Villanova is back in the Battle 4 Atlantis, and not only is it hoping for a better showing in a Feast Week tournament after going winless in last season’s PK85, but it’s also aiming to go 3-for-3 down in the Bahamas.
The Wildcats are making their third appearance in the Battle 4 Atlantis, previously winning the tournament in 2013 and 2017.
The 2013 victory relaunched them into the national top 25, after being absent in the AP poll for a couple of years. They stunned the highly-touted Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Kansas Jayhawks in the semifinals, before outlasting Iowa in an overtime title game.
In their return trip in 2017, it was one of many highlights that season, as they went on to capture Big East and national championships.
What will this year’s Battle 4 Atlantis bring?
Here’s a preview of the teams in Villanova’s side of the bracket, and a quick look at the other foes they can possibly meet on the final day of the tournament from the other side of the bracket.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
Team record: 3-0
When: Wednesday, Nov. 22, at 2:30 p.m.
Texas Tech head coach: Grant McCasland (first season)
Previous season record: 16-16, 5-13 Big 12 — lost to West Virginia, 78-62, in opening round of Big 12 tournament and did not qualify for postseason tournament
Key players for Texas Tech: #2 Pop Isaacs (6-2, 170) So., G — 11.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.3 spg; 26.7 FG% #5 Darrion Williams (6-6, 210) So., G — 11.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 1.0 apg, 1.3 spg, 0.7 bpg, 52.4 FG% #6 Joe Toussaint (6-0, 190) Sr., G — 11.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.0 spg, 42.9 FG%; #22 Warren Washington (7-0, 225) Sr., F — 9.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.0 bpg, 50.0 FG%
Outlook: Texas Tech is off to a good start under new head coach Grant McCasland, who spent the last six years at North Texas and ended his tenure with the Mean Green as 2023 NIT champions. It’s hard to say if the Red Raiders have been tested, though, but they’ve taken care of business against the likes of Texas A&M Commerce, San Jose State, and Texas A&M Corpus Christi. They did manage to defeat No. 12 Texas A&M in an 89-84 preseason exhibition game for charity, and they’ll come to the Bahamas with hopes to officially add a meaningful win to their resume.
If you thought the Maryland game was ugly, this has the potential to be another grindy game, especially if the ‘Cats shoot like they did in the second half against the Terrapins. Texas Tech is ranked No. 8 in the nation in defensive efficiency according to KenPom, and they don’t mind having to grind one out. They’ve limited opponents to shooting just 20.8% from beyond the arc and they’re adept at creating turnovers.
They play disciplined defense and don’t foul much, currently boasting the second-lowest fouling rate in the nation. Their three opponents so far combine for a total of only 16 free throw attempts.
Offensively, they’re still trying to find a groove. Their effective field goal shooting percentage as a team falls in the bottom 100, and they have one of the worst turnover rates in the country at 22.2%, which is good for 319th overall. They’ve been mostly an interior-minded attacking team with a four-guard lineup that’s anchored by 7-foot forward Warren Washington in the middle.
Semifinals OR Consolation semifinals
Depending on the outcomes of Wednesday’s games, the ‘Cats will either face North Carolina or Northern Iowa.
North Carolina Tar Heels
Team record: 3-0
When: Thursday, Nov. 23 (time TBA)
Coverage: ESPN Networks
North Carolina head coach: Hubert Davis (third season)
Previous season record: 20-13, 11-9 ACC — Lost to Virginia, 68-59, in ACC Tournament quarterfinals, did not qualify for postseason tournament
Key players for North Carolina: #3 Cormac Ryan (6-5, 195) Sr., G — 7.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.3 spg; #4 R.J. Davis (6-0, 180) Sr., G — 14.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.3 spg, 43.6 FG; #5 Armando Bacot (6-11, 240) Sr., F — 22.7 ppg, 13.3 rpg, 1.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 1.7 bpg, 61.0 FG%; #55 Harrison Ingram (6-7, 235) Jr., F — 12.0 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.0 bpg
Outlook: They didn’t get to clash at the PK85 last year, but maybe this time, it’ll happen.
If or when these two teams meet, it’ll be their first time facing each other in an official game since “The Shot.” (They did play in a secret scrimmage against one another since then.)
Armando Bacot and R.J. Davis are back to reprise their roles as team leaders, after playing a key part in their NCAA Tournament runner-up finish to Kansas in 2022. Last season was a step back for the Tar Heels, who started as the preseason No. 1-ranked team, only to fall out of the rankings and get bounced out of the ACC quarterfinals in what would be their final game of the year.
The 14th-ranked Tar Heels are determined for a better showing this season and after dispatching Radford, Lehigh and UC-Riverside, they’re ready for a challenge. Bacot is off to a monster start. The double-double machine averages 22.7 points and 13.3 rebounds per game at an efficient 61.0% clip, while also chipping in 1.0 steals and 1.7 blocks per game. It’ll be interesting how the ‘Nova frontcourt matches up with him. R.J. Davis is right behind with 14.3 points per game.
