PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) – Baylor coach Scott Drew knew his Bears, sixth in the standings, might need time to shuffle a modified roster after losing four starters in a national championship.
Instead, the Bears made their way through Battle 4 Atlantis. They were part of a group of teams – including champion Maui Invitational Wisconsin and No.5 Duke in his elimination from No.1 Gonzaga – that thrived during Thanksgiving week after retooling during the off-season.
It is quite a starting point if everyone also pursues an upward trajectory.
âIt’s kind of like dating,â Drew said of James Akinjo’s two-time transfer as the new playmaker. âYou’ve just started dating someone, you’ve got to figure it out. When you’ve been married for a few years, you know what your wife likes and dislikes. We will continue to follow this process.
The Bears’ departed starters include an Associated Press All-American team in Jared Butler, a third-place All-American and the 9th pick in the NBA Draft in Davion Mitchell and their second-leading scorer in MaCio Teague.
Drew turned to Akinjo, who had previously stopped in Georgetown and Arizona. Talented first-year forwards Kendall Brown and Jeremy Sochan have arrived. Returnees like LJ Cryer and Matthew Mayer have taken on bigger roles. And Baylor (7-0) continues to win big, last against Michigan State in the Atlantis title game with Akinjo as MVP.
Baylor have won 13 straight games since last year’s title in the Indianapolis bubble.
“Nobody cared who was scoring, they all played pretty hard defensively,” Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. âIt was nice to watch. Unfortunately, I had to look at them from a negative side.
At the Maui Invitational relocated to Las Vegas, Wisconsin beat Texas A&M, Houston No.12 and Saint Mary’s with their youngest team in decades. The Badgers (5-1) have lost six seniors and have two returning starters and 12 underclassmen. The average age of their starting lineup on opening night was 19.8, up from 22.6 last year.
The driving force was Johnny Davis, who averaged 23.7 points and 6.7 rebounds in three games to become Maui’s MVP. Davis averaged 7.0 points as a freshman reserve, but plays around 32 minutes per game in a starring role.
âI’m learning as everyone watches this group mature and grow in front of us,â Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said after the win over the Cougars.
Then there were the Blue Devils (7-0), who beat Gonzaga in Las Vegas on Friday in a game of caliber in late March. Duke missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1995 last season, but recharged himself with a top recruiting class, a veteran transfer boost from Marquette Theo John and a push from the co-captain. veteran Wendell Moore Jr.
This group could claim first place in Monday’s Top 25 AP in Hall of Famer Mike Krzyzewski’s final season.
“Since the offseason, every day we try to be consistent and train well,” said star first year Paolo Banchero. âOne thing is that there are no bad practices. â¦ So when you stack days like that, come in everyday and are consistent, in big games like this, you’ll be able to win and fight. “
THE REVERSE OF GONZAGA
The Gonzaga-Duke battle came three days after the Zags recalled their advantage by dominating No.2 at UCLA in Las Vegas. The performance included a 56% shot with national rookie No.1 Chet Holmgren among four players with at least a dozen points.
âThat’s the beauty of our system – anyone can step in any night,â said coach Mark Few. “And this team is so selfless.”
The holiday week tournaments included several classic moments, starting with Dayton defeating Kansas’ No.4 on Mustapha Amzil’s buzzer at the ESPN Events Invitational at Walt Disney World.
There was also a wild Battle 4 Atlantis opener between No.19 Auburn and No.22 UConn, with the Huskies taking a 115-109 double-overtime victory that felt like a game of NCAA tournament the second weekend.
THE RISE OF SMITH
Holmgren and Banchero have garnered the most attention among top freshmen, but Auburn’s Jabari Smith has his own strong start.
The 6-foot-10 McDonald’s All-American stood out as the choice of all Atlantis tournaments, balancing his outside shot with stretches of back-to-basket work. He averaged 19.3 points against UConn, Loyola Chicago and Syracuse, including 15 for 26 (58%) in the last two.
“I want him to be a complete player,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. âI want him to be inside and outside. I want him to be able to hold multiple positions. And I just want it to affect the win. That’s all he’s interested in.
CLEANING THE SPARTANS
The Izzo Spartans had a tough win over UConn in the Atlantis semifinals, but passed out in the face of Baylor’s push in the second half to cap off a tournament performance that saw Izzo promise. ” some changes”.
His worries: 51 turnovers in three games and toughening up mentally.
âWe’re going to do different things,â said Izzo, âbecause it’s easy to improve physically.â¦ Mentally it’s a little harder.
AP basketball writer John Marshall in Las Vegas contributed to this report.
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