College Basketball Picks and Predictions: Bet UConn to Win the Battle 4 Atlantis?
Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Malik Hall
- College basketball's "Feast Week" is heating up as the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament tips off on Wednesday, Nov. 24 with Loyola Chicago vs. Michigan State.
- In addition to Loyola Chicago vs. Michigan State, Wednesday's opening games also feature Auburn vs. UConn, Syracuse vs. VCU and Baylor vs. Arizona State.
- Read on to find out how to bet every first-round matchup for the Battle 4 Atlantis -- plus which of the 8 teams you should take to win the tournament championship.
How to Bet the 2021 Battle 4 Atlantis
After a one-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament is back on Wednesday for its 10th edition.
Michigan defeated Gonzaga in the most recent iteration of the tournament in 2019, but neither team is back in the field in 2021.
Instead, defending national champion Baylor highlights the otherwise very balanced eight-team field on Paradise Island in the Bahamas.
Each team will play three games in three days on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The tournament begins with Michigan State playing Loyola Chicago on Wednesday at 12 p.m. ET and the final is currently scheduled for 11 a.m. ET on Friday.
First Round Matchups
Loyola Chicago vs. Michigan State Preview
The tournament begins with a traditional college basketball blue blood in Michigan State and one of the nation’s top mid-majors in Loyola Chicago.
This is the first test for Drew Valentine’s Ramblers, who haven’t played a game against a team in the KenPom top 200 yet. Valentine convinced almost the entire team to return to Loyola this year, making them one of the more experienced units in the country.
The Ramblers rank 60th in experience and 59th in minutes continuity.
While the loss of Cameron Krutwig hurts their interior numbers at both ends of the floor, plenty of perimeter scoring is back. Loyola has made 45.2% of its 3s to begin the season, the fourth-best rate in the country.
6-foot-7 Aher Uguak is the man tasked with replacing Krutwig. He can shoot it from the outside and really do it all for the Ramblers. The fifth-year senior in his fourth year at Loyola is a stellar defender and can score at all levels.
Loyola is playing at a considerably faster pace than it did under former coach Porter Moser and the defense isn’t nearly as elite. The Ramblers still have the ability to switch 1-through-5 on the court, which is a key aspect to neutralizing the pick-and-roll offense that Tom Izzo loves to run.
Since Michigan State lost to Kansas by double digits in the Champions Classic, the Spartans have responded with three consecutive blowout wins by 20+ points each. Wins against Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan won’t move the needle much, but a dominant performance against Butler is encouraging.
Forward Gabe Brown has been Sparty’s most important player through four games, despite poor shooting from the perimeter. The Spartans have relied on Brown to attack the rim and draw fouls.
Meanwhile, Marcus Bingham Jr. has keyed their fourth-ranked KenPom defense, thanks to his shot blocking and rebounding in the middle.
Michigan State’s biggest problem early in the season has been jump shooting, as its made under 30% from 3. Stretch forward Joey Hauser missed the last game with a calf strain. He’s expected back for this game and Izzo suggested he’d be managing his minutes over the three-day tournament.
The problem is that the Spartans don’t really have much shooting at all when he’s off the floor — besides Malik Hall, who has made 4-of-10 to start the year and shot 36% from deep last year.
The difference in this game is the size and rebounding edge, with the Spartans having a considerable edge on the interior and the Ramblers not having the great equalizer in Krutwig anymore.
The Spartans have been tested by top-100 talent and to this point, we don’t have a good read for how good Valentine’s team is defensively. The Spartans should be able to attack downhill all game and take advantage of the Ramblers.
Pick: Michigan State -2 or better
UConn vs. Auburn Preview
I already wrote about how I think UConn is undervalued to win this entire tournament, but it’ll be tested by Bruce Pearl and Auburn in the opening game.
Of all four first-round matchups, this is the most intriguing because of the battle of the bigs.
Auburn has its duo of Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler, while UConn has Adama Sanogo and Akok Akok. For two teams that have typically been oriented toward elite guard play and shooting in recent history, the strength of both programs this season is in the middle.
UConn’s early-season offense has run through Sanogo, who is averaging 20 points and seven rebounds per game. He has the ability to take over any game and how he responds against the different looks that Smith and Kessler can throw at him likely decides this game.
Akok is the better defensive center and can block shots and alter attempts without fouling, so if Sanogo gets in foul trouble, the Huskies have depth at the position.
Even if the inside in this game is a wash and plays even, UConn has the edge on the perimeter because its shooters are much more skilled. The Huskies rank 40th in the country in effective field goal percentage and both Andre Jackson and Jalen Gaffney are in the midst of second and third-year leaps, respectively.
They are two players I’m quite high on going forward and Jackson especially can help raise the ceiling of the Huskies after a difficult first year in the program.
Neither program has played a game against a team in the KenPom top 150, but Auburn did need a late run to pull away from South Florida in its last game.
There were signs in that game that Pearl isn’t quite sure what his best rotations are, as multiple bench players played more minutes than starters in the contest.
