ESPN's guide to the second edition of the Basketball Africa League

The second edition of the Basketball Africa League [BAL] is set to tip off in Dakar, Senegal, on March 5, with the 12 competing teams confirmed and defending champions Zamalek returning.

The group phase will take place in Dakar (Sahara Conference - March 5-15th) and in Cairo (Nile Conference - April 9-19th) before the tournament moves to Kigali for the playoffs from May 21-28th.

Last year, with the tournament taking place over two weeks in Rwanda due to COVID-19, Egypt's Zamalek beat Tunisia's US Monastir in the final, becoming the first NBA-affiliated African club champions.

This year, indications are that the level of performance is set to be even higher, with the tournament moving across three different countries, as initially intended before COVID hit.

No word yet on which, if any, Grammy-winning rapper will compete at this year's edition, after J. Cole stole the show with the Patriots last year.

Sahara Conference - Dakar, Senegal - March 5-15th

US Monastir (Tunisia)

How did they qualify? Last year's runners-up qualified automatically once again by winning the 2020/21 Championnat National A.

History: Established in 1959, US Monastir did not rise to the top of Tunisian basketball until 1998, when they beat Ezzahra Sports in the league finals to win their first title. In 1999/2000, Monastir beat Club Africain in the league final and Ezzahra in the cup final to win the double.

After a third title win in 2005 and a maiden appearance at the FIBA Africa Club Championship in 2014, Monastir finished third in the Africa Champions Cup in 2017. They were defeated by ES Radès in the semi-final, but won the bronze playoff against Sport Libolo e Benfica.

If they needed revenge on local rivals ES Radès, Monastir claimed it by beating them to claim the league title not only in 2019, but again in 2020. In 2021, Monastir beat Ezzahra Sports to claim the crown yet again.

They were widely viewed as favourites for the inaugural BAL title, but lost to Zamalek in the final.

Star man: Ty Lawson

Reasons for optimism: The presence of former NBA player Ty Lawson in the Monastir side makes them a better team and they will be hungry to avenge their unexpected defeat to Zamalek in last year's final.

Reasons for concern: With Zamalek having made a raft of star signings, Monastir are going to have to raise their game to keep up. Not everything is going their way at home, where they have recently been beaten by Ezzahra Sports. Even more recently, Lawson is reported to have been arrested in Madrid over a fight which broke out in a restaurant and this may have implications for his BAL hopes.

Solms's prediction: Final

DUC Dakar (Senegal)

How did they qualify? In a nail-biting finale to the Senegalese basketball season, DUC Dakar beat 2021 BAL participants AS Douanes 66-65 to claim last year's Nationale 1 title.

History: Dakar Université Club Basketball (DUC) is the basketball team of the Cheikh Anta Diop University. Founded in 1956, they have won five Nationale 1 titles including their 2021 triumph. Their others were in 2009, 2010, 2013 and 2015. DUC were also runners-up in 1991, 1993 and 2012.

Founded as a basketball club, DUC went on to play other sports in addition, including athletics and football.

Star man: Thierno Niang

Reasons for optimism: Senegalese basketball is in a strong position after a third-place finish at AfroBasket 2021. DUC Dakar guard and Senegalese League Finals MVP Thierno Niang has the ability to separate his team from others. Furthermore, DUC will have home advantage for some of the tournament.

Reasons for concern: AS Douanes, who represented Senegal at last year's BAL, were a disappointment -- scraping through to the quarter-finals before losing to Monastir. Overall, they had a 1-3 tournament record. DUC Dakar do not have a star-studded roster and have no BAL experience.

Solms's prediction: Group stage

REG (Rwanda)

How did they qualify? Avenging three successive final defeats to the Patriots, REG finally won back their crown by beating the 2021 BAL semifinalists 2-0 in the 2020/21 Rwandan National Basketball League (NBL) final.

History: Rwanda Energy Group BBC (REG) is owned by and named after the Rwanda Energy Group Limited. Established in 2016, they quickly became one of the dominant forces in the country's rapidly developing basketball scene. After winning the NBL in 2017, they played second fiddle to the Patriots for three years, eventually beating them again to clinch a second national title in 2021. REG have also won the Rwandan Heroes Cup in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

Star man: Kami Kabange

Reasons for optimism: The playoffs and finals of the BAL will be held in Rwanda, giving REG a major advantage. Countrymen the Patriots used this well last year, making it all the way to the semi-finals of the inaugural BAL. Given that REG toppled them en route to the league title, they will fancy their chances.

