Jahlil Okafor vs. Frank Kaminsky a Key Early Battle in Player of the Year Race

Wednesday’s contest between No. 4 Duke and No. 2 Wisconsin is about more than just Jahlil Okafor vs. Frank Kaminsky.

It’s about two of the most talented teams in America. It’s about a rare potential preview of the Final Four in early December. It’s about a pair of well-oiled machines on the offensive side of the ball. It’s about Duke’s youth vs. Wisconsin’s veterans.

But while the list of storylines could run off the page, there’s little question the most enticing is at the center position. “Jahlil Okafor vs. Frank Kaminsky” reads the lede for the Associated Press’ game preview, telling you just about everything you need to know about the allure of the battle.

It’s just not possible to examine the game without mentioning the two:

The contrast is perhaps what makes it so captivating.

Okafor, through seven games, has already established himself as the most dominant low-post presence in the country. Attempting 69.3 percent of his shots at the rim, he has an unusual blend of footwork, patience and polish while in the painted area.

“He doesn’t rush. He takes his time. He makes the right decision,” said Wisconsin assistant coach Gary Close, via the AP. “He’s impressive at any age, but being a freshman stands out.”

Kaminsky, at 21 years of age and with 105 more games of collegiate experience than Okafor, has more of a “new-school” game. While he’s capable of scoring out of the post, he is much more comfortable facing up and knocking down jumpers.

Okafor talked about the seven-footer’s unique skill set, via ESPN.com’s C.L. Brown:

He’s just a different type of post man, he averages the most 3-point field goals on his team, he’s also made the most. He’s just a phenomenal player. Like I said, he’s proven and has had an amazing career. It’s definitely going to be a hard test for me. I’m looking forward to it.

The difference in where each player gets his offense is noticeable from the opening possessions, but the statistics, via per Hoop-Math.com, help put into perspective the asymmetry of college basketball’s two most feared big men:

For all their differences, the pair of preseason All-Americans from Illinois are equally effective.

Okafor is averaging 17.7 points with a true-shooting percentage of 62.7, per Sports-Reference.com. Kaminsky is at 16.6 and 63.1, respectively.

Again, Wednesday’s game boils down to much more than this particular individual matchup. Can Wisconsin, a team averaging five possessions per 40 minutes less than Duke, control the pace and keep the Blue Devils out of transition? How will slashing forwards Justise Winslow and Sam Dekker fair against each other? We know burgeoning sophomore Nigel Hayes is an offensive star in the making, but can he keep the energetic Amile Jeffersonthird in the country in offensive rebounding percentageoff the glass?

The answers to those questions and several others will ultimately determine the winner in Madison.

But the victor between Okafor and Kaminsky will determine the early front-runner in the National Player of the Year race.

Read more College Basketball news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – College Basketball

Kentucky Basketball: Breaking Down Frontcourt Battle with Myles Turner, Texas

Believe it or not, there were actually some 5-star recruits who went to different schools than Kentucky this year, and now the Wildcats have a golden opportunity to prove to one in particular why that was a mistake.

Kentucky and Texas square off Friday in a clash between two Top 10 teams, but there is more than just a marquee win on the line. Myles Turner was one of the nation’s top recruits in the 2014 class, and the Kentucky frontcourt will look to completely shut him down in much the same way it did Kansas’ Cliff Alexander.

Turner was a 5-star prospect, per 247Sports, and a 6’10” freak athlete who considered Duke, Ohio State and Kansas, among others, before ultimately staying in his home state with the Longhorns.

His length, versatility and ability to get out in transition stand out, but he is more than comfortable scoring on the low blocks, hitting from mid-range or getting involved in pick-and-roll scenarios. He can also extend his offensive arsenal to beyond the three-point line and is a force on the defensive end because of his shot-blocking abilities and prowess on the boards.

Turner is working his way into the college game early in the season with 19.8 minutes a night, but you get the idea of how scary he can be if his 11.2 points, 6.7 rebounds and three blocks a night are projected to 40 minutes of action. 

