No. 10 Gonzaga heads field of rivals at Battle 4 Atlantis
Nov. 24, 2015
PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) — No one had to explain to Texas coach Shaka Smart about what to expect in this week's Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.
He's already experienced it firsthand.
"It's always just a stacked field," said Smart, whose former Virginia Commonwealth team finished fourth in the Bahamas in 2012. "Lot of really good teams. A lot of teams that at the end of the year will be in contention to win big games in the NCAA Tournament."
It may early but the 2015 edition of the eight-team event, which tips off Wednesday, is again loaded with traditional powers and young teams that will be using the annual holiday tourney as a measuring stick for potential runs in March.
This year's bracket is anchored by three Top 25 teams led by No. 10 Gonzaga, along with No. 18 Connecticut and new addition Texas A&M at No. 25.
But there won't be a need to wait for the championship for an intriguing matchup, with each of the ranked team facing a familiar foe in the opening round.
The tournament's opening game provides probably the most-anticipated game of the week as the Zags (2-0) face in-state rival Washington (3-0). It is the renewal of a series that hasn't been played since 2006. Gonzaga has won eight of the nine previous meetings, though this will be the first time that they have met on a neutral floor.
"If you're a fan of the state of Washington basketball situation, it's kind of a bonus," said Washington coach Lorenzo Romar. "We knew we were going to play a good opponent and it happens to be a good one in Gonzaga, so I'm not upset."
Texas A&M (4-0) also draws an in-state foe in the Longhorns (1-0). Texas comes fresh off earning their first victory under Smart, who is in his first season in Austin.
The Aggies have cruised in their first four games, with their smallest margin of victory being 25 over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
No. 18 Connecticut (3-0) will be opposite Michigan (2-1), which dropped out of poll following an 86-70 loss to Xavier. The Huskies are playing their first game away from home this season. Wednesday's game will be the fourth time the two programs have met on the court and first since 2010.
While unranked, Syracuse (3-0), which opens the tournament opposite Charlotte (1-2), is certainly a threat as well. The Orange enter the tournament coming off an 11-point victory over Elon and a career-high 20-point, 16-rebound performance by junior Tyler Roberson.
"It's going to build team chemistry," Orange senior forward Michael Gbinije said. "It's nice. New scenery, refreshing things. It's just going to be an overall (good) environment. And we're looking to compete down there and try to make a name for ourselves."
Here are some things to watch for in the Battle 4 Atlantis:
FREQUENT FLIERS: Even prior to this trip, Washington and Texas had logged lots of miles in the air this season. The Huskies opened the season with a 77-71 win over the Longhorns in Shanghai, China on Nov. 13. That trip was nearly 12,000 miles roundtrip for Washington and 15,000 miles total for Texas. With another cross-country trip to make for this one, Romar is hoping his team isn't sluggish once it lands. "So far, we've been able to step up and meet the challenge," he said. "We did that for China. Each hour, each day we stayed up a little longer a little longer. But for this, no it's not as much of a time difference. China the time zone was much wider than this one."
BACK IN ACTION: Texas A&M senior transfer Jalen Jones will be eligible to play in the tournament after completing a four-game suspension. The NCAA handed down the penalty for his participation in two scrimmages for Southern Methodist prior to his transfer to Texas A&M in January 2014. He averaged 14 points and 7.7 rebounds during the 2012-13 season for SMU.
INJURY WATCH: Texas may be a little short-handed this week. Smart said it's unclear whether sophomore guard Kendal Yancy will be available to play after taking a hard hit to the head against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Saturday. Yancy is averaging 3.5 points.
AP Sports Writers Tim Booth in Seattle, Washington, and John Kekis in Syracuse, New York, contributed to this report.
Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower