No. 10 Louisville, No. 20 Baylor headline Battle 4 Atlantis
Teams in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament have at least one thing in common: they're all trying to replace a lot of production after losing their best scorer from last season.
The tournament begins Wednesday in Paradise Island, Bahamas, with No. 10 Louisville, No. 20 Baylor and No. 24 Michigan State headlining the eight-team field. And after players such as the Spartans' Denzel Valentine and the Cardinals' Damion Lee now gone, each team is sorting out how their offenses run and whether the guy they pegged as their new go-to scorer can handle that role now that he's atop the defensive scouting report.
''Early in the year, the big thing for us is just seeing what chemistry, what rotations, and trying to get a flow,'' Baylor coach Scott Drew said. ''It's tough on players and coaches early in the year, because a lot of times in practice people might be good and in the games they might be great, or they might be great in practice and just average in the games.
''So you've got to give them experience and see what they can do when the lights come on.''
The Atlantis field includes LSU, Old Dominion, St. John's, VCU and Wichita State. Each team plays three games in three days, with the championship set for Friday.
Some other things to know about this week's Battle 4 Atlantis:
TOUGHEN UP: Michigan State coach Tom Izzo wants more from his Spartans (2-2) after a bumpy start that includes losing on a last-second shot to Arizona, managing just 48 points in a 21-point loss to current No. 1 Kentucky, then hanging on to beat Florida Gulf Coast by one at home Sunday. The Spartans open against St. John's (2-1) in the first meeting between the programs since 1979. ''I want to figure out whether I'm going to start a different lineup to get what I want,'' Izzo said. ''Maybe different guys have got to come off the bench and then I've got to do a better job. So don't anyone blame a player. I've got to do a better job of making them tougher.''
PLAYERS TO WATCH: St. John redshirt freshman Marcus LoVett and Baylor junior college transfer Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. are putting up some big numbers. The 6-foot LoVett ranks in the top 20 nationally in scoring at 24.3 points while playing alongside fellow freshman Shamorie Ponds (17.3 points) in the Red Storm's backcourt. Meanwhile, the 7-foot Lual-Acuil ranks among the national leaders in rebounding (10 per game) and blocked shots (5.3) for the Bears (3-0).
VIRGINIAN FOES: VCU (3-0) and Old Dominion (2-0) are separated by roughly 90 miles in the state of Virginia, but they could end up traveling more than 800 miles south just to bump into each other in the Bahamas. While they're on opposite sides of the bracket, the Rams and Monarchs could play then have a rematch roughly two weeks later with an already scheduled meeting Dec. 10 at Old Dominion.
KEEPING IT GOING: Wichita State (4-0) might be in the biggest transition of all the Battle 4 Atlantis teams after losing Ron Baker and Fred VanFleet, two mainstays who were part of the 2013 Final Four team and a run of five straight NCAA Tournaments. So far, the Shockers are showing a lot of balance with Zach Brown, Markis McDuffie and Darral Willis Jr. each averaging around 11 points to lead an offense coming off a 116-point showing – the program's best in a game since 1988 – against Maryland-Eastern Shore. The Shockers face LSU (3-0) on Wednesday.
BIG NAMES: There's a couple of Naismith Hall of Fame coaches roaming the sideline with Izzo and Louisville's Rick Pitino, two men with approaching 1,300 career wins and three NCAA championships. And there will be a third Hall of Famer arriving after the tournament in Kentucky coach John Calipari, whose top-ranked Wildcats appear in the separate Atlantis Showcase game against Arizona State on Monday night to wrap up a big week at the Atlantis resort.
AP Basketball Writer Stephen Hawkins in Dallas; AP Sports Writer Dave Skretta in Kansas City, Kansas; and AP freelancer Tim Robinson in East Lansing, Michigan, contributed to this report.
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