Turner already made an impact against a solid Connecticut frontcourt and bothered Amida Brimah with his defense in a one-point victory, as Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report and Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports noted:

Turner also announced his presence to the college basketball world against lesser competition earlier in the season, as ESPN Stats & Info pointed out:

Turner is living up to his recruitment hype in the early going, but he will be up against an unfair collection of talent for the Wildcats in the frontcourt.

Dakari Johnson, Willie Cauley-Stein, Trey Lyles, Karl-Anthony Towns, Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress are all future NBA players and will get a crack at containing Turner throughout the game. The Wildcats have bruisers in Johnson, Cauley-Stein and Lee, a freak athlete of their own who can play multiple positions and get out in transition in Poythress and someone who can do a little bit of everything in Towns.

Don’t expect just one guy from such a deep group to be tasked with stopping Turner either.

John Calipari will send multiple players at Turner throughout the game and attempt to wear him down and overwhelm him with the combined size and length of his bigs like he did against Kansas’ Perry Ellis and Alexander.

There is a reason the Jayhawks only scored 40 points in that entire game. The fact that Kentucky eviscerated a fellow Big 12 powerhouse on a neutral floor probably doesn’t have Texas fans feeling great about their matchup, especially since the Jayhawks were completely lost on offense and struggled to get any clean looks at all against the Wildcats’ length and athleticism.

Turner may be special, but so are Alexander and Ellis, and they combined for 3-of-13 shooting from the field.

There are other players on the floor who will help determine the outcome of the game besides just these featured frontcourt pieces. Guard Isaiah Taylor and versatile forward Jonathan Holmes are formidable options for Texas as well, but we still haven’t even mentioned Kentucky’s guards and small forwards, such as Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis.

It may not be fair, but the Wildcats have more talent on their bench at any one given time than fellow Top 10 teams do in their starting lineups.

Texas did win by one point at Connecticut after a crucial three-pointer from Holmes, but playing in Rupp Arena is an entirely different animal. This game is at Kentucky in front of what promises to be a raucous environment. It remains to be seen whether the freshman Turner is completely ready for that.

Despite the talent on the perimeter and off the bench for Kentucky, the matchup between the Wildcats’ frontcourt and Turner and company is still the most intriguing part of this game. Between Turner, Holmes and Connor Lammert, the Longhorns are 13th in the nation in rebounding per game, but the Wildcats are ninth.

The two frontcourts have also propelled the respective defenses, and Kentucky is No. 2 and Texas in No. 4 in Ken Pomeroy’s pace-adjusted defensive efficiency rankings. The Longhorns may struggle to score in this one, but they can stay in the game with their defensive efforts.

If there is one team the Wildcats play this year with the length to at least contend with them, it is Texas. However, there is just an overwhelming amount of talent across the entire Kentucky frontcourt as opposed to just a handful of contributors for Texas, and the game is in Lexington.

Turner may be a future star, but he will be going up against an entire collection of future NBA bigs. Sometimes it just isn’t a fair fight. 

Prediction: Kentucky 81, Texas 65

 

Follow me on Twitter:

Read more College Basketball news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – College Basketball

UNC Basketball: Biggest Takeaways from 2014 Battle for 4 Atlantis

The floppy hats and sunscreen have been put away after a week in the tropics, as North Carolina returned Saturday from the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas with some souvenirs as well as its first loss of the season.

The Tar Heels also got some answers to questions that their earlier games couldn’t provide, particularly related to how they would handle a team willing to fight harder than them and how the supporting cast would fare when star Marcus Paige wasn’t in the offensive mix. What coach Roy Williams saw pleased him at times and irked him at others, particularly during the opening loss to Butler that relegated UNC to the loser’s bracket.

Carolina rebounded to beat UCLA and then Florida, a pair of ranked teams, to finish fifth overall, while Wisconsin beat Oklahoma in the championship game and Butler knocked off Georgetown for third place.

Here’s what else can we take from UNC’s performance in the Bahamas:

 

Paige Can’t Wait Until Late

Marcus Paige showed many times during last season his ability to seem almost nonexistent for 30 or so minutes and then suddenly flip a switch to explode offensively down the stretch. The hope was this wouldn’t need to happen in 2014-15 with a more balanced supporting cast.

