Feast Week has begun in college hoops. Over the weekend, we saw a physical Xavier-Florida tournament final and an offensive explosion between Baylor and Villanova. The Maui Invitational tipped yesterday, with a potential Kansas-Michigan State title game being derailed by Virginia Tech’s upset of Sparty. But no tournament has a better and deeper field than the uniquely named Bad Boy Mowers Battle for Atlantis. Eight teams have arrived in the Bahamas to play basketball inside of a crowded ball room with weird lighting and it will make for very compelling television. The field consists of four top 15 teams, along with two perennial powers of this decade. Let’s take a look at all of them, shall we?
Michigan Wolverines (4-0, KenPom 24)
The first year of the Juwan Howard era is off to a solid start. Michigan has beaten three cupcakes fairly handily and has a nice home win over Creighton. They are led by their four upperclassmen returners, who all average in double figures. Point guard Zavier Simpson is averaging 14 points and nine assists, seven-footer Jon Teske is putting up 13.3 points to go with his 9.8 rebounds, and swingman Isaiah Livers leads the team with 17 points and a 55 percent clip beyond the arc. The biggest jump is from guard Eli Brooks, who has jumped from 2.5 points a game to 12.5 points and 3.8 assists. They rely on an eight-man rotation with extremely good size. It’s no surprise that their 61.5 two-point percentage ranks top ten in the country, as does their effective field goal percentage. They’re not a great rebounding team for how big they are, and they don’t force many turnovers on defense, but they are still a physical Big Ten team that shouldn’t see as big of a decline as some thought when John Beilein bolted to the NBA this summer.
Iowa State Cyclones (3-1, KenPom 45)
It feels like an annual tradition that Gonzaga and Iowa State play in the same pre-season tournament. Like the Wolverines, Steve Prohm’s club uses an eight-man rotation with good size to score inside. They rank top 20 in two-point percentage. However, they rank in the bottom quarter in the country from beyond the arc. The name to watch is Tyrese Haliburton, one of the best passers in the nation, and a potential first round NBA pick. He’s the only player in the country averaging double digit assists. Solomon Young and Penn State transfer Rasir Bolton lead the team in scoring, but Bolton is still looking to find his touch from deep (2-for-18). The Cyclones have a close road loss to Oregon State and three easy wins, including a 73-45 victory of Southern Miss, the first round opponent for Gonzaga.
North Carolina Tar Heels (4-0, KenPom 8)
The Tar Heels are the first of four top 15 ranked teams in the field, coming in at number six in the country. They have a conference win over Notre Dame and three wins over mid-majors. They are led by the potential number one pick in the 2020 draft Cole Anthony. He’s averaging 22.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists. He’s not alone, obviously. Fellow freshman Armando Bacot teams with veteran Garrison Brooks to handle the interior. They also rely on two grad transfers in Justin Pierce and Christian Keeling to start and provide quality minutes. But the whole story is Anthony. The depth of the team is almost non-existent and they rely on Anthony to do pretty much everything. He takes over 35 percent of his team’s shots, assists on most of the others, and has hit as many threes (13) as the rest of his team combined. If a team can somehow limit him, they give themselves a good chance to win. Of course, that’s always easier said than done. This team, like all Roy Williams’ teams, is top 20 in offensive rebounding.
Alabama Crimson Tide (2-2, KenPom 78)
Nate Oats comes over from Buffalo to take over a struggling Crimson Tide program that has only made the NCAA Tournament twice the last 13 years. He brought his up-tempo and high-possession style to Alabama to start his rebuild. Two of their three leading scorers are freshmen. The other is Kira Lewis, who is a superstar. The sophomore point guard is averaging 21.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 5.0 assists. They have losses to Penn and Rhode Island and wins over Furman and FAU. They have the second fastest tempo in the country, but they have a huge turnover problem and can’t shoot very well from deep. Watching Lewis face off with Cole Anthony will be a treat, but I have a hard time seeing Alabama pulling off an upset.