Reasons for concern: The Patriots came up well short when they took on the might of Monastir and Petro de Luanda. Looking at REG's roster, it is difficult to see how they will fare any better against the best teams, who are beefing up with seasoned NBA campaigners.

Solms's prediction: Quarter-finals

AS Salé (Morocco)

How did they qualify? Moroccan champions Salé were invited to the BAL to replace Nigeria's Rivers Hoopers, who were disqualified due to their federation failing to effectively organise a league.

History: The basketball section of AS Salé was founded in 1928. Today, they are the pride of the organisation, as the football team competes in the second division. However, even the basketball side did not win the national title until 2010. Since then, they have been utterly dominant.

In 2017, they beat ES Radès 77-69 in Radès to win the FIBA Africa Champions Cup, becoming the first Moroccan side to lift the title since MAS Fez in 1998. In 2018/19, Salé were runners-up, losing the final 83-71 to Primeiro de Agosto.

The 2021 BAL season saw a Terrell Stoglin-inspired Salé reach the quarter-finals while playing some thoroughly entertaining basketball, but they were knocked out by Petro de Luanda.

Star man: Terrell Stoglin

Reasons for optimism: The Moroccan champions have been boosted by the return of Stoglin to their ranks and will be fired up. They can count themselves unlucky to have been knocked out so early in the tournament last time, despite being one of the most exciting teams, and will be hungry to progress further this time.

Reasons for concern: Having been parachuted into the tournament despite missing the Elite 16 round of the qualifiers, Salé may be lacking in preparation. Their dominance at home is being threatened, particularly by FUS Rabat. Stoglin aside, it is difficult to see where they can bridge the gap to the best teams in the BAL.

Solms's prediction: Semi-finals

SLAC (Guinea)

How did they qualify? Seydou Legacy Athletic Club (SLAC) qualified by finishing as runners-up of the West Division in the qualifying tournament. They beat Mali's AS Police 81-78 in overtime in the semi-finals, but were hammered 81-34 by Forces Armées et Police (FAP) in the final.

History: SLAC have dominated Guinean basketball since winning a first Ligue 1 title in 2015. They have since added further triumphs in 2016, 2017, 2019, 2020 and 2021. Before the BAL came into existence, they played their first FIBA Africa Basketball League tournament in 2018/19, losing all three matches against AS Salé, JS Kairouan and Rivers Hoopers.

Star man: Dane Miller Jr.

Reasons for optimism: By beating 2021 BAL participants AS Police in order to qualify for this year's tournament, SLAC proved that they are capable of playing at the required level to compete in the tournament on their best days.

Reasons for concern: The 47-point West Division final defeat to FAP suggests SLAC still have some way to go before they can compete with the BAL big guns. Their squad is inexperienced at major basketball competitions relative to some of their competitors.

Solms's prediction: Group stage

Ferroviário da Beira (Mozambique)

How did they qualify? In their first appearance in the BAL qualifiers, Ferroviário da Beira won the East Division. They emulated fellow Mozambican team Ferroviário de Maputo the previous year by ensuring that Mozambique will have a representative at Africa's biggest club basketball showpiece.

History: Ferroviário da Beira's history dates back to 1924, but the basketball section of the club has enjoyed its golden years over the last decade. They won the Mozambique Division 1 in 2012, 2013 and 2014 before finally adding another title in 2021, earning their right to play in the BAL qualifiers, which they did with much success.

Star man: Will Perry

Reasons for optimism: Beira peaked at the right time in qualifying and should go down as one of the dark horses for the tournament. Ferroviário de Maputo came very close to reaching the semi-finals last time and so Mozambican basketball teams know they can mix it with Africa's big guns when required.

Reasons for concern: There were moments over two titanic qualifying battles with the Cape Town Tigers when Beira's vulnerability showed. One of those matches ended in defeat and the other in victory. Although there are accomplished players in the squad, Beira lack bona fide stars to compete with the best teams.

Solms's prediction: Quarter-finals

Nile Conference - Cairo, Egypt - April 9-19th

Zamalek (Egypt)

How did they qualify? The defending BAL champions doubled up by also clinching the 2020/21 Egyptian Basketball Super League, beating Al Ittihad 3-2 in a fiercely contested final.

History: Zamalek won the Egyptian Republic Championship, the precursor to the Egyptian Super League, in 1969/70 and 1973/74.

