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College Basketball: Battle 4 Atlantis Preview


Battle 4 Atlantis Facts and Figures
Site: Paradise Island, Bahamas
TV: NBC Sports Network
Championship game: Saturday, 9:30 p.m.

First-round games
Villanova vs. USC (1 p.m.)
Kansas vs. Wake Forest (3:30 p.m.)
Xavier vs. Iowa (7 p.m.)
Tennessee vs. UTEP (9:30 p.m.)

The Battle 4 Atlantis, despite its clunky numerical shorthand and playing court inside a hotel ballroom, is quickly gaining on the Maui Invitational for top matchups for the Thanksgiving tournaments.

Granted, this year’s field isn’t as strong as the one last season that featured Louisville, Duke, Missouri, Memphis and VCU. Kansas is the only top-25 team in this years field.

But this is also where Minnesota gained a bit of notoriety last season by defeating Memphis on the way to the NCAA Tournament.

Andrew Wiggins’ matchups against talented competition may be the headline here, but a few notables in the rest of the bracket are trying to make statements for 2013-14. Xavier, Tennessee and Iowa all have the returning core of players to be top 25 teams this season, but those hopes never materialized this season.

Rather than powerhouses and household names, the upstarts may end up the big winners during the weekend.

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Best potential matchup: Kansas vs. Iowa in the final

Kansas is the only ranked team in the field, but a matchup with a veteran, high-scoring Iowa team could be a key test for Kansas and key barometer for the depth of the Big Ten.

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Player to watch: Perry Ellis, Kansas

It’s too easy to pick Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins, a national player of the year contender. The field at Atlantis also includes other All-America contenders (Xavier’s Semaj Christon) and pro prospects (Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes). Might be better to keep an eye on Ellis, who is both of those things for a national title contender. This has been pinpointed as a breakout year for the sophomore, and so far he’s delivered with 16.8 points and seven rebounds per game.

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Matchup to keep an eye on: Xavier’s Semaj Christon vs. Tennessee’s Jordan McRae

Again, it’s too easy to pick a Kansas player vs. anyone. Instead, keep an eye on Xavier’s Semaj Christon and Tennessee’s Jordan McRae, who could meet in the second round. Both are high-volume shooters who can carry their teams. Chris Mack and Cuonzo Martin probably need more from both supporting casts to return to the NCAA Tournament this season, but both Christon and McRae will get their points.

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Most to gain: Iowa

Iowa is 5-0 but hasn’t played a tough schedule with blowouts against UNC-Wilmington, Omaha, Maryland-Eastern Shore, Abilene Christian and Penn. the Hawkeyes open with the best first-round game of the field against Xavier. Iowa could draw Tennessee in the second round and Kansas in a final. The Hawkeyes return the same core of players who went winless against ranked teams last year, so this could be a turning point.

Sleeper: Villanova

The Wildcats open with USC in Andy Enfield’s first game on a big stage. After that, Villanova likely draws Kansas in the second round. The Wildcats have five players averaging better than 14 points per game, but they’re shooting a pedestrian 45.5 percent from the field and even worse 25.5 percent from 3-point range. Much of this group proved to be giant-killers last year, though, with wins over Louisville, Syracuse and Georgetown.

Scheduling quirk: Xavier could play Tennessee for the second time this season and face a conference opponent.

Xavier defeated Tennessee 67-63 in Cincinnati on Nov. 12 and could Tennessee again 17 days later. With the right breaks, either in the winner’s bracket or loser’s bracket, Xavier also could face future Big East opponent Villanova.

Way Too Early Ranking of the Field

1. Kansas

2. Iowa

3. Villanova

4. Xavier

5. Tennessee

6. Wake Forest

7. USC