. She stuffed the stat sheet with points, boards, and blocks. Without her, the Opals had to overcome a 41-28 rebound disadvantage to beat Team USA. They only did so because of their strong three-point shooting (10-for-26) and Team USA's poor three-point shooting (2-for-18). Regression suggests that the Americans won't lose like that again.

Isaiah's Advice: As good as the Opals looked in exhibition play against the United States, I don't believe you'll find much value in betting on them. They're sizeable favorites to win Group C, as their international record suggests they should be, but they'll need to keep shooting the lights out without Cambage. They even lost to France in qualifying play with Cambage in the lineup, so I'm out on Australia at their current odds.

Belgium (Gold: +4000, Group C: +320)

Notable Players: Emma Meesseman, Kim Mestdagh, Julie Allemand.

Strengths: Passing, scoring.

Weaknesses: Fouls, luck.

Betting Outlook: It's hard to look at Belgium's recent record and not conclude that they've gotten unlucky. In the 2018 World Cup, they drew the United States in the semifinal round. In Eurobasket 2021, they drew Serbia in the semis. They lost both games, and both of their opponents went on to win those respective tournaments. Those two losses (and their one to Canada in qualifying play) can be blamed on foul trouble, as their opponents averaged 18 free throw attempts to their 10. Moderately cleaner play (and better luck) could help Belgium finish on the podium this year.

Isaiah's Advice: I like Belgium this year, but they find themselves in a tough position. The second-favorite Australians won't go down easy, and China's 6-foot-9 center, Han Xu, will cause problems on the glass. That said, the Belgians are better equipped to handle Xu than the Opals because they have forward Emma Meesseman. I recommend that you take Belgium to reach the semifinals (+190 at DK Sportsbook), which they have done in their last two international tournaments. You could also take them to cover as 7.5-point underdogs against Australia (+100 at DK Sportsbook) in addition.

China (Gold: +9000, Group C: +500)

Notable Players: Han Xu, Li Yueru.

Strengths: Size, passing.

Weaknesses: Experience, shooting.

Betting Outlook: The sportsbooks may be undervaluing China because 6-foot-9 Han Xu was too young to play for them in Rio. She was only 18 at the 2018 FIBA World Cup, too. That didn't stop her from recording an impressive 20 points against Team USA at the tournament, although she only recorded five rebounds as China lost the rebounding battle by 38-30. Fortunately, China has another massive center, 6-foot-7 Li Yueru, to help out. The size advantage these two players afford China led them to record a whopping 44.3 rebounds per game in qualifying play, the most in their grouping, and to a narrow victory over Spain in which they outrebounded them by 20.

Isaiah's Advice: China has the size to make a deep run in Tokyo. While they'll face some difficult opponents in Australia and Belgium, the fact that they topped Spain in qualifying play should have earned them shorter odds. I recommend that you take China against the spread versus Australia, and they aren't a bad pick to reach the semifinals (+380 at DK Sportsbook), either. Taking them along with Belgium increases the odds that you'll have one team enter the knockouts as a seeded squad, and laying a half unit on both of them would net you a profit as long as one cashes. You can take the same approach with the Group C winner, too.

Puerto Rico (Gold: +50000, Group C: +10000)

Notable Players: Pamela Rosado.

Strengths: Steals.

Weaknesses: Size, talent.

Betting Outlook: Puerto Rico finished 0-3 at the 2018 World Cup and went 1-2 in qualifying play. Their one win came against Brazil in overtime, and both France and Australia blew them out in regulation. Puerto Rico doesn't have a player over 6-foot-2, and that'll prove to be a death sentence against China and Belgium.

Isaiah's Advice: Don't bet on Puerto Rico.

Top Betting Picks

To Win Gold: United States (-1100) — not a worthwhile betting market.
To Reach the Semifinals: France (+100) or Belgium (+190) AND China (+380).
To Win Group A: Serbia (+190).
To Win Group B: United States (-5000) — not a worthwhile betting market.
To Win Group C: Belgium (+320) AND China (+500).

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Isaiah Sirois is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Isaiah, check out his archive and follow him @is_sirois.

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