Bahamas– Mostly sunny with blue skies. Beautiful wildlife and flora are taken in by the millions of tourists that voyage down to the tropical destination. Most come for the rest and restoration, sunbathing and relaxing among the white beaches that encompass the island. It’s known to be a place where couples can recuperate their mind and bodies for a weekend from the everyday stresses they face back home.
However, this time around, it’s purely a business trip. Not a coat and tie, per se, but one that’s strictly focused on one task only: winning the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament. The competition is much stiffer, with teams that were in last year’s March Madness tournament. This includes Butler, Florida, and Oklahoma.
Virginia has been playing the older brother role for the past three games, teaching non-conference teams what it’s like to experience elite-level playmaking and talent. In their last game, they crushed Coppin State 97-40. Sophomore guard and NBA prospect De’Andre Hunter, led the way in his limited action, scoring 20 points in 15 minutes. Head coach Tony Bennett even kept the fans engaged by bringing in basketball manager Grant Kersey into the fray, as his lone three-point shot erupted John Paul Jones Arena. Moving away from home, Virginia basketball will enter unchartered waters, playing against a Middle Tennessee team that has proven to inflict damage on power 5 teams. In 2016, we experienced shockwaves that reverberated across college basketball. The 2016 upset over #2 seed Michigan State as a #15 seed may go in the books as one of the greatest EVER. The train didn’t stop the following year, as they upset #5 seed Minnesota in the first round.
All too familiar for Virginia Basketball?
WOOF WOOF! Yes, those are the sounds that warm dog-lovers hearts, but they were also the sounds of UMBC fans who continue mocking the Virginia basketball fan-base
The stakes for the Battle 4 Atlantis aren’t as high as March Madness, where there is over 97 million people from 180 observing it. But this tournament is a true test to see where Virginia stands in the nation. Teams that can shoot you out of the building, teams that play ferociously on both ends, and teams that do all the little things right. Unfortunately for the Blue Raiders, Virginia is a mix of all of these. To make matters worse, they have three NBA prospects that can hurt you in multiple ways.
Virginia’s offense runs through point guard Ty Jerome, who has taken tremendous strides to his game, improving court vision and shooting touch. In his first year as a full-time starter, Jerome had flashes of brilliance, such as knocking down the dagger that hushed Cameron Indoor Stadium. He averaged 10.6 points, 3.9 assists, and 3.1 rebounds. Those numbers have springboarded significantly, into 2018, placing him into the national player of the year discussion. He’s been outstanding, averaging 17 points, 5.7 assists, and 4.3 rebounds. He’s not phased by any sort of limelight and carries himself with a calm demeanor when operating Bennett’s offense. Whether that’s finding the open cutter or capitalizing on late closeouts, Jerome delivers for this Cavaliers team.
Can Middle Tennessee have any magic pixie dust from the 2015-2016 season?
One word: NO. Since their magical upset of Michigan State in the opening round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament, they’ve lost every single one of those players except senior forward Karl Gamble. And Karl Gamble isn’t the Blue Raiders star player. They are led by transfer Antonio Green, a high-scoring guard from Tupelo, Mississippi. He’s performed admirably, after spending last season sitting out because of the NCAA transfer by-laws. Currently, he’s averaging 22.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2 assists a game. Athletic, agile, and aggressive are the perfect descriptives to describe his play as they will be instrumental to have any shot of a top-3 defense.
Tony Bennett will have his team rolling again, seeking that signature win to kick off the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. This is the best defense the Blue Raiders will ever experience. The only shot they have outside dreaming is finding a three-point groove, taking advantage of any late-close outs that the defense presents. Every possession will have to be taken seriously for this team to stay within double-digits but even that won’t stymie the attacking trio of Kyle Guy, Jerome, and De’Andre Hunter. Virginia has way too many weapons for the Blue Raiders to worry about.