But in the 74-66 loss to Butler, Paige scored 11 of his 18 points in the final 3:35 of play. That wasn’t enough, though, as Butler held its lead throughout Paige’s late surge.

There wasn’t a delay in Paige’s production in the next two Bahamas games, as he spread out his season-high 21 points against UCLA throughout the game, and then against Florida, he had seven of his 16 points in the first half and mostly deferred to teammates after halftime until he needed to make shots from the foul line late.

Paige is leading the team in scoring at 15.2 points per game, but behind that the scoring balance is evident. Kennedy Meeks is at 13.8, Justin Jackson is at 11.7, and Brice Johnson averages 11.5.

“Our focus is pretty much just share the ball,” J.P. Tokoto told Adam Lucas of GoHeels.com. “Move it around, get touches to everybody and whoever has a good shot, take it.”

If those players, and others, continue to produce on an everyday basis, Paige won’t need to be the late-game hero.

 

Defense Still Matters

UNC might be more balanced when it comes to its offense, but that diversity also needs to be there on the defensive end in order for the wins to keep coming. Shoddy play defending the ball and boxing out on rebounds were critical factors against Butler, which only shot 30.6 percent but had a massive 57-40 rebounding advantage, including 29 offensive boards.

Williams was so miffed by the effort in that game that his lineup for the loser’s bracket semifinal against UCLA featured Isaiah Hicks, Joel James and Nate Britt in place of Johnson, Meeks and Tokoto. The people they replaced all ended up playing more minutes, but the message was received, as UNC forced 23 turnovers and limited the Bruins to 1-of-14 three-point shooting in the 78-56 win.

Against Florida, it was the old starting lineup but more of the renewed defensive effort, as UNC held the Gators to 32.8 percent shooting and just 22.2 percent on 27 three-point attempts in the 75-64 victory.

Expect the defensive lockdown to transfer over from the islands with Wednesday’s visit from Iowa in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

 

Meeks Is Making Strides

The Battle 4 Atlantis provided forward Kennedy Meeks with three more chances to show his progress and development, and for the most part, he didn’t disappoint.

Meeks averaged 11 points and 8.3 rebounds while making 13 of 22 field goals, with his 18-point, 13-rebound performance against Florida giving him a third double-double in six games this season.

The 6’9″ sophomore has shed nearly 50 pounds from his frame in the past year, enabling him to stay on the court longer and show more athleticism.

 

Hicks’ Emergence Bodes Well

The Tar Heels player who made the biggest strides in paradise was Hicks, the 6’8″ sophomore who averaged only 1.2 points and 1.0 rebounds last season. He’s up to 7.8 points and 3.8 rebounds this year after scoring 24 points with nine boards in the three Battle 4 Atlantis games.

Hicks made 11 of 18 field goals, including a 5-of-7 effort in his start against UCLA.

UNC’s frontcourt depth and development is a key point of emphasis this season, and Hicks’ rise is helping that effort.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

Read more College Basketball news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – College Basketball

UNC vs. Florida: Score and Twitter Reaction from Battle 4 Atlantis 2014

 The fifth-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels knocked off their second Top-25 team in as many games, beating the No. 18 Florida Gators 75-64 to earn fifth place at the 2014 Battle 4 Atlantis.

Three games in three days can be exhausting. Both teams entered Friday having played a lot of basketball recently. Former North Carolina star Sean May commented on how fatigue can often affect shooters, thus changing a team’s game plan:

The Tar Heels didn’t show any ill effects from all the time on the court. They shot an impressive 23-of-54 from the floor and 6-of-13 from three-point range. Kennedy Meeks finished with a double-double, scoring 18 points and collecting 14 rebounds. Marcus Paige also played well with 16 points and four assists.

Meanwhile, this loss compounds what’s been a slow start to 2014 for Florida. The Gators are now 3-3, with the two other defeats coming to Miami (FL) and Georgetown.

Head coach Billy Donovan is counting on short-term frustration to provide long-term gains.

“Before December 1st, we’re going to know a lot about our team,” he said before Friday’s game, per Antonya English of the Tampa Bay Times. “Of course, we’ve had to deal with some injuries and some suspensions, but I still think we’re finding out things about our team, which is good.”

