The Battle 4 Atlantis has quickly become one of the nation's most prestigious regular season tournaments. Despite being in only its third year the tournament has been able to attract a variety of well-known teams to the Bahamas with one of the deepest purses in the country. Each team is awarded a whopping $2 million to play in the tournament, which does not even include the intangible benefit of being able to spend Thanksgiving at one of the world's most luxurious resorts.
The initial tournament in 2011 included nationally ranked Connecticut and Florida State, but the Harvard Crimson stole the show knocking off Utah, Florida State, and Central Florida to claim the first-ever title. Last year the semifinals had three of the top 13 teams in the country as well as one of the season's best non-conference games in the championship between second-ranked Louisville and fifth-ranked Duke. While Duke won the game and the Atlantis Tournament, Louisville was able to avail themselves relatively well by going on to cut down the nets in March and claim the National Championship.
The 2013 installment of the Battle 4 Atlantis features eight teams from seven different conferences (with the conference realignment, both Xavier and Villanova of the Big East ended up in the tournament). While the tournament only has two nationally ranked team this year, fourth-ranked Kansas and 23rd-ranked Iowa, there are four total teams from KenPom's top 30 in the event: the aforementioned Jayhawks and Hawkeyes as well as Villanova and Xavier. In addition to these four teams, Tennessee is off to a hot start this year and the field is rounded out by Wake Forest, Southern Cal, and UTEP.
Which of these eight teams has the best chance of raising the trophy at the conclusion of the tournament? Let's take a look at each of the seven other teams (other than Wake), their strengths and weaknesses, as well as a statistical look at each team's odds to win the title. The teams are sorted by alphabetical order and all efficiency stats come from KenPom.com. All ranks are out of 351 Division I basketball teams.
Head Coach: Fran McCaffery
KenPom Overall Rank: 15th
Offensive Efficiency Rank: 49th
Defensive Efficiency Rank: 10th
Strength of Schedule (thus far): 348th
Best Win: Nebraska-Omaha 83-75
Worst Loss: None
1. Iowa likes to play a fast game. They are the 24th fastest team in the nation according to Ken Pomeroy's tempo statistics and it shows in their high scoring games. The Hawkeyes have put up over 100 points in two games this year (against Maryland Eastern Shore and D-I newcomer Abilene Christian) but each of these two games had over 70 possessions, including a shockingly high 82 possessions against UMES. These high possession games are generally the result of quick possessions where the ball gets pounded inside, where Iowa is shooting a mediocre 51.7% from twos. This has worked against their early conference opponents who have been outsized by an Iowa team ranking 5th in the country in effective height (10 of the 13 players who have played at least 10% of Iowa's minutes are 6-6 or taller)
2. The Hawkeyes are, so far, a deep team. Now a disclaimer here is that with the extremely easy schedule Iowa has played thus far it is difficult to tell if the deep rotation McCaffery has used will continue against a more talented team. Nobody on the team is playing more than 24 minutes a game and the Hawkeyes are number one in the nation in bench minutes (48.4% of the minutes are played by players outside the top five in overall minutes for the team). Iowa will be looking to rotate a lot of guys and throw a lot of different looks at opponents. Foul trouble should not be a major issue for this team depth-wise.
3. Iowa does a solid job of avoiding fouls, while also heavily pressuring the opposing offense. Through their first five games Iowa has the best field goal defense in the country, holding teams to a paltry 34.2% effective field goal percentage. This is in large part to opposing teams only shooting 16.2% from beyond the arc. Furthermore Iowa is giving up just over 13 free throws per game, thus limiting the opponent's ability to slow the game and get points with the clock stopped
Player to Watch: Aaron White. White, a 6-9 junior, is off to a hot start this year averaging 13.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game despite only playing 21.6 minutes per. White avoids foul trouble inside while getting to the line at a pretty good clip when the Hawkeyes are on offense. He is a beast on the defensive glass and has been very efficient, boasting a 123.1 offensive rating so far in the 2013 season. He's off to a similar start to Oklahoma State wing man Le'Bryan Nash.
