Defending champs Riga face dark horses Lausanne and Princeton to start 3x3 Jeddah Final
JEDDAH (Saudi Arabia) - Riga's (LAT) bid for back-to-back World Tour Final titles starts with a challenging Day 1 against dark horse contenders Lausanne Sport (SUI) and Princeton (USA) in Jeddah on December 17-18.
The World Tour's showpiece event comprises the top 12 teams of an absolutely loaded season with defending champs Riga starting as favorites after winning consecutive Masters in Abu Dhabi and Mexico City.
The No.1 seed memorably clinched their first World Tour Final 12 months ago when Nauris Miezis aka 'Robin' played superhero to hit a Tissot Buzzer Beater for the ages.
Their path for a repeat will be difficult with the Latvians drawn against the talented but unpredictable Lausanne, who have promised so much over the years without always delivering.
Princeton, who were runners-up in the World Tour Final 2019, will be without walking bucket Robbie Hummel but these Americans bring the swag on the big stage, especially Kareem Maddox who is coming off winning gold at the first ever FIBA 3x3 AmeriCup 2021.
But it would be a shock to see Riga - who boast Latvia's four Olympic gold medalists - not make it through to Day 2. After being injury hit post Tokyo, the fully fit Riga are reloaded and playing their best 3x3 of the season to peak at the right time.
Karlis Lasmanis aka 'Batman' is averaging a ridiculous 7.8ppg this season and tops player value (151.5), while his partner-in-crime Miezis, who is officially the No.1 ranked player ahead of Lasmanis, is No.1 in highlights (83) and key assists (44).
It all means Riga deserve the favoritism tag. For now, at least.
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Pool B is led by No.2 seed Ub (SRB) who have been the most consistent team all season with a leading 20-3 record, including titles in Debrecen and Montreal. The addition of Dejan Majstorovic has been key and he's returned to being the 'Maestro' as the fourth leading scorer overall this season.
He has combined brilliant with Strahinja Stojacic, whose combination of explosiveness and shooting touch makes him one of the best in the business.
Ub, however, face a tough Day 1 against fellow 2021 Masters champs Jeddah (KSA) and San Juan PCI Group. Jeddah memorably created history in Prague led by hot shooting Nemanja Draskovic while San Juan has sparked Puerto Rico's comeback season in 3x3.
San Juan created one of the moments of the season when they won in Lausanne after beating Ub in a thrilling final. The Serbs gained revenge in Abu Dhabi and another chapter in this growing rivalry will be told in Jeddah.
Pool C is intriguing with No.3 seed Liman (SRB) hoping to end their drought in 2021 in style with a first World Tour Final crown. The Serbs had formed part of the 'Big 3' with Novi Sad and Riga over the years but have fallen among the pack with the emergence of new power teams.
They have still been fairly consistent and done well through various injuries, but Liman are no sure thing to get out of a tough group alongside No.6 seed Sakiai Gulbele (LTU) and Gagarin.
Gagarin, who have three Olympic silver medalists in their line-up, are tipped to go far as their young guns start to dominate the World Tour like they do international events.
Led by brilliant 25-year-old Alexander Zuev, Gagarin stormed to the semis in Mexico City, which included an opening day 22-19 victory over Liman - made memorable for a shoot-out between Zuev and sniper Stefan Kojic.
Sakiai, Montreal Masters 2019 winners, can't be discounted and have winning form over Liman having beaten them in the quarters in Debrecen.
Last but not least, Pool D is highlighted by a blockbuster clash between Antwerp (BEL) and Amsterdam Talent&Pro (NED).
Both teams have become forces on the World Tour, particularly the Dutchmen after recruiting ex-Liman star Maksim Kovacevic who made an instant splash in Doha.
A rivalry is developing between them with Amsterdam emerging on top in a thriller in Debrecen followed by a more routine semi-final win in Montreal.
The No.12 seed Graz (AUT) will be aiming to ensure Pool D isn't just a two-horse race and with the explosive Filip Kramer in their line-up, they can't be dismissed.
With such a deep field and competitive pools, Day 1 looms as a dogfight to kick-off what will surely be a fitting finale to such an insane World Tour season.