by RENALDO

When the Battle 4 Atlantis came to the Bahamas in 2011 as just a doubleheader, few thought the upstart event that seemingly came out of nowhere would almost immediately grab the attention of the college basketball community.

Since then, B4A has become the marquee early season tournament in the NCAA. What makes the B4A the envy of other tournaments is the pedigree of it’s field. In 2012 as Duke beat Louisville in the B4A title game, but  Louisville would avenge the loss at Atlantis by beating the Blue Devils in the NCAA Elite Eight on the way to winning the 2013 national title. Attesting to the strength of the tournament, 17 of the 18 NCAA national championship-winning universities starting in 2000 (Connecticut, Duke, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan State, North Carolina, Syracuse and Villanova) have played in the Bahamas.

With teams like that in the field, and ESPN broadcasting the event live to the United States and international audiences – intrigue, parity on the floor and the Bahamas make the tournament a must watch. This year’s field has three teams ranked in the top 25, some of the most talented players in the country and as always, a Bahamian presence on the floor.

The 2017 field includes 2016 NCAA national champion Villanova along with Arizona, North Carolina State, Purdue, Tennessee, WKU, SMU, Northern Iowa and no shortage of story lines to follow.

 

The Bahamian Presence

This year’s Battle 4 Atlantis marks the fourth consecutive time Bahamians will participate in the tournament.

Dwight Coleby answering questions during a Battle 4 Atlantis Press Conference.

 

Bahamians will get an early look at DeAndre Ayton, one of the sought after basketball prospects in America during what many expect to be his lone season of NCAA basketball and the final stop in Dwight Coleby’s collegiate career during his post-graduate season.

The 2016 tournament included the Michigan State Spartans and Bahamian guard Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn. The 2015 tournament featured another strong Bahamian presence with the Texas A and M Aggies’ Tavario Miller and Texas Longhorns’ Shaquille Cleare. Buddy Hield of the Oklahoma Sooners and Wanaah Bail of the UCLA Bruins became the first Bahamians to play in the tournament when they competed in 2014.

DeAndre Ayton during the pre-tournament Press Conference

Both Ayton and Coleby have had experiences as members of the Bahamas Senior Men’s National teams.

Ayton made his Bahamian national team debut with the men’s Centrobasket team that finished seventh in Panama in July 2016 while Coleby was a member of the gold medal-winning CBC Championships team in the British Virgin Islands in 2014.

 

First Two Time Winners?

Can the ‘Cats repeat (Photo/Tim Aylen:Bahamas Visual Services)

Other teams have made multiple appearances at the B4A, but ‘Nova has an opportunity to breech uncharted territory. Louisville twice made it to the tournament final, but lost both times – to Duke in 2013 and again to Baylor in 2016. UConn reached the semifinal both in 2011 and 2015. Tennessee and UNI also make their second trips to the Atlantis in tournament history. Villanova is the first tournament winner to return and do so as the No. 5 ranked team in the nation. The Wildcats are led by junior guard Jalen Brunson who has started every game of his collegiate career thus far, Phil Booth who scored 20 points in the 2016 national title game as a freshman and Mikal Bridges who is projected as a first-round pick in next year’s NBA draft.

 

Best Names

If Shake Milton gets to play with the towel on his head that makes this all better

Everyone has a completely nonsensical guilty pleasure, mine is sifting through the rosters to find the best names of the tournament. Early favorites for this year – Shake Milton  (SMU), Omer Yurtseven (NC State), Yves Pons (Tennessee), Jared Savage (WKU) and Donte DiVencenzo (Nova). This list is always subject to change. Honourable mention goes to UNI’s Bennet Koch, the third member of the Kock family to play for head coach Ben Jacobson at the programme.

 

Taking Advantage of the Platform

Caleb Swanigan isn’t walking through that door, this is Carsen Edwards’ team now

The marquee teams grab the headlines, but the novelty of playing a high stakes tournament in a transitioned ballroom in the Bahamas means everyone pays attention to this event. Every year there are players or teams who emerge on the national scene with standout performances. A few come to mind, including Michael Gbinije’s impact during Syracuse’s championship run in 2015 and in 2012 when Minnesota’s Andre Hollins set the tournament record with 41 points in an upset win over No.19 Memphis.

This year’s field has a litany of prospects to watch including Arizona’s preseason All-American Allonzo Trier, Purdue’s Carsen Edwards and if he’s healthy – Abdul Malik Abu of NC State. The freshmen are always intriguing because in many cases it’s the first opportunity for fan bases to see these players compete on a national level for the first time. Ayton is unquestionably the most heralded freshmen in this year’s group, but his teammate Emmanuel Akot is not far behind as a top-billed prospect. Other top freshmen featured this year are SMU’s Ethan Chargois who is already averaging a near double-double and Purdue’s Matt Haarms – a 7’3” center who grew an inch and added 20 pounds to his frame during a redshirt season.

 

New Sponsor, New Exposure – Greater Impact

Bad Boy Mowers came on board this year as the first title sponsor of the event and ESPN will show all 12 games from the 2017 tournament as the sole broadcaster on its various channels and online platforms. ESPN began televising select games, including the championship game, from the Battle in 2014, and 2017 is the first year that every Battle game will be shown on an ESPN platform.

The Battle 4 Atlantis has been run by the Atlantis since 2012 in cooperation with Lea Miller of Complete Sports Management. Miller worked to gain the NCAA exemption for the Bahamas so the Atlantis could host an annual tournament.

The tournament has continued to bring major economic impact to the Bahamas as Atlantis averages over 2,000 rooms per event from the teams and fans. When multiplied over a five-day period and six years, the Battle has filled over 60,000 hotel room nights.

 

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