Kasey Hill and Michael Frazier II combined to score 37 points, but they received little support to speak of. Dorian Finney-Smith really struggled, missing eight of his shots and scoring four points.

One of the problems Florida’s encountered over the last few years is a dearth of scoring. The Gators offense has really sputtered to start the 2014 season, averaging 63.4 points (255th) on 40.1 percent shooting (259th).

The Gators defense is more times than not enough to compensate for whatever issues are plaguing the team offensively. In the first half against the Tar Heels, Florida’s scoring troubles were impossible to ignore.

Florida’s first points didn’t come until 6:45 into the game, with Kasey Hill getting the Gators to within 10 points, 12-2. It’s hard to score when you miss 10 shots to start, via Chris Harry of GatorZone.com:

The Tar Heels’ lead continued to grow, with UNC eventually getting on top 25-8 with 7:05 until halftime.

ESPN’s Andy Katz noted that having a healthy Eli Carter would’ve helped Florida but that there are clear issues Donovan needs to resolve:

North Carolina continued applying pressure throughout the first half, carrying a 39-23 lead into the locker room. As a team, the Tar Heels shot 15-of-26 from the floor, with J.P. Tokoto, Meeks and Justin Jackson scoring eight points apiece. Marcus Paige added seven points and three assists.

On the other side, Florida shot 9-of-31, including 1-of-15 from behind the arc in the first half. The Gators also turned the ball over nine times, compared to four for North Carolina. Frazier and Finney-Smith combined to go 4-of-14, scoring 12 points.

Kevin Brockway of The Gainesville Sun spoke with ESPN’s Jay Bilas, who commented that Florida’s failure to establish a post offense created problems away from the basket:

After that shaky first half, Florida started out the second well, closing the gap to eight points, 43-35, 4:33 in after making four of its first five shots. Sports Illustrated‘s Seth Davis felt that the Gators were benefiting from UNC’s sloppy play on the offensive end:

However, the Tar Heels righted the ship and found their groove, slowly earning a 15-point lead, 58-43, with 8:13 left to play. Andrew Carter of the Charlotte Observer highlighted how well North Carolina’s defense has performed through the team’s first six games:

While Florida didn’t capitulate as time ticked away in the second half, the Gators couldn’t get to within striking distance. Every time they strung together a couple of buckets, somebody from North Carolina would stop the momentum, helping the Heels maintain a comfortable advantage.

Frazier nailed a three-pointer with two minutes to go that got Florida to within seven points, 67-60, but Brockway wondered whether a comeback was truly in the offing:

North Carolina made its free throws down the stretch to ice the game away.

Things don’t get much easier for Florida. The Gators meet the 11th-ranked Kansas Jayhawks a week from tonight. Injuries have hit them hard already, so it will be interesting to see how good this team is at full strength. Like Donovan said, playing all a bunch of tough games early in the season can provide big dividends by the end of the season.

North Carolina plays Iowa in its next game, with the date against the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats looming on Dec. 13. With the college basketball season being so long, it’s hard to add too much emphasis to a game in December, but beating the Wildcats would be a major statement from UNC.

Read more College Basketball news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – College Basketball

Wisconsin vs. Oklahoma: Live Score and Highlights from Battle for Atlantis Final

Still stuffed from all that Thanksgiving turkey? 

Sit back, relax and join Bleacher Report’s live coverage of Friday’s final of the Battle 4 Atlantis from the Imperial Arena in the Bahamas.

The No. 2 Wisconsin Badgers (6-0) were expected to be here. They trounced a young UAB squad in the opening round on Tuesday and held on for a close 68-65 victory over Georgetown on Thanksgiving Day.

The Hoyas‘ physicality kept them in the game late, limiting the Badgers to a season-low 48.8 percent from the field, and Frank Kaminsky and crew can expect more of the same on Friday.

The Oklahoma Sooners (4-1) didn’t get much recognition heading into this field, but they are a tough defensive-minded team that upset No. 22 UCLA and thrashed Butler to get here. 

Buddy Hield is one of the best guards in the nation, and if he gets hot, the Badgers could find themselves in another tough game.

