TUNIS (FIBA AfroBasket 2017) – Since winning the FIBA AfroBasket title in 2011, Tunisia has blown both cold and hot air with a ninth place finish two years later and a podium place in 2015 respectively in front of the home crowd.
Perhaps playing in familiar territory brings out the best in every team and when Africa’s premier basketball tournament tips off on Friday, Tunisia will be favorites to proceed to the Quarter-Finals from Group C that also has Cameroon, Guinea and Rwanda to challenge for the title.
Major talking point: As the second ranked team on the African continent, everyone has their eyes on Tunisia. A lot too is expected from the hosts no matter their pedigree at past tournaments and so is the case for Tunisia when they take to the floor in Tunis.
Even though they may not want to admit it publicly to ease away pressure, they are one of the title favorites and nothing short of a place on the podium is expected from them.
Absentees: Salah Mejri and Michael Roll are big misses for the hosts as the duo was at the core of Tunisia's campaign two years ago. The fact that Adel Tlatli will not be on the touchline for the first time in a decade means that this is a new page in the Tunisian team but in four-time AfroBasket winner with Angola, Mario Palma, they have an experienced tactician.
Head-to-head dating back to 2005: 4-0 against Rwanda, 2-1 against Cameroon, never faced Guinea.
Key Player: Makram Ben Romdhane and Mourad El Mabrouk
The bottom line: Reaching the Semi-Finals is the bare minimum for the home side if they are to maintain their place among Africa's top teams judged by their performances on court.
Major talking point: With several new faces on the Cameroonian side, it could spur them to go for the sky especially because not many know them.
However, experience at this level is very key to a team's quest for gold and the absence of some key names could do more harm than good.
Absentees: Joel Embiid, Luc Mbah Moute and Pascal Siakam.
Head-to-head dating back to 2005: 0-1 against Rwanda, 1-2 against Tunisia, never faced Guinea.
Key Player: Arnaud Adala Moto
The bottom line: A good training camp in Brazil has given Cameroon the confidence a team needs when going into a tournament like the FIBA AfroBasket. If this is anything to go by then, they will be a dangerous side.
Major talking point: After missing out on the 2015 edition, Rwanda will be looking to make amends and build from where they stopped the last time out in 2013.
With a couple of new faces including youngsters Sedar Sagamba, Walter Nkurunziza and Parfait Ishimwe, Moise Mutokambali's side will once again attempt to make it to the Quarter-Finals as they mark 10 years since their debut in 2007.
Rwanda has looked the part in the friendly games played in Sousse where they set camp for 10 days before moving to the Tunisian capital ready for the battle ahead.
Absentees: An experienced shooting guard, Lionel Hakizimana's efficiency behind the arc will be missed in Tunisia.
Head-to-head dating back to 2005: 1-0 against Cameroon, 0-4 against Tunisia, never faced Guinea.
Key Player: Kenneth Gasana
The bottom line: It is one thing to have ambitions and it is another to fulfill them. Rwanda has the capability of achieving theirs but in their way stands the hosts Tunisia, a determined Cameroonian side and Guinea, who are out to make a name where there has not been much.
Major talking point: Guinea return to FIBA AfroBasket for the first time since 1985 and a lot has changed since then.
A powerhouse since their appearance at the inaugural edition in 1962 till the mid 1980s, Guinea come into the 2017 edition as nearly the "newbies" riding on a wild card but they are not to be underestimated.
If their performance in the Zone 2 Qualifiers is anything to go by then they will be putting up a good fight in a rather difficult Group C.
Absentees: Head coach Ousmane Tafsir Camara has maintained nine players from the squad that featured at the Zone 2 Qualifiers against Mali, Senegal and Cape Verde.
Head-to-head dating back to 2005: Did not qualify for FIBA AfroBasket during this period.
Key Player: Cedric Mansare and Ismael Conde
The bottom line: Playing at the African stage for the first time in three decades will mean so much to the Guinean players but they want to make it count. Realistically, they face a tall order to make it to the Quarter-Finals but impossible is nothing in basketball.