Best Case Finish: Champion
Worst Case Finish: 5th place
The Hawkeyes are the likely favorite to advance out of the bottom portion of the bracket and face off against Kansas in the championship game. If the Hawkeyes do get tripped up before the finals, I would expect it to be in the opener against a very good Xavier team. In the event the Musketeers pull off the upset, look for Iowa to rebound and reel off back-to-back victories in the consolation bracket.
Head Coach: Bill Self
KenPom Overall Rank: 4th
Offensive Efficiency Rank: 7th
Defensive Efficiency Rank: 8th
Strength of Schedule (thus far): 150th
Best Win: Duke 94-83
Worst Loss: None
1. Get the ball inside. Kansas is shooting an astounding 63.7% inside the arc and it's no surprise why with an incredible cast of talent including Perry Ellis, Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, and Wayne Selden. These four youngsters, Ellis is a sophomore while the other three are freshmen, have been extremely effective attacking the rim and put on a display early in the season with a quality win over Duke. The Jayhawks will try to spread the floor to create driving lanes while Embiid battles down low on the block for boards.
2. Crashing the boards. The Jayhawks are an extremely interesting rebounding team. Despite the aforementioned rebounding prowess of Joel Embiid, who ranks 19th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and 13th in defensive rebounding percentage, the Jayhawks struggle to get second chances on the offensive side of the ball ranking 223rd in offensive rebounding percentage as a team. On the defensive side of the ball though Kansas snags almost everything, eliminating put back attempts for opposing teams. The stats bare this out as they rebound over 80%+ of opponent's misses. To beat Kansas, teams will need to either shoot an extremely high percentage or crash the boards hard to get more opportunities from high-percentage areas on the floor.
3. The Jayhawks are an extremely talented team as Self brought in one of the top recruiting classes in the nation to rebuild after losing the bulk of the 2012 team which made the Sweet Sixteen a season ago. However the flip side of this is that Self has a very young team which could be prone to sloppy play at times. Naadir Tharpe is the only upperclassman who plays more than 40% of the teams' minutes and he will need to show leadership to help show the younger guys how to successfully navigate the rigors of the full season. As talented as the Jayhawks are, they have a serious chance to make a national title run and leadership from upperclassman can go a long way in keeping the team's eye on the prize.
Player to Watch: Perry Ellis. While most of the focus for the Jayhawks so far this year has been on highly-touted prospect Andrew Wiggins, Ellis has been a lights out shooter. Ellis ranks 23rd in the nation in true shooting percentage at 73.6%. Opposing defenses will need to focus on Ellis and let the cards fall where they may with the other guys. If Ellis gets hot in Atlantis, this tournament could be over before it ever gets started.
Best Case Finish: Champion
Worst Case Finish: 3rd
I don't see any conceivable way the Jayhawks lose to Wake in the first round, but with a semifinal matchup against a tough Villanova team it's certainly possible they get upset by the Wildcats. In this event, Kansas should come back strong against whoever they get from the bottom of the bracket and win the third-place game.
Southern California (4-1)
Head Coach: Andy Enfield
KenPom Overall Rank: 130th
Offensive Efficiency Rank: 200th
Defensive Efficiency Rank: 76th
Strength of Schedule (thus far): 267th
Best Win: Cal-State Fullerton 76-62
Worst Loss: Utah State 78-65 (not a terribly bad loss, just their only one - although a 13 point loss isn't great)
1. Improve on offense. With first year head coach Andy Enfield at the helm the Trojans have gone through some growing pains so far this year. The most glaring weakness so far for this team is getting the ball in the basket as the team ranks 200th in the nation in offensive efficiency. One of the major issues is the team is settling for contested shots rather than working down the clock on the offensive side and finding a way to get the ball inside. While the team does not shoot THAT many threes, they miss a lot of them (27.7% on the year) and only two players on the team are shooting above 35% from beyond the arc.
