Tunisia stunned Africa a year ago by knocking off seemingly invincible Angola, and is seemingly poised to challenge its rival for continental domination. A good showing in London could help embolden the Tunisians.
For decades, Angola dominated Africa in international competition. Angola represented the continent at the previous five Olympic Games, earned somewhat exclusive bids to the FIBA World Championship in seven of the past eight cycles and, from 1989 to 2009, won 10 of 11 African championships. Without a single NBA player and few NCAA prospects, Angola managed to run the continent in men's basketball for basically the entirety of the 1990s and 2000s.
But that run may be over thanks to Tunisia.
Tunisia stunned Angola last summer in the championship game at AfroBasket 2011, blowing out the old power and qualifying for the Olympics, becoming the first non-Angola team to represent Africa in the Games since the continent lost its second automatic bid before the 1996 Games. Angola hadn't lost a single game in African play in a decade before the 2011 tournament; Senegal picked up a group play win to crack the mystique, and Cameroon and Nigeria came close to matching. But it was Tunisia that shattered the mirror of Angolan dominance with its championship win.
The question is whether Tunisia's new reign atop Africa is a blip in Angola's history, or a new norm. The team's performance in London could give us a clue. In its five Olympic appearances, Angola has never finished better than No. 10 in the 12-team tournament. Tunisia will be looking to improve on that record, albeit out of the impossible Group A, where games against Argentina, France and Team USA loom. To launch out of group play, Tunisia will need to beat a strong Nigeria, who stunningly claimed one of three wild card bids for the Games, and either Lithuania (another wild card winner) or one of the big three in the group to advance. The top four teams in each six-team group advance to a knockout round; two wins in group play will advance you, and depending on point differential, one win could suffice.
Here's a look at Tunisia heading into London.
FIBA World Ranking: No. 32
How they got here: Won the 2011 FIBA Africa Championship over Angola, earning Africa's single automatic bid
Most important group games: vs. Nigeria (July 29), vs. Lithuania (July 31)
Players you've heard of:
Medal hopes: Quite slim
Future outlook: Bright, in terms of continental play -- the next Angola?