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Getting ready for the European season: the best women's basketball teams in Europe

Last year - or was it the year before - I tried to follow the Spanish League's women's basketball season. It was very tedious, as there were four teams with players that I had heard of and a bevy of players that even Spaniards hadn't heard of. I had no feel for it, and after a few weeks, I gave up on it.

Part of the problem of following the European season is that there's so much to look at. In a way, it's like following college basketball, due to the sheer number of countries and teams. You could think of each country's national league as a college basketball conference. Russia is the Big Twelve. Spain is the SEC. Italy is the Big East. And after the power countries come the lesser countries, each with their own national leagues, sometimes touring in obscurity.

I'm surprised at how close we are to serious European basketball. The two most prestigious international competitions - Euroleague and Eurocup - start play on October 24. Spain starts its season on October 12. Six of the top 12 countries (in my opinion anyway) have already started play. Players from the Lynx, Sun and Fever might not be there but some parts of Europe aren't going to wait.

So rather than follow one league, I'm going to try to follow the top 12 teams in Europe. This list can change at any one time. I've developed a spreadsheet that uses an Elo rating system. This will give me a way to rank teams against each other, strictly on wins and loss, and also by victory margin. I've looked at five years of Euroleague and Eurocup play, have weighted countries and teams, and have a way to rank them. I'll try to follow the top twelve countries' national games as well as international competition.

So over the past five years - who have been the best teams in Europe? Here is my list so far, along with a list of key personnel that would be familiar to American basketball followers. We have to have something to do until basketball season starts, and while I get ready with the Top 100 Programs in Division I Basketball list, this should keep me occupied, and hopefully keep you entertaining.

Initial Ranking

1. Spartak Vidnoe Moscow

Home city: Moscow
Home country: Russia

Coach: Pokey Chatman
Players you've heard of: Seimone Augustus, Candice Dupree, Becky Hammon, Isabelle Yacoubou

I don't expect Spartak Moscow to keep this ranking for very long. They've had great teams in the past, but after their owner Shabtai Kalamonovitch was assassinated in 2009 it's just not possible to support this team at its previous legendary level.

2. UMMC (Ekaterinburg/"Ekat")

Home city: Ekaterinburg
Home country: Russia

Coaches: Olaf Lange, Sandy Brondello
Players you've heard of: Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Deanna Nolan, Anete Jekabsone, Maria Stepanova, Candace Parker, Sandrine Gruda, Ewelina Kobryn, Quanitra Hollingsworth

They're the overwhelming favorite to be the best team in Europe at the end of the year. Sue, Dee, Tweety and Candice. Scary.

3. Fenerbahce ("Fener")

Home city
: Istanbul
Home country: Turkey

Coach: Roberto Iniguez
Players you've heard of: Cappie Pondexter, Angel McCoughtry, Agnieszka Bibrzycka

Cappie and Angel on the same team. Hoping to see a Ekat/Fener matchup sometime this year. Fener's fans are f*@#ing frightening and insane.

4. Perfumerias

Home city: Salamanca
Home country: Spain

Coach: Alberto Miranda
Players you've heard of: Nicole Powell, Jessica Adair, Marta Fernandez

Top dogs in Spain now that Ros Casares - that won it all last season - disbanded due to financial reasons.

5. Wisla Can-Pack

Home city: Krakow
Home country
: Poland

Head coach: Jose Hernandez
Players you've heard of: Anka De Mondt, Katie Douglas, Tina Charles

The Poles are always strong and you have to like what they've got in the post.

6. Athinaikos

Home city
: Athens
Home country: Greece

Head coach
: George Zevgolis
Players you've heard of: Nobody.

Athinaikos is not participating either in Euroleague or Eurocup; they probably won't be ranked as highly next season. Here entirely for historical reasons; I'll follow them anyway and see if they can sweep the Greek league.

7. Bourges

Home city: Bourges
Home country: France

Head coach: Valerie Garnier
Players you've heard of: Celine Dumerc, Catherine Joens (+), Emmeline Ndongue

Joens is hurt. Celine Dumerc is probably one of the best point guards in the world.

8. Galatasaray ("Gala")

Home city: Istanbul
Home country: Turkey

Head coach: Ekrem Memnun
Players you've heard of: Lindsay Whalen, Sancho Lyttle, Alba Torrens, Ann Wauters, Sylvia Fowles

Gala could compete in the WNBA and definitely not finish last. Fener/Gala is always a war.

9. Taranto

Home city
: Taranto
Home country: Italy

Head coach: Roberto Ricchini
Players you've heard of: Megan Mahoney, Liron Cohen

Don't know much about the Italian teams. All the focus has moved to Russia and Spain.

10. Familia Schio

Home city: Schio
Home country: Italy

Head coach: Maurizio Lasi
Players you've heard of: Jantel Lavender, Danielle McCray, Raffaella Masciardi

11. Good Angels

Home city
: Košice
Home country: Slovakia

Head coach: Maros Kovacik
Players you've heard of: Plenette Pierson, Alexandria Quigley, Riquna Williams

A lot of great young WNBA players get their start at Good Angels.

12. Rivas Ecopolis

Home city: Vaciamadrid
Home country: Spain

Head coach
: Miguel Mendez
Players you've heard of: Aneika Henry

Perfumerias's rival now that Ros is gone.

(* * *)

So can Ekat dominate Europe this year, or is it time for Fener or Perfumerias to shine? We'll try to find out as the year goes by.

In the meantime, if you want to know how great Spartak Moscow was last year, check out this video clip from FIBA Europe.

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