No. 2 Arizona, No. 5 Villanova top Battle 4 Atlantis field
Arizona coach Sean Miller has seen his second-ranked Wildcats start the year with three easy wins and guard Allonzo Trier put up big numbers seemingly with ease.
Things will be tougher this week for Arizona in the Bahamas at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, which features an eight-team field and includes a potential marquee matchup with another set of talented Wildcats — No. 5 Villanova — in the championship game.
“Based on the competition we’re ready to face, we’re going to have to be a much, much overall better team,” Miller said, “and we’re going to need our best players to play great for us to win down there. Because these other teams, they have some answers as well.”
The tournament begins Wednesday with a three-games-in-three-days format. No. 18 Purdue, North Carolina State and Tennessee are the other power-conference teams in the field, and they’re joined by Northern Iowa, SMU and Western Kentucky.
Arizona (3-0) climbed a spot in Monday’s AP Top 25 after three wins by a combined 91 points. The Wildcats have topped the 100-point mark in two of those behind Trier, the 6-foot-5 junior who passed on entering the NBA draft and has started the year tied for the nation’s top scoring average at 30 points per game through Monday’s games.
The preseason Associated Press All-American has made 28 of 40 shots (70 percent) entering Wednesday’s game against N.C. State. He has helped offset the absence of sophomore guard Rawle Alkins, who is nearing the end of his projected recovery time (8-10 weeks) following surgery for a broken right foot.
Villanova (3-0) is off to a fast start, too, scoring 113 points in a win against Nicholls State followed by 104 more against Lafayette on Friday. Junior Mikal Bridges twice set career scoring highs in those games and is averaging 18.3 points, while preseason AP All-American Jalen Brunson is adding 17.7.
Villanova, which won the Atlantis title in 2013, opens play against Western Kentucky. The Wildcats enter as KenPom’s No. 1-ranked team while ranking in the top six in both adjusted offensive efficiency (third, 117.9 points per 100 possessions) and defensive efficiency (sixth, 90.7).
“Everybody down there is an NCAA Tournament team, starting with Western Kentucky,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “So we’ll see where we stand against those guys.”
Here are some other things to know about the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament:
FROM LONG RANGE: Purdue (4-0) is putting up impressive scoring totals of its own, particularly when it comes to knocking down the 3-point shot. Matt Painter’s Boilermakers have cracked the century mark three times and hit a school-record 19 3-pointers in Saturday’s 106-64 win against Fairfield. They have five double-figure scorers and are shooting nearly 49 percent from behind the arc on the season (seventh nationally) entering their Atlantis opener against Tennessee.
TENNESSEE’S START: The Volunteers (2-0) have had easy home wins against Presbyterian and High Point to start their third season under Rick Barnes. They’ll face Purdue looking for their first 3-0 start since the 2010-11 season, along with a fourth win against a ranked opponent under Barnes. “I’m just curious as probably anybody and excited as anybody wanting to see how we’re going to respond to what is thrown at us,” Barnes said.
CONDITIONING: New Wolfpack coach Kevin Keatts has a demanding style with fullcourt pressure — and limited numbers to play it. He has said this year’s group will probably be about 75 percent of what he envisions for the future with 10 scholarship players available — though it’s worked well enough that opponents are averaging 23.5 turnovers per game so far. “Hopefully our conditioning will kick in and it’ll help get us through some games,” Keatts said.
N.C. State (4-0) could get a boost if senior forward Abdul-Malik Abu — the team’s top returning scorer and rebounder — can make his debut at some point during the tournament after suffering a sprained knee ligament in the preseason.
STAYING HOT: SMU (4-0) is trying to keep rolling after a 30-win season and a second NCAA Tournament appearance in three seasons. The Mustangs have won 30 of their last 32 games and 17 straight in the regular season under second-year coach Tim Jankovich — who took over from Larry Brown — while Shake Milton (21.3 points) is leading the offense now that American Athletic Conference player of the year Semi Ojeleye is in the NBA. They open against Northern Iowa.
AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tennessee; and freelancer Mike Cranston in Philadelphia; contributed to this report.
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