Transfers Harrison Ingram and Cormac Ryan are looking to make their mark this year. Ingram, a former five-star recruit, has transitioned well so far after a solid two seasons at Stanford. Meanwhile, Ryan provides a veteran presence, after spending the last three years as a captain at Notre Dame.
Their three-point shooting has been inconsistent, but with Bacot and Davis’ athleticism, they’ve been able to strike a lot inside. Defensively, Bacot is a menace in the paint and on the glass, and 6-foot-10 sophomore forward Jalen Washington is coming off of his best all-around performance, while the Tar Heels have shown solid perimeter play so far. They rank in the top 30 for both offensive and defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.
Northern Iowa Panthers
Team record: 1-2
When: Thursday, Nov. 23 (time TBA)
Coverage: ESPN Networks
Northern Iowa head coach: Ben Jacobson (18th season)
Previous season record: 14-18, 9-11 MVC — Lost to Bradley, 51-48, in opening round of Missouri Valley Conference tournament, did not qualify for postseason tournament
Key players for Northern Iowa: #0 Nate Heise (6-5, 205) Jr., G — 14.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.7 spg, 0.7 bpg, 51.5 FG%; #11 Jacob Hutson (6-11, 250) Jr., C — 11.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 47.6 FG%; #32 Tytan Anderson (6-6, 205) Jr., G — 11.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 47.6 FG%
Outlook: Since taking over for Gregg McDermott after he left Northern Iowa for Creighton in 2006, head coach Ben Jacobson has been a fixture with the Panthers. He’s been named the conference’s coach of the year five times throughout his tenure.
In recent years, they’ve had a pattern of trading up and down seasons, finishing below-.500 in 2018-19, 2020-21 and 2022-23. There were a couple of MVC regular season conference titles sandwiched in between those losing seasons, so based on the pattern, this year should be a bounce-back campaign.
However, they’ve stumbled out of the gate. Their lone win came against Division III Loras, which came in between losses to North Texas and South Florida.
There is a little bit of history between Northern Iowa and North Carolina. In their first-ever meeting between both programs in 2015, Jacobson led his Panthers to a marquee upset over then No. 1-ranked North Carolina, a 71-67 victory which became one of the biggest in program history.
They’ve met twice since then, but the Tar Heels were able to win both meetings comfortably. Nate Heise leads a deep rotation and is a true do-it-all player. He leads the Panthers’ in every major statistical category and is shooting an efficient 51.5% on the floor. After him, it’s a balanced effort. Northern Iowa goes nine deep, with a couple others adding spot minutes here and there when needed.
Arkansas, Memphis, Michigan and Stanford are the teams on the other side of the bracket, and Villanova will play one of them on Friday in the final day of the tournament. Here’s a quick dive into the other four teams.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks are the only other AP-ranked team in this tournament, and they enter at No. 20. They’re coming off of a loss to UNC-Greensboro, which should give them plenty of added motivation entering this week’s tournament. After reaching the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament in each of the last three years, Arkansas appears to have another formidable squad, after reloading with transfers Khalif Battle (Temple), Tramon Mark (Houston), El Ellis (Louisville) and two-way shot-blocking forward Trevon Brazile (Missouri).
Memphis: The Tigers’ fast-paced style of play will be fun to watch, and they’ve breezed through the opposition so far, but will be hungry to make a statement. They’ve been hot from the three-point line so far, shooting 40.3% (22nd in the country) from deep. There are a few familiar faces playing prominent roles on this roster, with former DePaul and St. John’s standout forward David Jones, as well as former Villanova guard Jahvon Quinerly. Jaykwon Walton (Wichita State), Jordan Brown (Louisiana) and Caleb Mills (Florida State) are also impact transfers. Their five scorers and producers are all transfers.
Michigan: The Wolverines spoiled Rick Pitino’s Madison Square Garden debut with the Johnnies, but suffered a disappointing 94-86 loss against Long Beach State in their next outing. Will the real Michigan please stand up? There’s no doubt they can score, posting at least 86 points in every game so far and boasts one of the nation’s top offenses. According to KenPom, they rank 16th in the country in offensive efficiency, while posting a 60.0 eFG%, which is the 13th highest in the nation. There are definite issues on the defensive end, but Dug McDaniel, Terrance Williams II and Tennessee transfer Olivier Nkamhoua can certainly get a bucket when needed.
Stanford: The Cardinal will get a taste of long distance travel for games, as the future ACC member will cover the most miles out of any other team to get to the Bahamas. They’re another offensive-minded team, with holes on the defensive side, but they play a fun uptempo style behind four players averaging in double figures, led by Maxime Raynoud (who nearly averages a double-double), Brandon Angel, Michael Jones and Andrej Stojakovic (Peja’s son). Providence transfer Jared Bynum has also been a welcomed addition to Stanford and is currently top five in the country in assists, averaging 9.5 points and a whopping 8.3 assists per game.