SHEFFIELD (Julio Chitunda's African Message) - Nigeria may sit sixth in the NIKE FIBA Africa Women Rankings, but from a competitiveness standpoint, few African teams can match the two-time FIBA Women's AfroBasket winners.
African champions Senegal currently rank as the number one team on the continent with Angola right behind them and Mali, Mozambique and Cameroon respectively completing the top five.
I have said it all along: days after the FIBA Women's AfroBasket 2015, where Nigeria finished third, I picked them as the better side in that tournament although I admitted that Senegal were a deserving champions for their team effort later in the competition.
With FIBA Women's AfroBasket 2017 taking place in Bamako, Mali, from September 15-24, I was recently asked whether I still believe that Nigeria are Africa's best team and if they could win the African championship.
If Nigeria keep the majority of the team that featured at the FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament (WOQT), they will be very strong this summer. If they bring back assistant coach Italian Mauro Procaccini, who was crucial last summer, and if they improve their defense on the perimeter they will give themselves a chance.
If the Western Africans prepare the team the right way without leaving players stranded without an entry visa to travel to Europe - as happened last year - then yes they will be in a strong position to win the FIBA Women's AfroBasket 2017.
Can anyone stop Nigeria from winning the tournament? Sure, hosts Mali and Senegal (and maybe Egypt) can give Nigeria some headaches.
Last summer I was asked 'Which five WOQT teams will reach Rio 2016?'. I also picked Nigeria along with China, Spain, France and Turkey.
This is a country that last won the FIBA Women's AfroBasket as hosts of the tournament in 2005 and it is desperate to come up on top of African basketball again.
Four years ago, Nigeria lost to hosts Mozambique in the Quarter-Finals in one of the most eventful games in the history of the competition.
Two years later, in Yaounde, Cameroon, Nigeria outscored then reigning champions Angola 20-0 in the Bronze Medal game to qualify for the WOQT.
There is so much to look at Nigeria as a title contender.
For example, last December, Nigerian champions First Bank - a team consisting of mostly Nigerian players - beat continental champions giants Primeiro D'Agosto to claim the FIBA Africa Champions Cup for Women bronze medal.
Put all those pieces together, and Nigeria are on the right path to make tremendous noise in Bamako, and claim one of the two tickets for African teams for the 2018 FIBA World Championship for Women in Spain.
By Julio Chitunda for FIBA.com