HEAD coaches from many of the top NCAA Division I men’s basketball programs in America had a similar message for their players heading to Battle 4 Atlantis 2021 – take advantage of the amenities of the Atlantis resort and what the The Bahamas have to offer, but treat the star-studded tournament like a “business trip.”
The 10th edition of the tournament kicked off yesterday and featured a double overtime thriller and several finishes decided in the dying moments of the game at the Imperial Arena.
With three nationally ranked teams in the range, the next two days of competition have the potential to impact the polls, making it the most competitive early-season tournament on the calendar.
The UConn Huskies (American Athletic Conference) will make their third tournament appearance while defending NCAA champion Baylor Bears (Big 12), Syracuse Orange (ACC), Michigan State Spartans (BIG 10) and Virginia Commonwealth Rams (A10) will make their second appearance, the rest of the field includes the Arizona State Sun Devils (PAC 12), Auburn Tigers (SEC) and Loyola-Chicago Ramblers (Missouri Valley Conference) making their B4A debuts in the 2021 field.
The field includes six teams that made the NCAA Tournament last year.
The Spartans opened the tournament with a 63-61 win over the Loyola Chicago Ramblers.
Malik Hall led Michigan State with a perfect 9-9 day of shooting from the field while Marcus Bingham Jr scored 11 points, grabbed nine rebounds and blocked seven shots.
Bingham completed an alley oop from Tyson Walker with five seconds remaining to take the Spartans to the opening day victory.
Lucas Williamson led the Ramblers with 17 points.
“Any time you can travel together and hang out together and do things together…it’s always positive,” Spartans head coach Tom Izzo said. “Three matches in three days is very difficult for a technical staff but it is even more difficult for the players. What we can remember for that…you can’t measure it. It will really help you later win, lose or draw.
In the first matchup of ranked opponents, the No. 22-ranked Huskies needed two extra periods to claim a 115-109 win over the No. 19 Auburn Tigers.
Adama Sanogo led the Huskies with 30 points, while RJ Cole and Tyler Polley each scored 24. KD Johnson led the Tigers with 27 points and Jabari Smith added 22.
“It’s an opportunity to face three great teams. It’s an opportunity to build or destroy your resume. It’s an opportunity to play against the best teams in the country and be tested in all different ways,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. “It’s a business trip. There won’t be a lot of swimming with the dolphins. It’s not a cultural summer tour. We won’t be visiting a lot of museums or spending a lot of time on the beach “Now we’re going to enjoy the weather, we’re going to enjoy beautiful surroundings, and the guys will get to see this. But we’re here on business.”
Huskies coach Dan Hurley has the unique opportunity to possibly face his brother Bobby Hurley, head coach of the Sun Devils. UConn and Arizona State are opposite sides of the bracket, so they have the option to meet in the championship game if both teams win. “I would prefer, in a perfect world, if we played in the league game, I think that would be something we would both sign here for. That’s both of our goals,” Dan said. “Obviously it would take a ton of work to get to that point. We would both be very happy to meet in the championship game. It means we both had an incredible run in this tournament with the quality we had to beat to get there. So we would like that to happen.
UConn’s appearance in the 2021 Battle 4 Atlantis is the third for the Huskies at the event. UConn finished third in the 2011 Battle 4 Atlantis, which was the event’s first year, and the Huskies finished fourth in the 2015 tournament. UConn’s overall record at Battle 4 Atlantis is 4-3.
“The times when we can interact and see each other throughout this week are going to be positive,” Bobby said. “We are really tight. We are brothers and we love each other. And so we will support each other and support each other.
In Game 3, the VCU Rams picked up a 67-55 win over the Syracuse Orange.
Syracuse makes its second appearance on Paradise Island in The Battle 4 Atlantis. Orange won the 2015 title on their last visit.
Levi Stockard II led three VCU players in double figures with 15 points and Marcus Tsohonis added 12. Buddy Boeheim finished with 20 points while Jimmy Boeheim added 17 points and 12 rebounds to lead Syracuse.
“It’s obviously a huge tournament, with some of the best teams in the country here,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said.
“Anyway, when we come here, we try to win the tournament. We try to win games and play well. It’s not a vacation. They are not outside. They don’t go swimming. You come here, you go to practice and you get ready for games… Once Wednesday comes around, they’re right there, bang, bang, bang. Three days. You don’t have time to do anything else. They want to play games and play well.”
Returning to Atlantis, the top-ranked team in the field, the No. 6 Baylor Bears put on the most dominant performance of Day 1.
They won 75-63 against Arizona State. LJ Cryer led five Bears in double digits with 15 points and Matt Mayer scored 14.
Baylor returns to Atlantis for the second time. The Bears won the 2016 Battle 4 Atlantis with victories over VCU and Michigan State and a 22-down comeback to defeat Louisville for the title.
“You leave here you know what your team needs to work on to improve. Areas you didn’t know you needed to work on are exposed. So you leave a better team and coaches like that. There are no bad losses, just quality wins in tournaments like this.
Baylor head coach Scott Drew said: “I know our staff have great memories of this tournament the last time we were here. It’s a real blessing for your team to see the beauty here and obviously all over the Bahamas.