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Battle 4 Atlantis 2012: Top Performers and Grades for Entire Field

Thad NovakCorrespondent INovember 25, 2012

Battle 4 Atlantis 2012: Top Performers and Grades for Entire Field

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    Loaded with four ranked teams in an eight-team field, the Battle 4 Atlantis provided plenty of excitement to go with its star power. In an intense championship game, No. 5 Duke held off No. 2 Louisville for the title by a 76-71 margin.

    The individual names in the Bahamas were just as impressive as the celebrated teams. Whether you prefer bruising forwards (Duke’s Mason Plumlee) or slick point guards (Missouri’s Phil Pressey), this tournament had something for everyone.

    Read on for a closer look at the five most dominant players in the tourney, followed by grades for all eight teams in the season’s strongest holiday tournament field.

5. Rodney Williams Jr., Minnesota

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    Although teammate Andre Hollins grabbed headlines with his 41-point outburst against Memphis, Rodney Williams Jr. was even more valuable for Minnesota over the course of the whole tournament.

    While Hollins was filling up the nets against the Tigers, Williams pitched in with 13 more points, but he also grabbed six boards and blocked three shots.

    That versatility is Williams’ trademark, and even against mighty Duke, he managed 16 points and seven rebounds.

    With Trevor Mbakwe dominating the inside in Minnesota's tournament finale against Stanford, Williams still came away with 12 points (second best on the roster), four rebounds and one more block for good measure.

4. Treveon Graham, Virginia Commonwealth

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    One of the big guards who are at such a premium in Virginia Commonwealth’s hyperaggressive press, 6’5” Treveon Graham has become one of the Rams’ most versatile weapons.

    He stole the show (and the ball, three times) in their upset of Memphis, shredding the Tigers for 26 points on 4-of-6 three-point shooting.

    Graham added another 16 points, sharing the team high, in losing to Duke, a game in which he also pulled down eight rebounds.

    In the hard-fought consolation game against Missouri, Graham (VCU’s leading scorer) stepped into more of a distributor’s role, scoring only 12 but adding five boards and five assists.

3. Phil Pressey, Missouri

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    Phil Pressey is one of the best pure passers in college basketball, and he certainly looked like it in the Bahamas. In three games in Atlantis, Pressey averaged 7.7 assists a night.

    With Missouri still trying to establish its offensive identity, Pressey has been thrust into a much bigger scoring role, pouring in 18 points against Stanford and 15 more in the loss to Louisville.

    He also showed off his exceptional defensive instincts, racking up four steals against the Cardinal.

2. Russ Smith, Louisville

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    Russ Smith’s elevation from 2011-12 sixth man to 2012-13 starter seemed certain to boost Louisville’s offense, but few could have guessed how much Smith would add.

    The Cardinals’ leading scorer racked up 16 points against Northern Iowa, 18 against Missouri and 17 in the title game against Duke.

    At all of 6’0”, 165 lbs, Smith has also been a force as a rebounder, averaging six boards a night in the Bahamas.

    On top of all that, he’s Louisville’s toughest defender, recording four steals against the Panthers and a ridiculous six against Mizzou.

1. Mason Plumlee, Duke

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    Having opted to postpone his NBA career in favor of a fourth season at Duke, Mason Plumlee is playing like a potential Wooden Award winner. He dismantled Minnesota almost single-handedly, piling up 20 points and 17 rebounds.

    Plumlee added another double-double in beating Virginia Commonwealth, posting 17 points and 10 boards.

    Even in the championship game against Louisville, where he was hampered by foul trouble for much of the first half, he managed 16 points and another seven rebounds.

Duke: A

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    In a field this strong, Duke could certainly have wished for a more impressive schedule on its way to the championship.

    Still, despite earning their first two wins over unranked Minnesota and Virginia Commonwealth, the Blue Devils’ showing in the Bahamas puts them front and center in the discussion for the favorite to win the national championship.

    Not only are the Gophers and Rams both headed for the Top 25 before the year is out, but in beating Louisville, Duke earned its second win over a Top Five team in its first six games of the season.

    Another encouraging sign for the Blue Devils is that they won the final two games of the tournament in spite of terrible three-point shooting (a combined 8-of-35), a feat they rarely managed in 2011-12.

Minnesota: A-

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    Even though it got hammered by Duke in its tournament opener, Minnesota still has to feel awfully good about its showing in the Bahamas. The Gophers earned two key nonconference wins, with the big one coming over No. 17 Memphis.

    Minnesota won’t get another shot at a Top 25 opponent until conference play starts, so its 84-75 win over the Tigers is a valuable confidence-builder.

    Beating Stanford, meanwhile, let the Gophers avenge last year’s loss in the NIT title game in addition to giving them another solid win for their NCAA tournament resume.

Virginia Commonwealth: B

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    Shaka Smart’s upset specialists added another victim in Atlantis, as the Rams opened with a win over No. 17 Memphis.

    Considering that both of their subsequent losses also featured Top 25 opponents, that one win is still enough to make for a pretty respectable tournament.

    VCU came achingly close to knocking off Missouri, but with star point guard Phil Pressey playing all 40 minutes, the Tigers limited the Rams to a mere four steals in a 68-65 win.

    Neither that defeat nor a nine-point loss to Duke is anything that will hurt Virginia Commonwealth on Selection Sunday, while the victory over Memphis will be a distinct plus.

Louisville: B-

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    Ranked No. 2 in the preseason and coming off a Final Four run, Louisville had titanic expectations to live up to in the Bahamas.

    That the Cardinals “only” finished in second place is a disappointment, but one that was certainly tempered by the strength of the opponents they faced.

    A win over No. 13 Missouri will be a huge asset to the Cardinals with the selection committee, and it’s hard to fault any team—even one ranked as highly as Louisville—for losing to No. 5 Duke, especially when center Gorgui Dieng missed that game with a wrist injury.

    Nothing short of a title would have been good enough for the Cardinals, but they don’t have to hang their heads after this weekend’s effort, either.

Missouri: C+

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    No. 13 Missouri entered the Battle 4 Atlantis as the third highest among four ranked teams in the field, and finished it in third place. That's not an entirely disappointing result, but the Tigers also didn’t do a whole lot to help themselves.

    A win over Stanford won’t mean much to a team that will be in the running for a No. 2 or No. 3 seed, and even the consolation-game victory over dangerous VCU loses some luster with the Rams unranked.

    The Tigers also got absolutely destroyed by the one Top 25 team they did face, falling to No. 2 Louisville by 23 points.

Stanford: D+

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    Outclassed by No. 13 Missouri in its first Atlantis game, Stanford had every opportunity to bounce back and make something out of this tournament.

    After walloping Northern Iowa, though, the Cardinal couldn’t get the job done in the fifth-place game against Minnesota.

    Losing to the Gophers had to be especially galling when Stanford had beaten the same team (minus Trevor Mbakwe) for the NIT title last March.

    With that defeat, the Cardinal came away from their Bahamas trip with only one lackluster nonconference victory, hardly the prize they’d hoped to claim.

Northern Iowa: D-

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    It’s hard to find anything good to say about a winless tournament, but Northern Iowa was so far out of its league in this competition that just putting up a fight counts for something.

    Even if they eventually lost to second-ranked Louisville, the fact that the Panthers cut an 18-point second-half deficit as close as one gives them something to point to as hope for the rest of the season.

    The UNI defense put in a second terrific showing in a 52-47 loss to No. 17 Memphis. Only Stanford (behind 21 points and six assists from Chasson Randle) got enough scoring to really pound the Panthers, winning by a 16-point margin.

Memphis: F

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    Of the four ranked teams in the Atlantis field, only Memphis failed to win its opening game. To add insult to injury, the Tigers then suffered a second consecutive loss to a second unranked foe.

    Even though both Virginia Commonwealth and Minnesota (the respective winners of those two games) are likely to be Top 25 teams later in the year, Memphis’ performance still fell desperately short of what its No. 17 ranking demanded.

    The Tigers did close with a narrow win over Northern Iowa, but that victory will mean nothing on Selection Sunday, especially after two missed opportunities for substantive nonconference wins.

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