2. Find a way to crash the defensive glass out of the zone. Enfield runs a heavy zone defense at times which makes it very difficult to rebound. This is a common problem for heavy zone teams as it makes it difficult to find a man and put a box on him. While the zone does elongate possession length, the inability to get the first rebound allows for second chance buckets. In the opening game loss to Utah State the Trojans gave up 14 offensive rebounds, a major contributor to the game's final result.
3. Find a way to continue to get the ball inside. USC shoots well from inside the arc and needs to rely more on big man Omar Oraby who is shooting 72.0 from two pointers as well as 69% from the free throw line. He is one of the better big mans in this tournament and the Trojans need to pound him the rock on the block. He does commit a decent number of fouls so he needs to be more careful on the defensive end although his general aggression pays dividends as he is averaging almost four blocks a game. Additionally Bryon Wesley needs to penetrate the lane a little bit more and take higher percentage shots instead of relying on his outside jumper where he is only 3-13 on the year.
Player to Watch: Omar Oraby. As mentioned, the 7-2 senior center needs to touch the ball as much as possible while staying out of foul trouble. If Oraby can get some good touches inside, the Trojans can win a game or two in this tournament despite being the worst ranked team on KenPom.
Best Case Finish: 4th
Worst Case Finish: 8th
I think USC could potentially upset Villanova in the first round before falling in both of their next two matchups. I don't think it's likely, but it's at least somewhat possible. I think the worst case finish is far more likely than the best case finish and I believe USC will be in the 7th place game come Saturday afternoon.
Head Coach: Cuonzo Martin
KenPom Overall Rank: 39th
Offensive Efficiency Rank: 27th
Defensive Efficiency Rank: 62nd
Strength of Schedule (thus far): 273rd
Best Win: USC-Upstate 74-65
Worst Loss: Xavier 67-63 (only loss - not particularly a bad one)
1. Tennessee likes to play a very slow tempoed game and it will be critical to their success that they continue to keep games slower. Earlier in Martin's career at Tennessee the Vols tried to speed the game up and it wasn't quite working as hoped so the focus shifted to increasing the defensive intensity and forcing turnovers. While the offense is looking better early on in the season, the defensive pressure has slowed the game down substantially as opponents are unable to get off a lot of shots early in the shot clock. Look for the Vols to be involved in a handful of games in the 60's where they will look quality looks on offense over a "run them out of the gym" quantity mentality.
2. Get the ball to Jordan McRae. The senior McRae is off to a remarkable start through four games averaging 21.5 points per game along with three assists per contest. McRae has an offensive rating of 138.9, good enough for 71st in the nation, and is doing it while taking a very high percentage of his team's shots. I would expect McRae to continue his stellar play as the season moves forward as higher usage rates with high offensive ratings typically indicate that the numbers are not a fluke. McRae is shooting 45% from outside the arc, reaching the free throw line with great regularity, and keeping his turnover rates down. The Volunteers will undoubtedly try to get Jordan the ball as much as possible over the tournament.
3. Use experience to the their advantage. Martin's squad is one of the most experienced teams in the tournament and in the unique environment of the Bahamas this may be used to their advantage. The team has four players getting over 60% of the teams' minutes per game and each of the is an upperclassman. They are almost the opposite of Kansas in that this team has matured over the past couple of years and grown as a group while the Jayhawks are a younger squad with an immense amount of talent. While the Vols do have individual talent on the team as well, they will be looking to utilize their overall experience to their advantage as the tournament progresses.
Player to Watch: Jordan McRae. His accomplishments on the court so far this year were covered earlier, but it is worth repeating that he is one of the most exciting players in the tournament and is well worth watching
Best Case Finish: Runner-Up
Worst Case Finish: 4th
Tennessee gets UTEP in the first round and should take care of business there barring a pretty big upset. With that in mind, I think the Vols can get hot and win a close battle with either Iowa or Xavier in the second round. They have already played Xavier this year once, albeit without two of Xavier's starters, and showed they could hang in there. If the Vols do in fact win back-to-back games I just can't imagine they have enough steam to take down Kansas in the championship game and it's not a great matchup for the Vols. I could easily see Tennessee losing in the semis as well as the consolation game to a team like Villanova. I do not see them losing to UTEP in the first round.
