Another quality field is heading to the Bahamas tomorrow for the annual Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament. A few of the favorites in this field still have a lot of mysteries about them. So how will it all play out?
8. Middle Tennessee – The Blue Raiders are in unfamiliar territory after Kermit Davis finally landed a Power five job that he long deserved at Ole Miss. Nick McDevitt takes over this year as a new up and coming Head Coach by way of UNC Asheville. Blue Raiders were picked in the bottom half of Conference USA coming into the season. But thus far, signs have been positive. They battled Belmont tough down the road at Belmont in their first significant test. It would not surprise me if the Blue Raiders could pull off a win while in this highly coveted event. However, percentage wise they are more than likely leaving with three losses. I’m really interested to see what type of progress this bunch makes together in the Bahamas.
7. Oklahoma – The Sooners are also going through a significant change. This one is more personnel related, as Trae Young has moved to the NBA. Lon Kruger has been tasked with putting impressive veteran newcomers like Aaron Calixte and Miles Reynolds with veteran returnees Christian James and Rashard Odomes. Jamal Bieniemy is also in the mix, a Freshman who impressed Kruger in the summer. The early results have been promising. Sooners picked up road wins at UTRGV and at UTSA (no Jhivvan Jackson for the Roadrunners), and just beat Wofford on Sunday by 11. Only two days off between the Wofford win and facing the Gators with Bahamas travel plus events in between hurts their chances in the opener. Then I believe they will have a real even matchup against Stanford. Almost a true coin flip game there, I see them falling short. And finally Sooner fans will be able to rejoice after a win over MTSU for 7th place.
6. Dayton – The Flyers had a real shaky and uncharacteristic year last year in HC Anthony Grant’s first year with the Flyers, finishing 14-17. This is a team I was able to see in person last year and they return some pieces that I personally like. Josh Cunningham is a load down low, and many teams have a hard time matching up with him. Trey Landers, Jalen Crutcher, and Jordan Davis were three others that stood out last year. Having all four back together should equal a wins improvement this year. However, we have already seen some warning signs. In the final tune-up prior to Atlantis, the Flyers allowed Fort Wayne to hang around virtually the entire game and trialed at various junctures. Seems like there is still some experimenting going on. I liked what I saw out of Butler against Ole Miss and believe Dayton wont be able to keep up with the Bulldogs. On Day two, a matchup with Middle Tennessee will be a nice opportunity to restore order and build confidence. On the final day, I think they will again have a great shot at picking up a victory but ultimately believe they will lose close against…
5. Stanford – The Cardinal have three super sophomores in Daejon Davis, KJ Okpala, and Oscar DaSilva. But the hole left by Reid Travis transferring has them left with more question marks in the paint. This will be the second trip to the Eastern seaboard for Stanford as they have already picked up a win in Wilmington, NC against UNCW and took some lumps in a loss to UNC on the road. They made it all the way back to campus where unfortunately the air quality coming from the California fires made it unsuitable to play a basketball game against Wofford. So now they travel back east to the Bahamas, having not played since November 12th and over 6,000 miles traveled. They draw Wisconsin in the opener, which will be an obvious difficult matchup problem against 6-10 All American candidate Ethan Happ. After seeing Wisconsin dominate Xavier on the road, I don’t see Stanford challenging much in this one. The following two days do look better for the Cardinal. The game against Oklahoma will be intriguing. I slightly like Stanford’s continuity more than the Sooners at this early in the season. And that puts Stanford in perfect position to take 5th place with a third day victory over Dayton.
4. Butler – The always tough Bulldogs come to the Bahamas with a 3-0 record after escaping a scare at home against Ole Miss. Butler is led by Kamar Baldwin and the Bulldogs brought back a lot of experience with Paul Jorgensen, Sean McDermott, and Henry Baddley. I think they are capable of winning this tournament and also capable of being beat by nearly anyone in the field. So 4th place seems reasonable. I really think the opening matchup against Dayton serves the Bulldogs well to pencil them into the semifinals. And then they would play mighty Virginia, who looks amazing on paper, but is completely untested early on. So you never know. I’ll take Virginia for the simple reason that I haven’t seen enough to warrant an upset prediction. In the Bahamas finally I have the Bulldogs falling just short to…
3. Wisconsin – These Badgers, who are led by potential All-American big man Ethan Happ, have been impressive early on. Badgers were able to go into the Cintas Center last week and dominate Xavier. Something that is rarely seen in that building. With the limited action that we have to go off, you have to figure the sky is the limit for this club. Khalil Iversn, Brevin Pritzl, Aleem Ford, Nate Reuvers are the type of supporting cast weve grown accustomed to seeing out of Wisconsin over the past two decades. All besides Reuvers can shoot from downtown and helps keep defenses honest. I think Wisconsin has a distinct advantage over Stanford. Then will really be in a battle against Florida. That game could easily go either way. I am riding my lofty preseason Gator expectations and predicting a slim Badger loss. Badgers will head back to Wisconsin on a happy note after a quality win against Butler in the 3rd Place game.
2. Florida – I am being a little bit stubborn on Florida. I really thought they were underrated during the preseason. However, they were smacked by rivals Florida State on opening night. Will it just be the wakeup call they needed or is Florida not that good? The Battle 4 Atlantis should help clarify some of this. Last season the Gators beat Kentucky twice, but also lost at home to South Carolina, lost at Ole Miss, and had around five head scratching losses. And if this schizophrenic personality continues this season, then I give up trying to predict Gator games. This roster has some new blood however. Heralded frosh Andrew Nembhard is in to take over the point. He brings international experience after leading Team Canada over the summer. Nembhard is surrounded by veterans in the starting lineup. Gators drew Oklahoma in the opener, not a guaranteed win, but one that the Gators need to win. Beyond that, they will have a showdown with Wisconsin on Thanksgiving. Should be a great one. I feel like the Gators will come in a bit tired and got worn down in the Championship Game. But overall a successful trip resulting in a second-place finish.
1. Virginia – I will remain bullish on the Cavs being a great team this year until they prove me otherwise. With DeAndre Hunter back and the focal point in this offense, I really like the roster dynamics that coach Tony Bennett has orchestrated. Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome are clutch players as well. I really do not see Middle Tennessee being much of a challenge for the Hoo’s on Wednesday. That sets up an interesting matchup with Butler that I believe Virginia should win, but also think we will find out more about each team in that semifinal. That brings us to the final on Friday against Florida. Could be a real interesting one. I believe Virginia’s style of play will really help them navigate a three games in three days structure. And Florida could really fall to the Cavalier defensive pressure in the Championship game. Virginia wins three straight.