Everything to this point has been an exhibition (except for Michigan State and their ridiculous schedule) the Battle 4 Atlantis is where the real competition begins for the eight teams featured at the Imperial Arena.
March is the light at the end of the tunnel for these programmes, but November basketball matters in the NCAA.
When Selection Sunday rolls around next year, the games played at the 2016 edition of this tournament could have a major impact on the field of 64.
This year’s tournament, November 23-25, is expected to feature another outstanding field, including the Michigan State Spartans, the Louisville Cardinals, the Wichita State Shockers, St John’s Red Storm, Virginia Commonwealth University Rams, Baylor Bears, LSU Tigers and Old Dominion Monarchs.
Whether you’re an alumni, have a rooting interest in one of the teams or you go the local route and head to the Imperial Arena just to cheer on our Bahamian grown talent – you should, you should have some insight on what’s about to come and recognise just how much it matters.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr – #11 Guard, Junior, Michigan State Spartans
5’ 10” 175 lbs, 2.3ppg, 2.7rpg, 4apg
Everyone from Magic Johnson, to Steve Smith, to Draymond Green to Tom Izzo himself has heralded Tum Tum’s leadership from the day he stepped foot on campus in East Lansing. If you don’t understand why, then you’re not allowed to miss any of these games.
For the third consecutive year, Bahamians have an opportunity to see one of their own play NCAA basketball at the highest level here at home. You’re not allowed to blow this opportunity (again). This is one of the most talented freshman classes Izzo has ever had at MSU and he expects Nairn to lead them. This is the year when all that veteran leadership, all the intangibles and all the years of expectations produce the year we’ve been waiting on. It looked so in the opening game of the season when Nairn made a three pointer with just seven seconds left to play to tie things at 63 and seemingly force overtime. The quickest person on the court at any given moment, he uses that ability to initiate the offence and set up teammates. This week we’d like to see him use it to score. Izzo embraces the strong connection between his veteran point guard and the Bahamas so it’ll be interesting to see if the game plan changes at all to accommodate that.
Miles Bridges – #22 Forward, Freshman, Michigan State Spartans
6’ 7” 230 lbs, 17ppg, 10rpg, 3apg, 50% fg
This is a completely made up stat, but Bridges averages more highlights per game than any other player in the country and Bahamian fans should be pretty familiar with his work. Two years ago, his dunk at the Nike EYBL Exhibition went viral and may or may not have ruined the shot blocking skills of his victim (that’s what we call the people Bridges posterizes).
He’s an explosive athlete that dunks just about everything but early into his collegiate career he’s already shown a quick first step, an improved jumper and a willingness to shoot it with confidence. He’s made a three in every game thus far and shot 2-2 from deep in the latest pre B4A tune-up against Mississippi Valley State. Able to score in a variety of ways, Bridges should be an exciting watch for even the most casual basketball fan.
Nick Ward – #44 Forward, Freshman, Michigan State Spartans
6’ 8” 250 lbs, 11.7ppg, 6rpg, 3apg, 60% fg
Michigan State somehow recruited Zach Randolph again. Ward is the kind of earthbound power forward in that 1950s mold, but he offsets that size with soft hands in the post and surprisingly quick feet. The son of a former pro basketball player, Ward’s game is only going to become more polished as the season wares on.
Marcus LoVett Jr – #15 Guard, Freshman, St. John’s Red Storm
The Big East always seems to attract this kind of point guard. What’s been most surprising is that LoVett became this player almost instantly. On second thought, he’s player exactly like a player pissed off because he had to watch a year ago after being ruled a partial qualifier by the NCAA. He’s scoring at will, setting up teammates, shooting ridiculous percentages and even making Chris Mullin consider a new hairstyle. That last part’s not true at all, absolutely nothing gets between Mullin and his flat top.
Manu Lecomte – #20 Guard, Junior, Baylor Bears
5’ 11” 175 lbs, 16.7ppg, 7apg, 3apg, 44% 3pfg
Awesome name aside, Lecomte is a Belgian born, pass first point guard playing in Texas – a sentence which seems like it doesn’t make sense, but then you watch him play. He’s already won Big 12 Co-Newcomer of the week after a 13 point 11 assist performance without a single turnover. He transferred after spending his first two years with the Hurricanes and while it’s not LeBron or Wade leaving, Miami basketball is worse off without him.
