Eight teams, four in the AP Top 25 poll.
A combined 178 NCAA Tournament appearances and 20 National Championships amongst the participants.
Some are programs with recent success, other decades of dominance.
The Battle 4 Atlantis tournament will have some of nation’s top basketball programs, providing another early season challenge for the Florida Gators.
Florida will start off the tournament against Georgetown Wednesday, and will play UAB or Wisconsin Thursday. The Badgers are number two in the nation, defeating Boise State 78-54 Saturday. At 2-2 the UAB has the worst record in the tournament, but the Blazers could still provide a challenge to a Gators team limited by injuries.
Depending on how the Orange & Blue fare Thursday, they will play Oklahoma, UCLA, North Carolina or Butler Friday. All four have looked strong early in the year, with UCLA showing the potential to go deep in tournament play later in the season.
The SEC has made a push for teams to play tougher non-conference opponents during league meetings over the last few years. With a game in the books against Miami, the Battle 4 Atlantis, and matchups against Kansas and UConn in the coming months, head coach Billy Donovan said the games have allowed the staff to find things out about the team.
“I think the last three or four years we kind of decided to do this collectively,” Donovan said. “Myself and Mike Hill and Jeremy [Foley], to create a competitive schedule all the way through. I think there’s been a real focus, at least in home games for our fans, to have some really good non-conference quality games, and to try and play a national schedule.”
The tournament will be a chance for the team to continue to build cohesion, as they find ways to deal with early-season departures. Forward Dorian Finney-Smith (hand) and guard Eli Carter (foot) have both missed practices with injuries. While Finney-Smith is cleared to play, the team has kept him out so his hand has more time to heal. Carter has not been cleared to practice after suffering a mid-foot sprain in the Gators’ 61-56 overtime win over UL-Monroe.
However, forward Chris Walker has returned from a team suspension, scoring 4 points and taking down 6 rebounds in 26 minutes against the Warhawks. Donovan said Walker and center Jon Horford didn’t function well on the court, and since have worked on building upon the team’s chemistry. With the head coach trying new rotations, including playing Devin Robinson at power forward and Kasey Hill at shooting guard, Donovan has been impressed by the team’s willingness to work on areas that need improvement.
“I’ve had some teams that think they’ve got it all figured out and they don’t want to work,” Donovan said. “These guys know they don’t have it all figured out and they’re trying to work and get better and to me that was encouraging.”
Florida’s non-conference schedule has been a baptism by fire for a team still not at full strength. The Battle 4 Atlantis will give the Gators another chance to improve as a team, playing against some of the best the nation has to offer.
“I don’t know all the fields of all the events, but certainly this is a really good one in terms of the level of teams and competition, and obviously a lot of representation from a lot of different leagues across the country,” Donovan said. “I would think this would be one of the premiere ones. If it’s the best, I don’t know, but it’s certainly very good.”