The 2013 Battle 4 Atlantis has been described by ESPN as a tournament that “features the Kansas Jayhawks as well as a handful of solid and/or ascendant programs.”
That’s a polite way of saying the (4-0) Jayhawks are heavy favorites to emerge as champions of a three-day Thanksgiving-week extravaganza that includes Wake Forest (5-0), Villanova (4-0), USC (4-1), Tennessee (3-1), UTEP (3-2), Xavier (5-0) and No. 23 Iowa (5-0).
KU coach Bill Self is convinced tourney organizers have assembled a strong field.
“I was just reading Sports Illustrated — the one with Wayne (Selden) on the cover. Iowa is projected to be an 8-seed (in NCAA Tournament). Villanova is projected to be a 7-seed. Xavier is projected in the field. Tennessee is projected to be in the (tourney) field,” Self said.
“This will be a competitive tournament. Our guys need to lace ’em up and have some fun. Hopefully we are having fun because we are winning basketball games.”
Here’s a quick look at the Battle 4 Atlantis field as paired in first-round, Thursday matchups on Paradise Island in Nassau, Bahamas.
Kansas University vs. Wake Forest
2:30 p.m., Central time, Thursday
The Jayhawks, who are 2-2 all-time versus Wake Forest, will be facing a 5-0 team that has feasted on Colgate (89-78), VMI (98-71), Presbyterian (69-48), Jacksonville (90-83) and The Citadel (82-54). The Demon Deacons have yet to play a game outside of Winston-Salem, N.C.
“Let’s be honest. We should have won these five games,” coach Jeff Bzdelik told the Winston-Salem Journal.
The Deacons have four double-digit scorers: 6-3 sophomore guard Codi Miller-McIntyre (18.6 ppg), 6-9 sophomore forward Devin Thomas (14.4 ppg, 11.6 rpg), 6-7 senior forward Travis McKie (12.2 ppg) and 6-1 senior guard Coron Williams (11.2 ppg).
Head coach is Bzdelik (pronounced buzz-DELL-ick) who has a 39-60 record in three-plus seasons at the ACC school. That includes an 11-39 mark in conference games.
Bzdelik was a controversial hire after going 12-20, 9-22 and 15-16 in his three seasons at the University of Colorado. He had a 73-119 record in three seasons with the NBA’s Denver Nuggets (2003-05).
KU is 2-2 all-time against Wake.
Bedore prediction: KU 79, Wake Forest 62.
Villanova vs. USC
This matchup features an intriguing bench battle between 13th-year Wildcat coach Jay Wright and newcomer Andy Enfield, in his first year at Southern California after turning Florida Gulf Coast into “Dunk City” in just two seasons.
Gulf Coast had a 15-17 record in 2011-12, then embarked on a magical 26-11 season that included a Sweet 16 appearance a year ago.
Enfield, who was an assistant coach for five years under Leonard Hamilton at Florida State, is known as the “shot doctor,” partly because he hit 92.5 percent of his free throws during his playing days at Johns Hopkins.
USC has lost at Utah State and won at home versus Cal State Northridge, Northern Arizona, Cal State Fullerton and West Alabama. The Trojans are led by 6-5 junior guard Byron Wesley (19.8 ppg, 8.8 rpg), 7-2, 270-pound senior center Omar Oraby (13.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg) and 6-3 senior guard J.T. Terrell (10.0 ppg). Oraby hails from Cairo, Egypt.
Villanova, which has beaten Lafayette, Mount St. Mary’s, Towson and Delaware at home, is led by 6-7 junior forward JayVaughn Pinkston (20.3 ppg), 6-6 senior guard James Bell (18.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg) and 6-6 junior guard Darrun Hilliard (14.0 ppg). Villanova defeated Towson, 78-44, while KU also clobbered the Tigers, 88-58.
KU is 11-5 versus USC and 3-1 vs. Villanova all-time.
Prediction: Villanova 84, USC 66.
Tennessee vs. UTEP
8:30 p.m., Thursday
Former Missouri State coach Cuonzo Martin, who scored more than 1,600 points as a player at Purdue, has registered records of 19-15 and 20-13 in his first two years as Bruce Pearl’s successor at Tennessee.
The Vols dropped their opener at Xavier (67-63) and have since beaten USC Upstate, Citadel and Tennessee State. Tennessee is led by 6-6 senior guard Jordan McRae (21.5 ppg), 6-8 junior forward Jarnell Stokes (11.5 ppg, 8.3 rpg) and 6-2 senior guard Antonio Barton (10.8 ppg).
UTEP is led by former Iowa State and NBA coach Tim Floyd, who went 25-10, 15-17 and 18-14 in his first three years as the Miners’ coach. He’s yet to lead UTEP to an NCAA berth. UTEP’s leading scorers are 6-6 junior guard McKenzie Moore (14.0 ppg), 6-10 junior forward Cedrick Lang (11.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg), 6-8 junior forward Julian Washburn (10.4 ppg) and 6-8 freshman forward Vince Hunter (10.2 ppg). UTEP has beaten Loyola, West Alabama and Colorado State at home. UTEP has already played New Mexico State twice, losing both at home and on the road.
KU is 1-1 all-time against Tennessee and 0-3 vs. UTEP.
Prediction: Tennessee 64, UTEP 60.
Xavier vs. Iowa
5 p.m., Thursday
Iowa is led by fourth-year coach Fran McCaffery, who has directed the Hawkeyes to records of 11-20, 18-17 and 25-13. He’s yet to lead the proud program to the NCAAs. Iowa has defeated UNC-Wilmington, Nebraska-Omaha, Maryland Eastern Shore, Abilene Christian and Penn all at home. The Hawkeyes are led by 6-6 senior guard Roy Devyn Marble (14.6 ppg), 6-9 junior forward Aaron White (13.6 ppg, 7.6 rpg) and 6-9 sophomore forward Jarrod Uthoff (11.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg).
Xavier is led by fifth-year coach Chris Mack, who has led the squad to a 95-44 mark, 48-16 in the Atlantic 10. The Musketeers have reached the NCAA Sweet 16 twice in his tenure. Xavier, which has beaten Gardner-Webb, Tennessee, Morehead State, Miami of Ohio and Abilene Christian, all at home, is led by 6-3 sophomore guard Semaj Christon (16.4 ppg), 6-10 junior center Matt Stainbrook (10.2, 9.2).
KU is 6-0 all-time versus Xavier and 3-7 versus Iowa.
Prediction: Xavier 79, Iowa 74
Semifinal predictions: KU 81, Villanova 76; Xavier 67, Tennessee 66.
Final prediction: KU 91, Xavier 78.