- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Early-season tournaments go through phases. At various times in the past 20 years, different tournaments could be considered the "premiere" early-season event, the one with the greatest exposure and largest reach and, most importantly, the best teams. Typically, the Maui Invitational holds down the fort, but the preseason NIT has had its moments, and the Battle 4 Atlantis's 2012 field might have been the best November group ever.
That's not really hyperbole, either. Last season, the Battle 4 Atlantis stopped being a mostly obscure event in a sea of similar setups -- known more for its Atlantis resort ballroom basketball setup than anything else, probably -- and put together one of the best early-season fields you'll ever see. Louisville, Duke, Memphis, Missouri, Minnesota, VCU, Stanford, Northern Iowa. At the time, all of these teams looked like top-25 squads; retroactively, despite the struggles of Minnesota, Missouri and UNI, the thing still holds up.
As we learned on Monday afternoon, the 2013 Battle 4 Atlantis won't match those insane scheduling heights. It will, however, feature the Kansas Jayhawks and No. 1-ranked world destroyer Andrew Wiggins, as well as a handful of solid and/or ascendant programs: Iowa, Villanova, Tennessee, USC, Xavier, UTEP, and Wake Forest. The full (and somewhat awkwardly formatted) bracket is available here.
It's hardly the murderer's row of 2012, which is sort disappointing, at least in a general sense. Last fall, when everyone (from reporters to scouts to the programs and players themselves) touted the tourney's merits (including the fact that you get to stay in a really nice place without having to fly to the middle of the Pacific Ocean, to name one), it genuinely looked like the Battle 4 Atlantis was on a path toward early-season bracket domination. This year's field is a little bit pedestrian -- certainly by comparison, and arguably even without it.
But that's OK, because there are still some very interesting teams. Kansas is obviously chief atop that list, seeing as we'll be buying tickets for the Wiggins show right around this point, but Iowa is right up there too. A really good, even ahead-of-schedule young defensive team in 2012-13 that will carry over almost all of its best players and even add a couple of pieces, the Hawkeyes are a legitimate threat in the top half of the Big Ten next season, and this will be their first best chance to let the rest of the world know about it. Tennessee has plenty of talent in Jordan McRae, Jarnell Stokes and a back-from-injury Jeronne Maymon; now it's time to go out and earn a tournament bid. Xavier is Xavier. Villanova appears to be back on an upward trajectory after a couple years spent backsliding into mediocrity, and Andy Enfield's first season at USC will be interesting to track. And, hey, we'll get a full accounting of where Wake Forest basketball is at the start of its fourth season under Jeff Bzdelik. Doesn't that sound like fun?
So, to review: Contrary to previous forecast, the Battle 4 Atlantis is apparently not going to subsume the entire November tournament schedule, but instead wax and wane as all good early-season tournaments do. This year's version may not be stacked, but at this point of the offseason, you could tell me Andrew Wiggins was taking jumpers in a gym somewhere in Ontario and I'd ask you if we could watch it on TV. Beggars, choosers, etc. Just give me basketball.