Live coverage will begin Friday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. ET.

You can watch the game live on ESPN.

Read more College Basketball news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – College Basketball

Battle 4 Atlantis 2014: Updated Schedule, TV Info, Live Stream and Predictions

The Battle 4 Atlantis was supposed to be the best early-season tournament in college basketball, and it has done nothing but live up to the hype.

Thanks to a few upsets and some incredible depth of quality, the consolation bracket has been as exciting as the winner’s bracket. This is not something you can say about any other November event.

With each squad trying to build its nonconference resume by earning quality wins and avoiding bad losses, the final day of action will remain extremely important for every team involved. 

Here is a breakdown of what to watch for on Day 3 from the Bahamas.

Full bracket available at AtlantisBahamas.com. Select games can be viewed online at ESPN3.

 

Fans might have expected UAB to be involved in the battle for seventh place, but UCLA is a bit of a surprise.

The Bruins are in the midst of accomplishing a rare feat: having a miserable time in the Bahamas. After going 1-of-14 from three-point range with 23 turnovers against North Carolina, this team probably just can’t wait to get back to the mainland.

On the plus side, the Blazers are likely to be very overmatched in talent and athleticism, giving UCLA a chance to come away with one win.

North Carolina will also try to end the week on a high note after a disappointing early loss to Butler. The No. 5 team in the nation lacked intensity in the opening loss, but the Tar Heels fared much better against the Bruins. ESPN’s Andy Katz noted the difference:

If they can move the ball down the court and fight hard for rebounds, they should be able to beat a Florida team short on depth.

The third-place game will feature two Big East teams before the conference season begins as Georgetown takes on Butler.

Although this is certainly not what anyone would’ve wanted coming into the tournament, Georgetown head coach John Thompson III explained after the game, ”These first two games have felt like Big East games, to be honest with you. So why not make it official tomorrow?”

The Hoyas lost a physical battle against Wisconsin in the semifinals, and that is exactly what Butler will need to do to stay competitive. The Bulldogs showed that ability against North Carolina in the first game, but they didn’t have the same intensity in the loss to Oklahoma.

It’s hard to imagine the shooting remaining as cold two days in a row, but scoring will still be difficult to come by. Conversely, Georgetown can rely on D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera to make plays when needed, and he will do enough to help his team earn a second victory in the Bahamas.

Still, the best game of the day will be the championship between Wisconsin and Oklahoma. The Badgers were the favorites coming into the tournament and have not disappointed with two wins.

ESPN’s Jeff Goodman discussed how valuable the depth can be for Bo Ryan’s team:

Of course, Frank Kaminsky is usually able to carry the team, averaging 18.6 points and 9.8 rebounds in the first five games of the year. He not only can score inside or outside on offense, but he has improved defensively, as noted by Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress:

With Kaminsky, Sam Dekker and a long list of valuable contributors, the Badgers will be difficult to stop.

This does not mean Oklahoma won’t try. While the win over Butler featured a slow pace, the Sooners still have one of the best offenses in the country behind guard Buddy Hield, who also had a poor game in the tournament semifinals (five points on 2-of-10 shooting).

The problem is Hield and the rest of Oklahoma could end up struggling to score against Wisconsin due to its length and discipline. There is simply always a hand in your face, and it makes shooting much tougher.

Wisconsin should be able to make necessary plays offensively and come through with a narrow win.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

Follow TheRobGoldberg on Twitter

Read more College Basketball news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – College Basketball

UNC Basketball: Analyzing Tar Heels’ Ups and Downs at Battle 4 Atlantis

Let’s just assume the North Carolina basketball team enjoyed the tourist attractions at Atlantis a little too much before its loss to Butler Wednesday because the Tar Heels we all expected showed up Thursday against UCLA.

I say that tongue-in-cheek, of course, but it really looked like a completely different team taking the floor in Carolina Blue the second game out at the Battle 4 Atlantis. 