Jo Lual-Acuil Jr – #0 Center, Junior, Baylor Bears
He’s like Manute Bol…but shorter, and more agible…so maybe someone else all together. I blame that last sentence on my inability to make cross cultural comparisons. Even if he’s sort of like Manute Bol, that should be enough for you to go and watch. He’s an intimidating shot blocking stretch-five with the ability to play pick and roll or pick and pop on offence. It’s weird watching him at that size with that mobility…and in a neon green uniform.
In intriguing prospect solely based on the fact that people don’t know whether he’ll play pro basketball or pro football at the end of this season. That should also tell you everything you need to know about how he plays basketball.
JeQuan Lewis – #1 Guard, Senior, VCU Rams
6’ 1” 180 lbs, 10.7ppg, 44% 3pfg
Still overcoming a strained ligament in his non shooting hand, Lewis, an all A-10 third team preseason selection is the catalyst behind this balanced offence that features seven players scoring between 7.3 points and 10.7 points per game.
Markis McDuffie – #32 Forward, Sophomore, Wichita State Shockers
6’ 8” 212 lbs, 12.3ppg, 6.3rpg, 2.7apg
It’s a new era for the Shockers who are entering a season without Fred VanFleet and Ron Baker for the first time in 25 years. Gregg Marshall may have found himself a new leader already in McDuffie. An explosive athlete with a jumpshot in progress, he was already named to the preseason Missouri Valley First Team All-Conference team and was named to the Julius Erving Award preseason watch list for the top small forwards in the nation.
Antonio Blakeney – #2 Guard, Sophomore, LSU Tigers
6’ 4” 197 lbs, 18.7ppg, 3.3rpg, 2.7apg
Blakeney was supposed to be one half of the duo that returned the Tigers to national prominence a season ago. They came off a pair of NCAA Tournament berth and secured 5-star wings Blakeney and Ben Simmons. Didn’t turn out that way. Simmons has bolted for the NBA and now this solely Blakeney’s show. Even Les Miles left Baton Rouge so its actually Blakeney’s school.
Aaron Epps – #21 Forward, Junior, LSU Tigers
6’ 10” 220 lbs, 13.3ppg, 7rpg, 71% 3pfg
We should stop categorising “tweener” as an anomaly in college hoops when it’s closer to the norm. Epps easily fits into that mold – a high flying player that can shoot hit but not physical enough to bang inside and not quite quick and skilled enough to spend all his time with the guys on the perimeter.
Jaylen Johnson – #10 Forward, Junior, Louisville Cardinals
6’ 9” 230 lbs, 15.3ppg, 11.3rpg, 70% fg
A traditional four athletic enough to play five in Louisville’s small ball lineup, the only way the L1C4 fan base shrugs off the sex-dorm scandal is enough Johnson develops into a star. An athletic finisher you don’t necessarily have to run plays for, Johnson is already rebounding and blocking shots at a higher rate. Now if they can only stay out of trouble…
VJ King – #0 Forward, Freshman, Louisville Cardinals
6’ 6” 190 lbs, 10.3ppg, 3.3rpg
He makes the list because he’s a king from Akron.
Deng Adel – #22 Forward, Sophomore, Louisville Cardinals
6’ 7” 200 lbs, 11.1ppg, 4.3rpg, 3.3apg
Another cross cultural comparison I can’t get away from – it’s easy to think of him as the Cards’ Luol Deng (Not the post-Thibs spinal tap broken down version, but the Duke version). Adel is a prototype small forward that literally performs the job that textbooks indicate you should get from the position – do everything.
Brandan Stith – #25 Forward, Junior, Old Dominion Monarchs
6’ 7” 240 lbs, 15ppg, 6rpg
One of two Stith brothers on the roster playing for their former NBA player dad, Bryant, who currently serves as an assistant coach on the Monarchs roster.