There could be more tinkering from him in this spot and while I think Connecticut will win this game, I’d prefer to back them to win the whole tournament than in this game alone.
Pick: Pass (UConn +550 to win the Battle 4 Atlantis)
VCU vs. Syracuse Preview
Syracuse’s reputation as an excellent tournament team because of its zone still applies here in a Feast Week midseason event. But this isn’t a typical Syracuse squad of rangy, athletic wings who have a ton of length and make life difficult for shooters.
The Orange have maybe their worst defense under Jim Boeheim since the 2016-17 team missed the NCAA Tournament. The Orange allowed 100 points to Colgate in their last game on Saturday, struggled to rebound, couldn’t prevent entry passes into the paint and didn’t guard enough shooters.
The Orange lost Kadary Richmond and Quincy Guerrier to the transfer portal. They lost Alan Griffin to professional basketball and brought in Cole Swider, Jimmy Boeheim and Symir Torrence to replace those losses. The result is improved shooting and offense but much worse defense.
The question is whether or not VCU can actually exploit this Syracuse defense on Wednesday. So far, performances suggest it cannot.
The Rams are 235th in KenPom offensive efficiency, have serious turnover issues and no jump-shooters from the outside. The Rams have totaled 57 against Saint Peter’s, 44 against Wagner, 48 against Vanderbilt and 54 against Chattanooga.
Vince Williams is about the only player who can make a shot from the perimeter, as he’s made 10-of-23 from beyond the arc.
The Orange’s zone has a way of shading toward one player, though. It’s when a team has multiple guys who can light it up from the perimeter that the Orange get exposed.
Syracuse is one of the best shooting teams in the country and while VCU has held opponents to 21% from beyond the arc to start the season, that’s unsustainably good. The Orange should be able to generate some shooting pockets to get open looks.
If they cannot score consistently, it’s hard to see how the Rams are able to keep up with Syracuse’s prolific offense.
The one way for VCU to make up for its lack of shooting would be to hit the offensive glass hard against a bad rebounding team. However, the Rams don’t really have good offensive rebounding numbers either.
Pick: Lean Syracuse at -5 or better
Baylor vs. Arizona State Preview
The Bears will be tested by a top-75 opponent for the first time on Wednesday against Arizona.
The defending national champions have quite a bit of roster turnover from last season in the backcourt. MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell and Jared Butler may be gone, but don’t think Scott Drew hasn’t replenished the talent at the guard position.
James Akinjo is in his third program in four years after leaving Gerogetown and Arizona. He is joined in the backcourt by sophomore LJ Cryer, who has made a significant second-year leap within the program.
Matthew Mayer is the experienced veteran forward in the frontcourt after playing big minutes last season, but talented freshmen Kendall Brown and Jeremy Sochan have also provided defensive solidity on the wings.
The Bears are arguably even deeper than last season, even if the top end talent isn’t quite there. The defense should be able to smother opponents with ball pressure yet again, even without Mitchell’s presence.
Arizona State has played up and down to competition for multiple years now — be it out of conference or in the Pac-12. The Sun Devils already had a puzzling loss on a half-court heave at the buzzer to UC Riverside in the second game of their season. They followed it up with a close home loss to San Diego State.
The Sun Devils were also less than impressive in their nine-point home win against North Florida.
Bobby Hurley’s squad is a pretty bad shooting team, as the Sun Devils rank 245th from beyond the arc and 294th from 3 this season. Baylor has been an improved defensive rebounding team, but generally under Drew, it has struggled to grab defensive boards because of how aggressive its ball pressure is.
ASU can potentially get some second chance looks because of this, but it’s hard to see Arizona State scoring a bunch of points given its issues getting to the line and shooting from beyond the 3-point arc.
Battle 4 Atlantis Betting Insights & Predictions
I typically love to back Syracuse in tournament settings because out of conference teams usually lack familiarity with the 2-3 zone. It’s why they so often over-perform in March and make runs to the second weekend and beyond after middling regular seasons.
With that being said, I strongly dislike the Orange’s likely matchup with Baylor in the second round. Syracuse gets the benefit of an easier first-round game, but that’s clearly priced into the market, as the Orange aren’t actually the second-best team in this field.
Baylor’s offensive rebounding ability is a nightmare for the zone, where SU often struggles to rebound defensively. The Bears also have much more athleticism on the outside to bother the Syracuse shooters with length and quickness.
The value in the futures market actually lies on the other side of the bracket, where all four teams are within 13 spots of one another on KenPom and within 18 spots of one another in Bart Torvik’s power ratings.
There’s not a ton to separate all four teams, but UConn has the highest ceiling, a deep bench and the returning production to survive a potential gauntlet over three days. Auburn lacks experience, Loyola Chicago has shooting regression coming and Michigan State lacks the top-end talent.
At +550, UConn is likely to be favored in its first two games and then, a potential title game matchup with Baylor presents some hedging opportunities for the Huskies.