North Carolina was shocked by Butler 74-66 in its first game but bounced back and knocked off UCLA 78-56. Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports praised the Tar Heels’ bounce-back efforts against the Bruins, especially the pressure defense that forced a number of turnovers:

However, just because North Carolina picked up that important win doesn’t mean it is off the hook for some of the struggles we saw in the early going in Atlantis. The rebounding was a serious issue against Butler, and the Bulldogs outrebounded North Carolina 57-40. To make matters worse, Butler grabbed a ridiculous 29 offensive rebounds.

A team with four players listed at 6’8” or taller in Isaiah Hicks, Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson and plenty of athleticism to spare should not get outrebounded by that much. Meeks gets a pass with 10 rebounds, but the rest of the team certainly deserves plenty of blame.

Kameron Woods destroyed the Tar Heels with 13 rebounds and flew around on the low block when the boards were up for grabs. North Carolina couldn’t block him out, which was devastating for momentum purposes. Woods having a good game as an individual is forgivable, but 29 offensive rebounds says a lot about the overall effort level from the Tar Heels.

That just can’t happen against any team, let alone one with a single player taller than 6’8” that doesn’t have the type of athleticism that your team does.

Even in the UCLA win, North Carolina was outrebounded 38-35.

Another concern was the three-point shooting, which was a major weakness a season ago. In fact, in 2013-14, Marcus Paige was the one player opponents would even respect as an outside threat.

North Carolina finished 4-of-16 from deep against Butler, while Paige continued to chuck them up and finished 3-of-10.

The shooting was slightly better against UCLA at 8-of-23, but that is not exactly impressive at 34.8 percent. At some point, the Tar Heels may just need to accept the fact that they are not a three-point shooting team.

They have athleticism all over the floor and guys who can score on the block or by slashing to the rim and may just need to embrace that over outside shooting, especially before life gets more difficult in the ACC.

Elsewhere, the free-throw shooting technically told the story of the past two games because the Tar Heels were dreadful against Butler and passable against UCLA. North Carolina went 18-of-32 against the Bulldogs and 14-of-19 against the Bruins.

This is a major point of emphasis for the Tar Heels because they were an atrocious 344th in the country last season at 62.5 percent. That is a lot of free points they left on the board, which certainly would have come in handy in a number of close losses.

North Carolina also struggled against Butler in the turnover department and finished with 19. In fact, nine different players registered turnovers during the game, and it seemed like anytime the Tar Heels battled back in the second half, they would either cough it up or clank another three-pointer.

They cleaned it up against UCLA, which was a large reason they dominated that game.

Let’s not just focus on the negative, though. North Carolina deserves plenty of credit for the resiliency it showed to bounce back against UCLA just one day after it lost to Butler. That type of resiliency will be critical in the daunting ACC because there will be losses on the schedule that they will need to quickly overcome.

Roy Williams changed the starting lineup from the Butler loss and inserted Nate Britt, Isaiah Hicks and Joel James in place of J.P. Tokoto, Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson, but it was Paige’s ability to bounce back that was key.

He forced the issue against Butler at times and finished 5-of-17 from the field and 3-of-10 from downtown. He never really got his teammates involved either with three assists. He played within the flow of the offense against the Bruins, though, and posted 21 points, five assists and three steals.

The Tar Heels’ killer instinct also stood out in the UCLA game, which will be important in nail-biters in ACC play. North Carolina finished the first half on a 32-11 run and then added a 15-0 run in the second half for good measure. Paige was a big part of that second run with multiple three-pointers, but the pressure defense that ultimately forced 23 UCLA turnovers told the story.

Tar Heels fans know games against Iowa, Kentucky and Ohio State await before the daunting ACC schedule begins. There were certainly some encouraging signs in the past two games, but most of the issues that crippled North Carolina last year showed up against Butler. 

At least there’s plenty of time remaining in the season to turn things around.

 

Follow me on Twitter:

Read more College Basketball news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – College Basketball

UNC vs. UCLA: TV Schedule, Live Stream and Battle 4 Atlantis 2014 Preview

Thursday will mark a pivotal matchup for both North Carolina and UCLA. However, the game doesn’t have quite the same meaning for both programs.

Losses for the Tar Heels and Bruins on Wednesday means the Thanksgiving Day battle in Atlantis is in the consolation round. While both teams are still two of the best in the country, Thursday’s game is in the loser’s round after shocking upsets.

