One question for every team at FIBA 3x3 World Tour Utsunomiya Opener 2022
A new season offers new hope, but also fresh questions. We try to answer the burning question for every team at the season opener.
Ub Huishan NE
Can Ub cement the No.1 ranking?
But it finished on a sour note when they fell to Antwerp in the quarter-finals of the Jeddah Final to miss their chance of really dominating the season. The Serbs still finished with the No.1 ranking by year's end but it feels like the label for top dog status remains up in the air.
But Ub has a chance in Utsunomiya to justify their ranking as the No.1 seed while their star pairing of Dejan Majstorovic and Strahinja Stojacic, having a year's worth of chemistry now under the belt, should be even better.
Things are shaping nicely for Ub to be No.1 in ranking and the eye test.
Can Antwerp win their first Masters on the World Tour?
These Belgian bad boys are no longer the new kids on the block. Their 24-year-old young gun Thivaut Vervoort is no longer the rookie sensation.
After an amazing debut season, where they were the surprise packet, Antwerp won't be satisfied until they open their account on the World Tour.
They became one of the most consistent teams in 2021 with four semi-final finishes from six events, including the Jeddah Final. Twelve months ago barely anyone had heard of Antwerp, now they are the No.2 3x3 team in the world and a legit contender every time they step on the court.
The expectations have raised and Antwerp know it's time to break through otherwise their drought will start becoming a monkey on the back.
View this post on Instagram
Liman Huishan NE
Can Kilijan take Liman to even greater heights?
It's officially a new era for powerhouse Liman, who no longer have the services of their greatest player - Stefan Stojacic who has moved to Team Vienna.
Although the Serbs have been in transition in recent years due to Mr Robot's injury struggles and have a more than suitable replacement in speedy Nebojsa Kilijan.
There were some growing pains for the 6ft. (1.82m) dynamo but the chemistry came together memorably when Liman claimed the showpiece Jeddah Final to end 2021 on a high and send a statement for 2022.
We all know what to expect from established stars Stefan Kojic, Mihailo Vasic and Aleksandar Ratkov. But Kilijan looms as the x-factor and if he kills it from deep - after he mostly struggled last season - then Liman might just be the team to beat in Utsunomiya and beyond.
Can Riga overcome the absence of 'Batman'?
For so long, Riga's awesome foursome have been the envy of the World Tour with their continuity and chemistry. But things are different to start 2022 with Riga without superstar Karlis Lasmanis aka 'Batman'.
But luckily for them they still have three gold medalists in the line-up led by world No.1 player Nauris Miezis aka 'Robin' who has no trouble putting the cape on and being a superhero.
And they also have ever reliable Arturs Strelnieks, who has been part of the squad for years and knows the team's winning formula inside and out. It's obviously a blow any time Lasmanis is not out there, but Riga are still a contender to go all the way in Utsunomiya.
View this post on Instagram
Can young gun Driessen be their missing piece?
After recruiting ex-Liman star Maksim Kovacevic, Amsterdam made the leap in 2021 into a power. And they are hoping to improve further through the development of towering Jan Driessen, who has shone with the Netherlands national team at the FIBA 3x3 U23 World Cup 2019 and last year's Europe Cup.
The 6ft. 8in (2.02m) Driessen looms as another weapon for an Amsterdam team oozing with offensive options. If the 25-year-old can have a breakout on the big stage in Utsunomiya then the Dutch Masters will be in great shape.
Will Uzupis rediscover his best?
Marijus Uzupis has never quite rediscovered his hot patch from late 2019 when the lefty's uzis couldn't miss. He claimed MVP in Sakiai's victory at the Montreal Masters and also that year led Lithuania to bronze at the Europe Cup.
Big things were tipped for the 6ft. 6in (1.97m) sniper and his Lithuanian team but didn't eventuate during tough times on the World Tour in 2020 and 2021.
He averaged a modest 4.3ppg and 26% from 2 last season but if he can reload then Sakiai might just fulfil the promise from 2019.
Can new look Jeddah develop chemistry straight away?
With the addition of Slovenian legend Simon Finzgar and ex-Sakiai star Darius Tarvydas, the Saudi Arabians appear to be absolutely loaded on O.
Expect them to hit 21 points with ease under the time limit. They have promised an attacking style to make full use of their firepower, which also includes established players Nemanja Draskovic and Ovidijus Varanauskas.
It looks exciting on paper but will the hype match? We can't wait to find out.
Is the time now for Lausanne?
We've been down this road before with these talented Swiss, who remain a fan favorite for their sheer entertainment value.
Lausanne are more hyped than Top Gun: Maverick but have often failed to deliver. There is reason for optimism though after they steadily improved in 2021 marked by a trio of quarter final appearances.
They've got the familiar names - and you know Gilles Martin will melt down social media - but it feels like it's now or never for Lausanne to finally break their curse and win a Masters title.
Can Princeton rediscover their defensive identity?
In 2019, Princeton became one of the best in the business and perhaps the nastiest defensive team around.
With Kareem Maddox patrolling the paint and Robbie Hummel using his big frame to good use, Princeton were a nightmare for opponents. But the Americans were affected more than most during the Covid-19 pandemic and their standards slipped.
Things are looking better now, thankfully, and Princeton enter 2022 in top shape and feeling good about their prospects of finding their 2019 form.
To do that, they will need to turn it up on D and reach those levels when they suffocated opponents.
Don't bet against them.
Will 'Mr Robot's' influence help Kramer reach his full potential?
Stefan Stojacic is surely on the Mt Rushmore of 3x3 greats. He might not be done quite yet, as he hopes his sore knee can eventually get him back on the court and rediscover his old magic for new team Vienna.
But, until then, he is sharing his secrets of success to Vienna's players, especially their star Filip Kramer who has the talent to be one of the best players in 3x3.
Stojacic has been using his time in his new country wisely by devising tactics to get Kramer into better positions where his athletic skill set will be even more dangerous.
We can't wait to see what the results form Stojacic's lab uncover.
Will the recruitment of Samardzic prove a masterstroke?
Twelve months ago, Serb Dusan Samardzic was set to play for Utsunomiya but his move to Japan was delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
But the time has arrived and the 26-year-old, who has trained for years with players from Liman and Novi Sad, is ready to showcase his skills for the Japanese team who are dreaming big.
Samardzic, who is a defensive specialist but can score when required, looms as a young player to watch closely.
Do Tokyo have enough firepower to qualify?
The Japanese struggled at the Asia Pacific Super Quest, where they were winless from three games.
They particularly struggled to score and averaged just 12.6ppg. Tokyo Dime badly need long time stars Keita Suzuki and Masahiro Komatsu to wind back the clock otherwise it's going to be tough for them to qualify.
Can Kaiden power them into the main draw?
Asakusa will probably be underdogs against the experienced Tokyo Dime and reliant on talented 22-year-old Takuya Kaiden, who spoiler alert can make Utsunomiya pour if he gets going.
View this post on Instagram
Can Shinagawa surprise?
The Japanese team will start as major underdogs to get through qualifying but it's a chance to at least have a glimpse of 24-year-old Hiroto Takeda, who is a 6ft. 3in (1.9m) maestro and there are whispers he could be something special.