Texas El-Paso (3-2)
Head Coach: Tim Floyd
KenPom Overall Rank: 105th
Offensive Efficiency Rank: 129th
Defensive Efficiency Rank: 101st
Strength of Schedule (thus far): 63rd
Best Win: Colorado State 82-74
Worst Loss: New Mexico State (twice) 86-73 (A); 77-68 (H)
1. The Miners need to stop committing so many fouls. Through five games their opponents are shooting 80% as many free throws as field goals, including a game against New Mexico State earlier in the year where the Aggies shot 47 free throws while only attempting 44 field goals. UTEP appears to be struggling with the new changes to the college basketball rules as far as fouls go and they need to avoid this foul trouble to be competitive in the tournament. On the flip side though UTEP is also getting to the line a lot, in other words their games have been relatively lengthy with all the fouls that have been called. UTEP needs to continue to crash the glass and draw fouls while being less handsy on the defensive side of things.
2. Crash the glass hard on offense. UTEP gets down the lane a substantial amount this season so far as is seen by the fact that they're only getting 14.8% of their points from beyond the arc. UTEP has replaced their three point shooting with getting to the line where they are third in the nation in percentage of points from free throws at 34.1%. These numbers may change as UTEP plays more D-1 opponent. Despite having played five games already, only three of these were against D-1 opponents and two of them were against the same team (New Mexico State). If UTEP gets down the lane, finishes up their misses with second chance buckets, and gets to the free throw line then they could pose a threat to the bottom half of the bracket.
3. Utilize your height. The Miners have three guys on the roster who are 6-11 or taller, including 7-1 freshman Matt Willms. Floyd needs to use this to their advantage and get them crashing the boards hard for easy put backs on the offensive side of the ball. Cedrick Lang at 6-10 has done a good job so far this year on offense and averages 11 points with 7.3 rebounds per game. He's a quality player who has the opportunity to do some damage this week.
Player to Watch: McKenzie Moore. The 6-6 junior does a little bit of everything for the Miners and leads the team in points and assists while also contributing almost five rebounds a game. Moore didn't play against New Mexico State the last time out, but there isn't any information out about an injury or suspension. If he plays it's a big boost for the Miners.
Best Case Finish: 7th
Worst Case Finish: 8th
It's hard to say that a team's best chance is to finish 7th, but the bottom half of the bracket is stacked in Atlantis. I don't believe the Miners have any shot to beat Tennessee and then they get the loser of Xavier-Iowa, both of which are very solid teams. Best case for the Miners is they have two close games and then beat Wake Forest or USC in the 7th place game. Worst case they get blown out in the first two games and then lose in a game they're favored against the Deacs or Trojans.
Head Coach: Jay Wright
KenPom Overall Rank: 22nd
Offensive Efficiency Rank: 58th
Defensive Efficiency Rank: 18th
Strength of Schedule (thus far): 296th
Best Win: Delaware 84-80
Worst Loss: None
1. Keep up the intensity on the defensive end. The Wildcats are off to a really solid start on the defensive side of the ball so far this year holding three of the first four teams under the 100.0 average offensive efficiency (a point per possession). In the last game against Delaware, the Blue Hens got off 26 threes and made 11 of them against the Villanova defense which appears to throw in a decent mix of zone with their man-to-man sets. If Villanova can keep up the defensive intensity they can continue to force turnovers, which they are 15th in the nation at doing with 23.7% of opponent's possessions ending in a turnover.
2. Villanova shoots a relatively large number of threes and they have the proclivity to do it at times relatively early in the shot clock. The Wildcats are not a very good shooting team so far this season from beyond the arc at 25.5% but they are very successful getting the ball inside where they are shooting 60.6%, good enough for seventh in the nation. The guards need to do a good job of working the ball inside and getting down the lane to open up quick ball movement. Junior JayVaughn Pinkston is shooting 70% from inside the arc and is a strong force offensively despite not being a great rebounder.