Not only will both teams be looking to rebound, but some of the top players hope to turn things around. Norman Powell and Marcus Paige were productive on Wednesday, but neither struggled more than fans have come to expect.

Before the two illustrious programs tip off in the Battle 4 Atlantis, here’s a look at the game information and preview.

 

Game Information

WhereImperial Arena, Paradise IslandNassau, Bahamas

When: Nov. 27 at 7 p.m. ET

TV: AXS TV

Live Stream: GoHeels TV/Pac-12.com

 

Preview

One loss for both programs is already too much, but one will be departing from paradise with a pair.

That daunting idea is hard for each fanbase but might be even tougher to take for UNC. The Tar Heels came into the season heralded as one of the best teams in the country, but they were whittled down by a Butler team that is far from the power it was under Brad Stevens.

With as much talent as the Heels have on the court, Roy Williams put much of the blame on himself due to preparation. Williams spoke about the loss following the game, per Andrew Carter of The News & Observer:

We have wonderful kids and I did a poor job with them getting them ready to play with the aggressiveness that Butler played (with). Butler’s coaching staff did a much better job of getting them ready to play. …

It’s a bad day today. I’m going to be ticked off all night until we start playing better. But they’ll get better.

One of the biggest issues for Carolina throughout the game was its inability to rebound. Butler, a team that ranks 216th in the nation in rebounding, hauled in 57 total rebounds, with 29 coming on the offensive end.

Carolina can’t allow that issue to continue against an athletic UCLA team that features a powerful inside presence in Kevon Looney. Kennedy Meeks will likely be tasked with that duty, but Looney has outmuscled several opponents already this season.

Looney‘s rebounding ability was noted by Jonathan Givony of Draft Express and Doug Haller of AZCentral.com:

Having high-energy players down low will be crucial for both teams. The biggest component, however, will be the guard play on Thursday evening.

Bryce Alford, Steve Alford’s son, has been one of the best floor generals all season with 20 points and 9.8 assists per game. However, Alford took a step back against Oklahoma, as he finished with just as many assists (two) as turnovers (two).

Sharing the backcourt is Norman Powell, the team’s leading scorer, who never took a three-point shot and went just 4-of-10 from the floor. Part of the issue for Powell was getting into foul trouble early, as Zach Helfand of the Los Angeles Times notes:

If any player needs to rebound more than Powell, it’s Paige, the ACC Preseason Player of the Year. The junior was able to finish with a season-high 18 points, but he started the game at 1-of-10 from the field and missed four free throws.

Both teams will need their guards to step up or they’ll head home with two losses. With each looking to compete for a title in their respective conferences, that would be a tough pill to swallow this early in the season.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

Read more College Basketball news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – College Basketball

Battle 4 Atlantis 2014: Teams, Schedule, Live Stream, Bracket, TV Info

No matter what team you root for, there is no early-season tournament in 2014 better than the Battle 4 Atlantis.

There are numerous events taking place around North America throughout the week, with each having its own unique storyline. However, no other tournament features as many top squads as the one in the Bahamas, including multiple teams truly believing they can contend for a championship.

If you want to watch Final Four-level action right away, you can either build a time machine to skip ahead to March or simply tune in to this tournament.

Here is a look at everything you need to know for the upcoming event.

 

Full bracket available at AtlantisBahamas.com. Select games can be viewed online at ESPN3.

 

Top Contenders

Florida

The biggest problem Florida is dealing with right now is a lack of depth as Billy Donovan deals with a few key missing players. Dorian Finney-Smith and Eli Carter are both dealing with injuries and could miss the entire tournament.

On the plus side, Chris Walker has returned from his suspension and will pair with Jon Horford to make a quality frontcourt tandem. According to Kevin Brockway of Gator Sports, the team has focused on improving the duo’s chemistry:

Additionally, the backcourt remains talented with Kasey Hill ready to take over as a star point guard after learning from Scottie Wilbekin last season. With Michael Frazier bringing his experience and scoring ability, the starting lineup is still among the best in the nation.

