Who wants to spend Thanksgiving in the Bahamas?
Apparently the Stanford Cardinal and a select group of schools have decided to forgo the traditional family feast and go to Battle 4 Atlantis instead. In what is shaping up to be the best preseason tournament of 2012, this eight team tournament held at the gorgeous Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island, Bahamas will feature some of the country’s elite men’s college basketball teams and I will preview them below.
Cardinal head coach Johnny Dawkins is looking to build on his 2012 Postseason NIT Championship by opening up the tournament against a tough Missouri Tigers team that finished the 2011-12 season with a 30-5 record, a SEC Tournament Championship, a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and the AP National Coach of the Year in Frank Haith. Stanford tallied an 26-11 record last year, but sputtered in Pac-12 Conference play finishing seventh with a 10-8 record. They will tip-off the Battle at 1 p.m. Eastern on November 22nd.
The second game on the schedule pits the Minnesota Golden Gophers against the Duke Blue Devils at 2:30 p.m. The Gophers won 23 games last year and lost the NIT Final to Stanford. Head coach Tubby Smith and the Gopher faithful are excited that standout Trevor Mbakwe was granted a sixth year of eligibility and should be a top contender in the Big 10 Conference. Duke’s storied program returns for another season under the NCAA’s winningest coach in history, Mike Krzyzewski with 927 wins. The Blue Devils finished last season with 27 wins and a 17th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
The next game on tap has the Virginia Commonwealth Rams facing the Memphis Tigers at 6 p.m. The darling of the NCAA Tournament, VCU Rams have had quite a three year stretch with the stunning Final Four in 2011 and advancing to the third round last year. Head coach Shaka Smart also holds the second most wins by a Division I school in his first three years. Looking to end their Conference USA career with a bang before heading to the Big East, head coach Josh Pastner and his Tigers are a perennial Top 25 team. They finished last year with 26 wins, 13 in conference and have advanced to the NCAA Tournament six of the past seven years.
The nightcap features the Northern Iowa Panthers and the Louisville Cardinals at 8:30 p.m. The wild card of the bunch, Northern Iowa played well enough to get to the second round of the NIT last year with a 20-14 overall record and 9-9 in the Missouri Valley Conference. Louisville Head Coach Rick Pitino leads one of the nation’s top programs and they don’t show any signs of letting up. After signing an extension and returning twelve letter winners in which they won 30 games, the Big East Conference title and advanced to the school’s ninth Final Four, the 2012-13 Cardinals will be the team to beat not only in this tournament, but going into March.
If the Cardinal can do well in this tournament, I believe it will do wonders for their morale and team building. With the great recruiting classes at UCLA and Arizona and a great showing here by Stanford, maybe we can begin to put a muzzle on the East Coast bias.
Don’t forget to follow me on twitter – @pac12hoops !