The Rwanda Basketball League (RBL) countdown is just two days to the kick off when teams return to courts Friday January 13.A total of 264 games will be played during the regular season, before the best four teams head for the post-season.A series of major trades at some clubs produced a lot of steam around this year’s tournament, ranging from the new rosters to the threat that promoted clubs could pose, partly indicating that the level of performance could be even more tense.Times Sport takes a closer look at the pre-tournament favorites, the underdogs and challengers.FavoritesThe title will be the air and new-look APR, thirst-driven Patriots and shaken but defending champions Rwanda Energy Group (REG) will go all the way to fight for it till the last day of the league. No wonder they featured on the same ‘favorites’ shortlist but APR are coming back with a ‘warning’ message that REG and Patriots will have to respond on the court.APRBasketball fans are going to watch a new-look APR BBC side that will only be looking to end their 12-year trophy drought next season.The military side is one of the teams that are regarded by many as favorites to win the championship after making a notable presence in the transfer window in a major rebuild from which the club seeks to regain their domestic dominance.The club made mega trades at the end of the 2022 season bringing in point guard Jean-Jacques Wilson Nshobozwabyosenumukiza and power-forward Axel Mpoyo, two key players who helped rivals-REG win back to back championships in the two previous years, as well as point guard Ntore Habimana and Bush Wamukota from the Patriots.US-based Dan Manzi Kimasa also joined early in December last year after he was convinced by the club’s new project. The star players’ moves to APR left rivals REG and Patriots on alert that next season could be even more challenging with the army side’s eyes now set on winning the league and booking a ticket to represent Rwanda at the BAL next season.You might not be supporting APR but believe it or not, they already proved their title credentials even before the league kicks off.PatriotsDespite falling short to the trophy last season, four times champions Patriots BBC have a reason to reclaim their top spot this season.The local powerhouse was waiting on their wings when their former head coach Henry Mwinuka resigned from rivals REG to return to the club he enjoyed glory days between 2015 and 2019..Mwinuka was the architect of REG's two league titles (2021 and 2022) and back-to-back qualification for the Basketball Africa League (BAL).Patriots also boast of seasoned elements on their roster including power forward Steven Hagumintwari, Point Guard Bello Nkanira, shooting guard Bruno Nyamwasa and guard Sedar Sagamba. Their experience in big occasions plus a coach who knows what it takes to win a title puts them in the ‘favorites’ club ahead of the new season. REGThe defending champions will have to begin their campaign without head coach Mwinuka, cementing a tight grip on the team’s performance.Club management says assistant coach Maxime Mwiseneza will fill the void, a move that several players have cited as “a punch above the weight” of the club.Despite the current crisis however, REG has on several occasions won the hearts of their fans with different impressive team spirit and zeal to win it all.They remain the champions of the national league, an accolade the team says is far from being snatched.REG will also represent the country at the upcoming Basketball Africa League (BAL) season three, slated for March 11.With a pool of talent ranging from small forward Pascal Niyonkuru commonly known as “Kaceka”, loosely translated as the punisher, small forward Prince Muhizi, shooting guard Olivier Shyaka and Center Kami Kabange, a few rosters in the league can overshadow the club.Underdogs: IPRC-KigaliCrisis club IPRC-Kigali is one of the teams that many top players will be moving to and has been competing against top teams including APR, REG and Patriots but this year it may be difficult as all their players are out of contract with the club having no plan to renew them.Times Sport understands that the majority of the club’s players were given release letters that allow them to find new teams.With the current situation, it looks like IPRC-Kigali, who looked dangerous over the past seasons, will never be the same this season.Dark horse: Kigali TitansNewcomers Kigali Titans were recently promoted to the top flight league after topping last year’s second division basketball league alongside Orion.The club has laid out plans to challenge other clubs in the topflight, with some describing it as the most promising.Kigali Titans added American point guard William Kiah Perry and Nigerian forward Francis Azolibe Chijioke ahead of the season.The group of players that the club has at its disposal gives no one a reason to underestimate them. Their challenge awaits the league heavyweights if they take the club for granted.