3. Maximize the starter's minutes. The Wildcats don't have a very deep bench at this early juncture of the season so it's critical that the starters not get into foul trouble while also producing at a highly efficient level on offense. The team is really only seven deep and three of the starters play 75%+ of the teams' minutes (Darrun Hilliard, James Bell, and Ryan Arcidiacano). Villanova is one injury away from being in a very bad position depth-wise.
Player to Watch: James Bell. Bell is a consistent rebounder on the defensive side of the ball and averages 18 points per game to go along with 7 rebounds. With an offensive efficiency of 129.6 through four games he is the major threat, along with Pinkston, that teams must look for.
Best Case Finish: Champion
Worst Case Finish: 4th
Villanova will beat USC in their opener unless they play horrifically, but from there the road gets substantially more difficult. The Wildcats will likely get Kansas in the semifinals and whoever they get out of the bottom of the bracket will be a challenge in the title game or the consolation game. The Wildcats are one of three teams I believe have a pretty good opportunity to win the tournament, alongside Kansas and Iowa, and the Kansas-Villanova game should be a good one if it does indeed happen.
Head Coach: Chris Mack
KenPom Overall Rank: 29th
Offensive Efficiency Rank: 63rd
Defensive Efficiency Rank: 25th
Strength of Schedule (thus far): 219th
Best Win: Tennessee 67-63
Worst Loss: None
1. Make your free throws. Despite starting the year 5-0, Xavier has been plagued with horrible free throw shooting in almost each of the five games. The team is shooting just under 60% as a team and is one of the worst 30 teams in the nation in shooting free throws. Since the team gets there a moderate amount (55th in the country in getting to the line) they need to capitalize on their opportunities if they want to be a serious threat this year.
2. Use the team's depth. Xavier is 48th in the nation in bench minutes and bench guys like James Farr have been a critical part of Xavier's success. Farr is averaging nine points and six rebounds a game despite only getting twelve minutes per. He's shooting almost 79% from the field in effective field goal percentage and has been a great spark off the bench. With starter Semaj Christon playing almost 90% of the team's minutes it's necessary that he be able to get some rest so he can be at his best at the end of the game. Xavier has an advantage in that they have ten guys who are playing at least 30% of the teams minutes so far.
3. Get Matt Stainbrook the ball. Stainbrook is averaging 10.2 ppg and 9. rpg over 25 minutes per. He is the most efficient scorer on the team and is in the top 70 in the nation in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. In addition to his offensive ability he is also a beast on defense, ranking 12th in the nation in block percentage. Stainbrook typically stays out of foul toruble and is a threat to every single team in Atlantis.
Player to Watch: Matt Stainbrook. He makes Xavier tick and is the glue guy that gets the job done inside. He's a hard worker who is fun to watch battle.
Best Case Finish: Runner-Up
Worst Case Finish: 5th
Xavier has a brutal schedule in this tournament with Iowa in the first round. If they get past Iowa, who will be favored, they will likely get Tennessee who will be another tall task. In the finals they would likely have Kansas. I think they can get to the finals but I don't see them winning three in a row. If they fall to Iowa in the opener, they will likely cruise to fifth place with two wins against three of the worst teams in the tournament (USC, Wake, and UTEP).
Based off of the KenPom rankings Rob threw together a table of possible outcomes to see what the chances were of each team advancing to the finals and each team's chances of winning the entire tournament. Let's take a look at each team's odds.
Odds of advancing to the finals:
1. Kansas - 63.90%
2. Iowa - 41.25%
3. Villanova - 30.29%
4. Tennessee - 29.45%
5. Xavier - 23.53%
6. UTEP - 5.77%
7. Wake Forest - 3.48%
8. Southern Cal - 2.33%
Odds of winning title:
1. Kansas - 45.53%
2. Iowa - 18.18%
3. Villanova - 16.26%
4. Tennessee - 9.48%
5. Xavier - 8.20%
6. UTEP - .94%
7. Wake Forest - .92%
8. Southern Cal - .49%
Wake will play tomorrow at 3:30. Everyone at Blogger So Dear wishes you a Happy Thanksgiving and as always, go Deacs!