While the Gators ran out of energy in a loss to Miami, Florida will try to combat this by slowing down the pace against faster opponents. This will keep the starters fresh and give them a chance to succeed against anyone in the closing minutes.

 

North Carolina

Marcus Paige is one of the best players in the nation and has a chance to cause serious damage on his own. Unlike last season, though, he has been getting a lot more help around him this year.

Kennedy Meeks has gotten himself into great shape, and he and Brice Johnson have become one of the better frontcourt tandems in the country. They do not have the versatility of Wisconsin’s frontcourt, but they can go after offensive boards and finish in the paint with great efficiency.

As J.P. Tokoto takes on more of a facilitating role, it allows Paige to be even better as a scorer where he can move around without the ball and create opportunities for himself.

Most importantly, the Tar Heels have as much depth as anyone at the Battle 4 Atlantis and will use that to their advantage by turning every game into a track meet. This could be what it takes to put the squad over the top in the Bahamas.

 

UCLA

Oklahoma and Georgetown also have a chance of making a deep run in this tournament, but UCLA will be a bigger threat to the favorites if it plays to its ability.

Although Steve Alford’s squad lost a lot of talent to the NBA this offseason, the next generation of players have raised their game. This includes the coach’s son, Bryce Alford, who is averaging 20 points and 9.8 assists per game. Norman Powell also appears to be a star in the making with 21.3 points per game.

The Bruins have showcased athleticism inside with Tony Parker and Kevon Looney, two forwards doing a great job of securing rebounds on both ends of the court and giving their team extra chances to score.

UCLA probably has the toughest path to the title of all the contenders at this event, and a lack of experience could end up hurting. However, the talent is there to keep winning against the top competition.

 

Predicted Winner: Wisconsin

Despite all of these quality teams challenging for a title, none of them have the complete package like Wisconsin.

The Badgers have some of the best individual players in the nation, such as Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, two players who are a complete mismatch for anyone who tries to defend them.

Traevon Jackson and Nigel Hayes lead the group of complementary scorers, with everyone on the roster selfless with the ball and willing to pass to an open guy. Of course, that open player is very likely to be able to shoot an open three and make it.

With an efficient defense and an experienced returning lineup full of upperclassmen who went to the Final Four a year ago, Bo Ryan’s squad has everything it needs to get back to that level again this time around.

Most importantly, the squad has the discipline to avoid bad performances. Ryan discussed the fact that smart play beats talent to Reid Forgrave of Fox Sports:

If I block you out after a shot is taken and I’m on defense, if I get my body between you and the rim, how much talent does that take? I didn’t have to jump high, I didn’t have to run fast. What I had to do was be disciplined enough mentally to put you in a position where you couldn’t beat me for that rebound. If I take care of the basketball and I don’t turn it over, I don’t have to be the greatest ballhandler in the world, but I have to be consistent and I have to be disciplined, I have to learn my angles, I have to learn height of the dribble around the pressure, little things like that.

Add the smart play to the talent on the roster, and the Badgers will go far this year. The run to a championship will start with a strong run through this loaded tournament as Wisconsin beats North Carolina in the finals.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

Follow TheRobGoldberg on Twitter

Read more College Basketball news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – College Basketball

Wisconsin Basketball: Keys for the Badgers at 2014 Battle 4 Atlantis

If Wisconsin wants to be a legitimate national title contender, a strong performance at the Battle 4 Atlantis would go a long way.

The Badgers have started the year as well as possible with four wins in four games, each by at least 20-point margins. The victories over Green Bay and Boise State will also look even better as the season progresses.

However, things get much tougher in the upcoming week with a trip to the Bahamas. While the opening matchup against UAB shouldn’t represent too much trouble, the rest of the tournament features Florida, Georgetown, North Carolina, UCLA, Oklahoma and Butler.

The full bracket is available at AtlantisBahamas.com, but any matchup throughout this event could represent a Sweet 16 or even Final Four preview.

As impressive as Wisconsin has been, the squad will need to be at its best to come away with three wins and a tournament title. Following these keys to victory would be a great way to ensure success in the upcoming week.

Begin Slideshow

View full post on Bleacher Report – College Basketball

Next Page »