Gonzaga Bulldogs (6-0, KenPom 5)
On the other half of the bracket, we get KenPom’s highest rated team. They are one of six teams to rank in the top 15 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. However, they have yet to face an offense ranked inside the top 130 and haven’t faced a defense in the top 60. Which is to say: we will know a lot more about this team after this week. They have the tools to be one of the best teams in the country, but how will they fare against elite level athletes with a ton of skill? How will Filip Petrusev play against a physical and talented front court that Seton Hall and North Carolina would provide? The backcourt of Ryan Woolridge, Admon Gilder, and Joel Ayayi have been phenomenal defensively to start the season. What happens when they face Myles Powell or Payton Pritchard or Cole Anthony? The step up in competition is much needed and we know Gonzaga will be up to the challenge.
Southern Miss Golden Eagles (2-3, KenPom 229)
Luckily, or unluckily, depending on how you view it, Gonzaga gets to open with by far the worst team in the field. Their only two wins have been against non-division 1 opponents and their three losses have been a blowout to Iowa State and road losses to South Alabama and North Florida. They lost five senior rotation players from last season and have a new head coach in Jay Ladner at the helm. They are dead last in the country in three-point percentage and dead last in the country in points coming off free throws. They have 12 underclassmen on their roster. But they are led in scoring by their returning senior Boban Jocdanmi. The 6’9, 255 pound big man averages 16.4 points and 7.6 rebounds and is one of only two players on the team with an offensive rating over 100. This could be another chance for Gonzaga to work on their rotations when doubling the post. The Golden Eagles are in full rebuild mode right now and the Zags should be able to take care of business against a team that turns it over 16 times a game against their D1 opponents.
Seton Hall Pirates (4-1, KenPom 19)
13th-ranked Seton Hall has everything you want in a college basketball team: a veteran roster, a guard who can take over a game whenever he wants, and quality depth. All five of their starters are upperclassmen and they are led by Myles Powell, who may win National Player of the Year. He’s averaging 22.6 points and poured in 37 in a close home loss to Michigan State. He plays with fellow senior Quincy McKnight in the backcourt, who also averages double figures. If you think Gonzaga has a big front court, you haven’t seen Seton Hall yet. They start 6’11 Sandro Mamukelashvili along with 7’2 Romaro Gill. When those two head to the bench, they bring in 6’10 Tyrese Samuel and 7’2 transfer Ike Obiagu, who you may remember from Gonzaga’s 2018 loss to Florida State. They are the second tallest team in the country and they play a legit 10-man rotation when needed. They have four blowout victories, most notably a road win at Saint Louis.
Oregon Ducks (5-0, KenPom 16)
That size could be a problem for 11th-ranked Oregon, who are young and inexperienced up front and are still missing suspended N’Faly Dante, the top rated freshman center, due to paperwork problems. But that doesn’t mean they are without talent. Francis Okoro has the potential to get a double-double any night. What Oregon likes to do is slide UNLV transfer Shakur Juiston to the “4” and play small ball with Pritchard, New Mexico transfer Anthony Mathis and junior college transfer Chris Duarte in the backcourt with former Zag recruit Will Richardson coming off the bench. Pritchard does it all for the Ducks, averaging 19.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.0 assists. Mathis has been unbelievable (20-for-31) from deep to start the season. Duarte and Richardson both average right around nine points. Oregon has already beat Memphis and Houston this season and have three solid mid-major wins over UT-Arlington, Boise State, and Fresno State. The match-up with Seton Hall will be fascinating. Oregon’s quickness and shooting ability going against the Pirates’ size and length will be a fun battle. And of course, Pritchard facing off with Powell is worth the price of admission. If Oregon wins, we should finally get the Oregon-Gonzaga match-up we have always been clamoring for, and should have got in the 2017 National Title game.
Title Game: UNC over Gonzaga
3rd place: Seton Hall over Michigan
5th place: Oregon over Iowa State
7th place: Alabama over Southern Miss