The next early season tournament I’ll analyze is the Battle 4 Atlantis. The reason why this tournament will have so much prestige is not just because they’ll have a national title contender participating (Louisville), but also because of other big names and very talented mid majors in the fray. Let’s dive in.
The Cardinals are expected to repeat their Final Four appearance and perhaps even go farther after returning nearly all of their key players. Gone are Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith, but with Peyton Siva at the helm, Louisville is still loaded. Gorgui Dieng will be dominating the paint defensively as usual. Russ Smith is in for another good year, while Chane Behanan is set to break out after an impressive freshman season. Finally, having Wayne Blackshear at full health may be the final piece to a championship puzzle. Despite all of these players, a first round matchup with Northern Iowa won’t be easy. Yes, they’ll miss Anthony James, but Jake Koch and Seth Tuttle will make a formidable duo down low for the Panthers. I see the Cardinals getting tested early in this one before pulling away late.
The next matchup features two teams with a bit in common in Memphis and VCU. Memphis will be heading to the Big East next season while VCU has found a new home in the A-10 this year. Both teams lost their best player (Will Barton and Bradford Burgess). Finally, both squads are still loaded with talent. For the Tigers, Will may be gone, but Antonio Barton is still around. Tarik Black should be an absolute monster down low if he can use his body correctly. Chris Crawford and Joe Jackson may form one of the best backcourts in the country. Adonis Thomas is looking to bounce back from an injury plagued freshman year. The Rams will be led by Darius Theus, who could breakout into one of the better guards in the nation. Juvonte Reddic and seven footer D. J. Haley will form and frontcourt that will scare attackers off. While VCU will certainly be good this year, Memphis is just too loaded to lose this one.
Stanford, the NIT champions, look to build off last year’s postseason success and establish themselves as one of the top teams in the Pac-12. They should do so by returning two of their big three from last year in Aaron Bright and Chasson Randle. Both are undersized guards but have a knack for scoring. They’ll face a tough task in last year’s Big 12 champion, the Missouri Tigers. Even after losing Marcus Denmon and Kim English to the NBA, the Tigers will surely continue to run their fast paced offense to a tee. Phil Pressey has the looks of a pure point guard who will dish assists left and right, and his brother Matt will chip in as well. Michael Dixon is a solid scorer who will see a surge in his PPG averages with the two aforementioned guards gone. However, the key is Ricardo Ratliffe not letting Missouri get killed on the boards. He should do his job in this one and take down the Cardinal.
The final first round game pits everyone’s least favorite team, Duke, against the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Minnesota’s last season spiraled out of control, while the Blue Devils were upset by #15 Lehigh in the first round of the NCAA tournament. It’s a battle of teams who really want to forget last year. Duke will be without Austin Rivers and Miles Plumelee, but they’ll have Mason, Marshall, and the usual sharpshooters (Seth Curry and Andrew Dawkins). The Blue Devils also bring in a top recruiting class, but what else do you expect from them? Minnesota loses Trevor Mbakwe and look to be a team in need of rebuilding. Duke is not elite by any means, but should have no trouble with the Golden Gophers.
Here are my predictions for the entire tournament:
Louisville over Northern Iowa
Memphis over VCU
Missouri over Stanford
Duke over Minneosta
Louisville over Memphis
Missouri over Duke
Louisville over Missouri
It’s hard to pick against Louisville here, but Missouri and Memphis should also be contenders while teams like Stanford, Duke, and VCU could surprise.