The Michigan State Spartans enrolled themselves in one of the most competitive "preseason" tournaments this year, the 2016 Battle 4 Atlantis. The event will take place November 23rd-25th in the Bahamas. In the eight team, single elimination tournament, each team will get to play three games. The first round match-ups have not been released yet, but I decided to take the liberty of previewing all seven of the other teams for their potential contest with the Spartans, anyway.
The Bears have suffered a few major losses from last season, including Lester Medford and Rico Gathers. Perhaps no loss is bigger than that of the 12th overall pick in the NBA Draft, Taurean Prince.
They will undeniably still bring back talent from last year’s team, notably Al Freeman and Johnathan Motley. Unfortunately, they won’t welcome in as much as they lost. Baylor does bring in former Miami Hurricane guard, Manu Lecomte. He sat out last season after transferring and looks to bring ACC experience to a backcourt that has been lacking in that department.
The Spartans match up well with the Bears mainly due to Baylor’s lack of depth. While their top three or four guys may be able to line up against Michigan State, as a game wears on the athleticism and talent of the Spartan role players should reign supreme.
The Cardinals’ backcourt took a big hit with the loss of impact transfers Damion Lee and Trey Lewis to graduation. Chinanu Onuaku also left, choosing to declare for the draft early. Rick Pitino does bring in prized freshman V.J. King and hopes to strike the same grad-transfer magic as last year with the addition of former Penn guard, Tony Hicks.
Quentin Snider and Donovan Mitchell will be expected to excel in the backcourt, but the hole left by Onuaku in the front court is no easy fix. If the Cardinals and Spartans go head to head, it presumably would not be in the first round. Both teams are talented and a match-up between the two would be close, but ultimately Louisville’s lack of rim protection could be their undoing with the likes of Miles Bridges and Tum Tum Nairn Jr. relentlessly attacking the hoop.
Did any team lose as much in one departure as LSU did with Ben Simmons? Probably not, but the Tigers will still be bringing back a lot of great players. That list begins with Antonio Blakeney who could stand to gain from increased opportunities and more time with the ball in his hands. When you add Craig Victor to the list, you have a solid core to build around. The backcourt is strong, but the center position is lacking with Simmons having logged a number of minutes at that slot last year.
Maybe LSU can contend with Michigan State in the area of athleticism, but their defense remains suspect, especially on the interior. LSU’s "big-three" will definitely get theirs, but unless the other players on the team step up and learn their roles quickly, a game against Michigan State may not be all that close.
Already under matched as the only true mid major in the tournament, Old Dominion’s loss of their two highest usage players from last season in Trey Freeman and Aaron Bacote will hurt the team immensely. They bring in former Illinois forward Austin Colbert and shooting-guard Xavier Green. That will not be enough to fill the void in the backcourt, and the Spartans will have a field day running all over the Monarchs in transition early and often.
St. John’s Red Storm
The Johnnies had an awful lot of trouble getting wins last season, but Chris Mullin slaved away on the recruiting trail to bring in some players who could be ready to compete right away. He succeeded, as top recruit Shamorie Ponds and top JUCO prospect Bashir Ahmed committed to play for him this year.
Losing Ron Mvouika and Christian Jones, who transferred to UNLV, are tough losses. Fortunately for the Red Storm and Mullin, they were basically the only key losses the team will have to deal with. Returning a majority of the roster from a team that showed some promise is a good sign. That said, St. John’s is still a year or two away from really having success on the court, with talented players like former Spartan Marvin Clark becoming eligible. Michigan State should be able to take advantage of the Red Storm’s poor offensive production en route to an easy victory.
Virginia Commonwealth Rams
Will Wade is entering his second season at VCU. He retains most of the group that brought him to the NCAA Tournament, except guards Melvin Johnson and Korey Billbury. JaQuan Lewis and Mo Allie-Cox come back as the core of the group. De’Riante Jenkins is a talented freshman who is a swingman and should fill in nicely in the Rams’ starting lineup.
The experienced Rams could give Michigan State’s younger players fits. They know how to turn teams over and play a frustrating style of defense. It will be important for Nairn to stay on the floor and help the freshmen weather the turnover storm that is sure to hit. With the tournament being played so early in the season, it will be difficult to have ironed out all of the kinks that will surely come with inexperience for Tom Izzo’s bunch. In the end, however, the Spartans’ superior talent will help them rise to the top.
Gregg Marshall lost so much this offseason, including three of the winningest players in college basketball in Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet and Evan Wessel. Add Anton Grady to the list of departures and that’s four of the top six players from last season who will not return. Marshall continues his run of bringing talented JUCO prospects to Wichita this year with Daishon Smith and Darrlyn Willis.
The incoming players certainly will not be good enough to replace all that the Shockers lost, but with impact freshman Markus McDuffie returning, Wichita State will surely be a tough out in the tournament. Having said that, any impact McDuffie has will likely be neutralized by Miles Bridges. The Spartans will surely have the better players at every other position.
After reviewing the competition at this year’s Battle 4 Atlantis, there is no guaranteeing the championship trophy will be with Michigan State on their return trip to East Lansing, but they are definitely the favorites. If Tom Izzo can have the young group playing well together by Thanksgiving time, then Michigan State fans could be enjoying a Battle 4 Atlantis victory to go with their turkey.