They were a dominant force early in the Super League era, following up their 1973/1974 title with wins in 1974/75, 1975/76, 1976/77, 1977/1978, 1979/80, and 1980/81.

Al Ittihad then had a spell of dominance, winning the title for six seasons in a row, with Zamalek finally ending that run in 1987/88. Zamalek lost the title to Cairo rivals Al Ahly the following season and then to Al Ittihad again, but reclaimed first prize in 1990/91.

After finishing second in 1975 and 1976 and third in 1972 and 1983, Zamalek finally achieved continental supremacy by winning the FIBA Africa Clubs Champions Cup in 1992. They would not win another national title until 1996/97, but retained it in 1997/98, also finishing second in the Africa Clubs Champions Cup in 1998 and winning the 1997/98 Egyptian Cup and 1997 and 1998 Egyptian Super Cup titles.

Zamalek started the new millennium with a spell of Egyptian Cup dominance, winning the tournament in 1999/2000, 2000/01, 2001/02, 2002/03 and 2005/06. However, despite Super League victories in 2002/03 and 2006/07, they struggled to keep pace with Gezira, Al Ittihad, Sporting Alexandria and Al Ahly.

In 2018/19, Zamalek finally returned to the summit of Egyptian basketball. Although they lost their title to Al Ittihad the following season, they promptly won it back, also winning the inaugural BAL by beating Monastir 76-63 in the final.

Star man: Anas Osama Mahmoud

Reasons for optimism: The reigning African champions followed up their BAL triumph by becoming champions of Egypt. They have added several new signings to their roster, with the most recognisable new players being Ike Diogu and DJ Strawberry.

Star man Anas Mahmoud is back from a stint with the Toronto Raptors in the NBA Summer League, and Zamalek are the best team in the tournament on paper. Furthermore, they will have an added advantage of playing some basketball on home soil, a privilege they were not afforded last year.

Reasons for concern: As champions, Zamalek will have a target on their backs. US Monastir have kept pace with them in terms of improving their squad and everyone will be hungry to raise their game when they come up against Will Voigt's side.

Solms's prediction: Champions

Petro de Luanda (Angola)

How did they qualify? Semi-finalists at the inaugural BAL tournament, Petro de Luanda qualified again by beating Interclube 3-0 in the final of the 2020/21 Angolan Basketball League.

History: Established in 1976, Petro de Luanda's basketball team is one of many sporting outfits in a diverse institution which includes football and handball teams. They are second only to Primeiro de Agosto in overall Angolan Basketball League title wins.

Petro de Luanda's first national title came in 1989 and they dominated Angolan basketball in the early 1990s, winning the league in 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995. Further triumphs followed in 1998 and 1999.

After a seven-year drought, Petro de Luanda won the league again in 2006, which was the same year in which they were crowned African champions for the first time. Fittingly, it was a 76-71 win over Primeiro de Agosto which earned Petro de Luanda their first FIBA Africa Clubs Champions Cup title.

After another league title in 2007, Petro de Luanda's next came in 2011. In 2015, they repeated their 2006 Angolan and African double. Having beaten Primeiro de Agosto in the semi-finals, they saw off fellow local rivals Rec do Libolo 89-75 in the FIBA Africa Club Champions Cup final.

Petro de Luanda's next league title came in 2019 and they have dominated nationally since. They were top of the table in 2020 when the league was called off due to COVID-19 and won their 14th title in 2021.

At last year's BAL, they finished third, losing to eventual champions Zamalek in the semi-finals before beating the Patriots to clinch bronze.

Star man: Carlos Morais

Reasons for optimism: Carlos Morais was in superb form for Angola at AfroBasket 2021, suggesting that the shooting guard has a major role to play at the BAL even at the age of 36. Petro have dominated the Angolan Basketball League in recent years and were deserving bronze medallists at the 2021 BAL. They are likely to be among the contenders for the throne once again.

Reasons for concern: Petro were found wanting against Zamalek at last year's BAL semi-finals and the Egyptians have strengthened further since then. It is difficult to see how Petro can keep pace with them, as well as US Monastir, who were runners-up last year. If the Angolan champions are to do so, they will almost definitely need to strengthen their roster.

Solms's prediction: Semi-finals

Cape Town Tigers (South Africa)

How did they qualify? Controversially so, as the South African champions were awarded a 20-0 walkover against New Star in the East Division third-place playoff as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak among the team from Burundi.

