With just under six months until tip-off, we’re all set to start taking a ridiculously early look at the Battle 4 Atlantis field.
In what’s becoming a bit of a trend, VCU has reeled in another fantastic early season tournament bid in 2016 with a return trip to the Atlantis resort in Paradise Island, Bahamas (Calendar note, don’t forget the Maui Invitational that’s on the block for 2017, Aloha!!)
Though, once again, VCU will have its hands full in Paradise if the Rams want to bring home some hardware—Michigan State, Louisville, Baylor, Wichita St., St. Johns, LSU, and Old Dominion round out the rest of this years field.
(I feel like now is a good time to point out that every team in the field has played in at least one Final Four game—except Old Dominion.)
Moving right along, let’s take a look and see what weapons teams are losing, and how I think the field, as it stands currently, might fare against VCU:
Key Losses: Taurean Prince, Rico Gathers, Lester Medford
Thoughts: Taurean Prince—who took perhaps “the shot” of the tournament when he responded to a media question just moments after falling in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament to Yale—will be sorely missed by the Bears entering Atlantis. Prince was responsible for a team-leading 16ppg while adding 6rpg. Rico Gathers (12ppg), who will also be departing, led the Bears with 9rpg. Add into the exodus shuffle, Lestor Medford (9ppg), who contributed a respectable 6.5apg, and the Bears are without 3 of their top 5 scorers from last years team. I think I’d like the Rams chance against BU. Mo Alie-Cox would look to have a field day in the paint.
Key Losses: Ben Simmons, Keith Hornsby, Josh Gray, Tim Quarterman
Thoughts: The Tigers will need points bad next year. Simmons (19ppg), Hornsby (13), Quarterman (11), and Gray (5) are 4 of the top 6 scorers vacating LSU. On average they attributed to 48ppg for the Tigers—keep in mind LSU only averaged a total of 79ppg last year. It will be interesting to see how the Tigers adapt to life without Ben Simmons. The team leaned on the potential #1 overall Draft pick quite a bit last year, so it’ll be interesting to see if the Tigers can find some cohesion early. Again, I think I like the Rams chances with this matchup. Simmons accounted for 11rpg, the next closest person had 5.6 per contest. I’m looking for Tillman to own the glass and get us some second chance opportunities.
Key Losses: Damion Lee, Trey Lewis, Chinanu Onuaku
Thoughts: A lot of people had Louisville back in their top 5 Preseason polls. That is until Chinanu Onuaku decided to take his talents to the professional level. Pitino will likely look around for some transfers to fill the void, something he’s had some recent success with (anyone recall Luke Hancock?). Another factor to keep an eye on would be if the NCAA is done handing out sanctions against UL. I don’t think any penalties would necessarily effect roster spots, but it could do a number on team moral. The Cardinals lose their top 3 scorers, but it’s hard to ever count them out. A UL-VCU matchup would certainly be fast-paced, but in the end I think the Rams have the senior leadership to get out of this game with a win.
Key Losses: Denzel Valentine, Bryn Forbes, Matt Costello, Deyonte Davis
Thoughts: The Spartans lose four of their five top scorers from last year, including Denzel Valentine, a guy some people had as a Player of the Year candidate. But, don’t ever count out Tom Izzo. You’ve got to imagine he’s coming out fired up after last years NCAA exit to Middle Tennessee St. Oh, and did I mention that this is supposedly Izzo’s best recruiting class to date. As of right now, it’s hard not to have them as favorites to win the whole thing, but I’d love to see the Rams snatch this one away from them in true Havoc form!
Key Losses: Trey Freeman, Aaron Bacote
Thoughts: The Monarchs look to have righted-the-ship down in Norfolk. Having the reigning Vegas 16 Champions in the field allows for a potential matchup that would give the Rams two games this season against ODU; something that hasn’t happened since VCU left the CAA for the A10 in 2012. Graduating seniors Trey Freeman (22) and Aaron Bacote (13ppg) led the Monarchs in points per game last season. The two also dished out the most assists with 3apg and 2 apg, respectively. I think ODU could sneak out of the Bahamas with a win if they get the right draw and play their cards right, but I don’t think they will have the firepower to bookend their summer with championship trophies.
Key Losses: Christian Jones, Durand Johnson, Ron Mvouika
Thoughts: St. Johns comes in with perhaps the hardest row to hoe. Coming off an 8-win season and tallying only 1 conference win, the Red Storm will be looking to make a quick name for themselves. It’s not impossible, and while I do think they will improve this year (how could they not?), I think the field on Paradise Island will be too experienced. Chris Mullins will have the Red Storm back near the top of the Big East soon enough (2017-2018 is looking A+ for them!), I’m just not sure they can make immediate waves in Atlantis with so many new faces. That said, the Johnnies are a team to watch, may just end up being the biggest question mark in the field.
Key Losses: Melvin Johnson, Korey Billbury, Michael Gilmore
Thoughts: The Rams are coming into the November with what might be our best shot in years to play for a November trophy. Losing senior Melvin Johnson is tough. That’s a lot of leadership and buckets to replace, but we’ve also some really good upperclassmen to watch. Leaders JeQuan Lewis and Mo Alie-Cox are coming into their senior year and look hungry. This early in the year, one thing you can’t replicate is senior swagger. It also doesn’t hurt that the Rams will spend some time in Spain this summer getting extra minutes playing together. The Rams will need big contributions from Justin Tillman and freshman De’riante Jenkins if they want to play themselves into that 1st place game. I think this is our year.
Key Losses: Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker, Evan Wessel, Anton Grady, Tom Wamukota, Ty Taylor
Thoughts: The Shockers lose 31ppg and three of their top four scorers going into 2016-2017. That’s a huge hit for any team to overcome. But, WSU still has Gregg Marshall and a recent history of success. WSU lost all three of its early season tournament games (Advocare Invitational) to start the year in 2015-2016. I have a hard time believing this year starts much better for them with all the firepower they lose. You’d see a lot of black and gold, and you’d hear a lot of “You Don’t Wanna Go to War”, but I’m putting my money on the Rams here—imposters beware!
The Battle 4 Atlantis will take place over Thanksgiving week, November 23-25, 2016. Fans looking to join the Rams should call 1-800-Atlantis or visit Battle4Atlantis.com for more information.