While families come together from far and wide to devour turkey, watch football and reluctantly talk politics, the Michigan men’s basketball team will be facing its fiercest competition to date at the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament.
Hosted every year in the Bahamas, the tournament hosts a variety of college basketball’s historic programs in an early-season slugfest prime for early resume-building and testing weaknesses.
This year, the Bahamas will welcome the Wolverines (4-0) along with No. 6 North Carolina (4-0), No. 8 Gonzaga (6-0), No. 10 Oregon (5-0), No. 13 Seton Hall (4-1), Iowa State (3-1), Alabama (2-2) and Southern Miss (2-3). On Wednesday, Michigan kicks off the tournament against the Cyclones in one of its first true tests of the season.
The Wolverines are guaranteed at least three games throughout their stay in Atlantis and could face any of the visiting opponents throughout the tournament.
The Daily breaks down the three teams Michigan is most likely to face and what the Wolverines must be thankful for in the event of a Thanksgiving day win.
When the Wolverines take the floor on Wednesday against Iowa State, they will face a team that is practically their mirror image. Well, more like a funhouse mirror that slightly distorts the image.
The Cyclones use an up-tempo offense centered around a dynamic, ball-dominant guard who excels at ball distribution and rains 3-point shots. Add some bruising post players and a slightly worse turnover ratio and you have the Michigan Wolverines.
Iowa State’s offense is highlighted by one of the most exciting players in the country in sophomore Tyrese Haliburton. The point guard leads the nation in assists per game with 10.3. Who’s number three on that list? Senior guard Zavier Simpson.
Haliburton has emerged this season as one of the best facilitators in college basketball and continues his potent threat from deep after hitting 43.4 percent of his shots from beyond the arc last season.
Accompanying Haliburton is a loaded backcourt in Penn State transfer Rasir Bolton and Colorado State transfer Prentiss Nixon. Bolton leads the team in points per game, with 12.5, and is a consistent perimeter threat.
Per usual this season, Michigan’s clear advantage here is size and presence down low. If the Wolverines can find points in the paint, rebound effectively and find ways to neutralize Haliburton’s prolific passing, then they should be able to walk out with an important win.
If Michigan snakes out a win on Wednesday, it’s set to face the winner of Alabama-North Carolina. Assuming the Tar Heels, the clear favorite, take this one, the Wolverines will face their toughest opponent to date.
North Carolina has mowed down opponents thus far this season on its way to a 4-0 record and a plus-13.7 scoring margin. And it all goes through one man: freshman sensation Cole Anthony.
Saying the Tar Heels’ entire team identity is shaped around one figure will take some getting used to for college basketball pundits this season. North Carolina coach Roy Williams has consistently favored depth on his rosters and uses a wide array of talent to carve up opponents.
This season, though, that’s not the case; everything has rested on Anthony’s shoulders. So far, this is the furthest thing from a problem seeing as the true freshman is leading the team in many statistical categories, including points per game (22.8), assists (4.5) and steals (1.8).
Aside from the freshman phenom, North Carolina has used its elite size to outrebound and outplay its opponents early in the season. If Michigan matches up against the Tar Heels in Atlantis, big men Jon Teske and Colin Castleton will have to prepare for a battle down low.
Pay attention, because up-tempo basketball with prolific guard play will be a running theme throughout this tournament; and the Crimson Tide might exemplify this more than any other team.
Alabama coach Nate Oats loves running wheeling-and-dealing offenses whose guards almost consistently find success scoring the ball. This year’s leading guard comes in the form of 6-foot-3 sophomore Kira Lewis.
As a 17-year old freshman last season, Lewis led the team in many offensive categories and stands to be a primary key of Oats’ new offensive system. He leads the team with an eyebrow-raising 21.5 points per game. Accompanying Lewis are other capable guards in freshman guard Jaden Shackleford and West Virginia transfer Beetle Bolden.
If Michigan has proven anything early in the season, it’s that it knows how to handle up-tempo teams who love to launch a lot of 3-point shots. The Wolverines have conquered similar offenses in Creighton and Houston Baptist, making the necessary defensive adjustments and hammering their opponents down low.
When it comes down to it, a mid-level Alabama team should not threaten Michigan.
Gonzaga, Oregon, Seton Hall, Southern Miss
The other side of the bracket comes loaded with ranked teams in Gonzaga, Oregon and Seton Hall. For the sake of brevity, enjoy one sentence of analysis for each team.
Gonzaga: Forward Killian Tillie is back, and his ability to stretch the floor makes the Bulldogs a lethal team with a multi-faceted offensive attack.
Oregon: Another absolutely loaded backcourt highlighted by premier point guard Payton Pritchard which will keep even the most tenacious defenses up at night (The Wolverines take on the Ducks on Dec. 14 in Ann Arbor).
Seton Hall: Good luck to Simpson in trying to lock down the one-man wrecking crew that is Myles Powell.
Southern Mississippi: While the Golden Eagles may seem like a fish out of water among the fierce competition, big man Boban Jacdonmi (16.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per game) has emerged as a leader and could keep Southern Miss in some games.