History: Founded in 2019 by an American ownership group, the Cape Town Tigers saw their plans halted by COVID-19. However, they rebuilt and won last year's national championship. The Tigers subsequently used home advantage well in the Elite 16 round to become the first South African team ever to secure qualification for the BAL.

Star man: Myck Kabongo

Reasons for optimism: The Tigers are a well-resourced team with backing from an American ownership group and they have a healthy balance of exuberance and experience within the squad. They were convincing throughout the majority of the qualifying tournament even though they were not at their best in the Elite 16. The Tigers' new assistant coach, Al Harrington, is a welcome addition to the staff with 16 years of NBA playing experience.

Reasons for concern: As an institution, the Tigers are inexperienced and have yet to be put to the test at this grand stage. Their handling of Nigerian international point guard Ben Uzoh was worrying to say the least. The Tigers did well to sign him and he was influential last year, but he had to be replaced at the eleventh hour by Myck Kabongo, who played for Maputo at the 2021 edition, for the Elite 16 round of qualifiers due to his VISA having been allowed to expire. The Tigers were lucky to scrape their way into the tournament without him and will have to improve if they are to be competitive at the BAL.

Solms's prediction: Quarter-finals

Cobra Sport (South Sudan)

How did they qualify? Cobra Sport finished second in the East Division of BAL qualifiers, booking their spot with a 78-76 semi-final win over New Star of Burundi.

They had initially lost both of their first round qualifying matches, but were handed a wild card to compete in the second round by FIBA and made the most of it with a strengthened roster. The team from South Sudan lost the division final 91-65 to Ferroviário da Beira.

History: Cobra Sports Club was founded in 2017 and earned the right to participate in qualifiers for the inaugural BAL season. Although they missed out, they strengthened by bringing in John Jevish Omondi as head coach. The signings of Kenyan international Tom Wamukota and Rwandan international Dieudonné Ndizeye strengthened them further and they became the first team from South Sudan to advance to the BAL proper.

Star man: Dieudonné Ndizeye

Reasons for optimism: Cobra Sports are going from strength to strength under the guidance of Omondi and beat a very strong New Star team to qualify for the BAL. Their gradually improving performances in qualifying suggest they are only going to get better.

Reasons for concern: The defeat to Beira in the East Division final suggests Cobra Sports still have plenty of improvements to make before they can be competitive at the BAL. A lack of experience on the big stage will also count against them. They were lucky to get through qualifying after a slow start.

Solms's prediction: Group stage

FAP (Cameroon)

How did they qualify? FAP won the West Division of the qualifying tournament in style, sealing their BAL spot for the second year running.

History: Established in 1972, FAP won the Central Region Championship in 2011, 2016 and 2018. However, their first Cameroonian Basketball League title did not come until 2019/20, after they had finished as runners-up to Condor BC the previous season. In 2020/21, they repeated their feat from the following campaign by winning another national title and once again qualifying for the BAL.

Star man: Joel Almeida

Reasons for optimism: FAP made the quarter-finals of the inaugural BAL tournament and have since added veteran Cape Verdean shooting guard/small forward Joel Almeida to their roster. He was one of the key players for them as they eased to the West Division title in qualifying.

Reasons for concern: An 82-53 defeat to Zamalek in last year's quarter-finals showed that FAP are still well behind Africa's best teams. Almost a year later, they are hardly closer if at all to bridging the gap in terms of roster quality.

Solms's prediction: Quarter-finals

Espoir Fukash (DR Congo)

How did they qualify? Espoir Fukash beat AS Police 93-87 in an overtime thriller to claim third place in the West Division of the qualifying tournament, qualifying for the BAL despite a 70-56 semi-final loss to FAP.

History: Founded as recently as 2019, Espoir Fukash made their first regional final in 2020, losing to BC Terreur. The following season, they went one better and won the title, also picking up the Congolese Cup in October 2021 - their first national title. This earned them the right to play in the BAL qualifiers and they seized the opportunity with both hands.

Star man: Rolly Fula

Reasons for optimism: Inspired by Rolly Fula, who was one of the best players in the BAL qualification tournament, Espoir Fukash are an unknown quantity on the big stage. Like other new teams, particularly the Cape Town Tigers, they may have the element of surprise on their side.

Reasons for concern: Espoir Fukash were twice resoundingly beaten by FAP in qualifying and only scraped through their decisive West Division third-place playoff against AS Police to qualify for the BAL. On paper, they are one of the least likely teams to go far.

Solms's prediction: Group stage