Jamie Rhodes-US PRESSWIRE
Gorgui Dieng, Louisville
When: Nov. 22-24
Where: Nassau, Bahamas
Teams: Duke, Louisville, Memphis, Minnesota, Missouri, Northern Iowa, Stanford, VCU
It’s not even close.
In just its second year of existence as an eight-team tournament, this year’s Battle 4 Atlantis, in the Bahamas, is by far the best of this year’s crop of early season tournaments. With two Top 10 teams, four Top 25s, and not one single team that can be considered a pushover to any degree, every single game in this tournament should be quite interesting.
As the nation’s No. 2 heading into the season, Louisville will have that esteemed ranking tested multiple times within the tournament’s three days.
An opener against a veteran Northern Iowa team—returning nearly all of its team that won 20 games last season—could be tricky for Rick Pitino’s bunch. If they win that, the Cardinals are potentially looking at a Missouri team which is still dangerous as long as Phil Pressey is running the backcourt.
On the bottom of the bracket, any one of the four teams is capable of challenging Louisville (assuming it survives to the point) for the tournament title. Obviously Duke, despite losing Austin Rivers to the NBA, is the best bet. If the guards can limit turnovers and knock down some shots, to go with Mason Plumlee’s expected high level of play inside, Duke could take home a title.
However, the Blue Devils’ path to that title is quite challenging, including an opener against a Minnesota team that comes into this season with a lot of momentum.
Minnesota roared through the NIT before losing in the title game, and welcomed back their outstanding forward Trevor Mbakwe, who was injured in last year’s Old Spice Classic and never came back. The Gophers also have plenty of firepower in the backcourt, with the Hollins’ duo (Andre and Austin, not brothers) as well as Maverick Ahanmisi. Rodney Williams Jr. is also back, looking to build off an excellent junior season which saw him make many a highlight reel.
The winner of Minnesota-Duke gets the winner of another interesting battle (of course) between No. 17 Memphis and VCU.
Memphis loses its best player, Will Barton, from last year, but welcomes freshman power forward Shaq Goodwin, a HS All-American. The Tigers’ success will hinge largely on the efforts of guards Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford and Antonio Barton. One of three—Jackson probably the most likely candidate—will need to step up and provide the scoring reliability that the departed Barton gave.
As for VCU, get ready for more of what we saw from them a year ago—constant pressure on defense and plenty of outside shooting. The Rams return all but one of their players who saw any significant minutes a year ago, so the defense should be the same type of organized chaos we saw from them at the end of last season.
Last but not least, there’s Stanford, which opens against Missouri. The Cardinal, like Minnesota, closed the year on a strong note, and actually beat the Gophers in the NIT title game. Guards Aaron Bright and Chaisson Randle figure to lead the way this season, and a potential breakout from forward Dwight Powell (who scored 27 in the season opener) could make the Cardinal a pretty dangerous team. Don’t be shocked at all if Stanford knocks off Mizzou in that game.
Title Prediction: Louisville over Minnesota