PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) — There will be a wealth of women's basketball talent in the Bahamas over the next 10 days with seven of the top nine teams in The Associated Press poll playing in a pair of new tournaments on the island.
Top-ranked South Carolina and No. 2 UConn could meet for the first Battle 4 Atlantis women's basketball tournament championship Monday if both make it through a loaded field that also includes No. 9 Oregon.
“I think we’re at a place in women’s basketball where there’s a lot of parity,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “When you have parity, you’re unafraid to play the best teams in the country.”
A few days after the Battle 4 Atlantis wraps up, No. 3 Maryland, fourth-ranked Indiana, No. 5 N.C. State and seventh-ranked Stanford will open a round-robin tournament a few miles away at the Baha Mar resort.
“It’s the place to be in November for great hoops,” said ESPN analyst Deb Antonelli, the tournament director at Baha Mar. “The Atlantis event and Baha Mar are brand-new events to the island for women’s basketball. For Baha Mar, we’ve got four of the top seven teams. I don’t know we’ve ever had a tournament that’s had this quality of product this early.”
Coaches are excited for a chance to get away with their teams after the coronavirus forced programs to alter or cancel many plans over the last 18 months.
“I can’t overstate enough how hard last year was,” Indiana coach Teri Moren said. "We’ve always been a program that’s wanted to travel. Our experience isn’t solely basketball, it’s about seeing other parts of the world. We’ll go down and play some really great opponents and be together in a tropical paradise atmosphere."
Buffalo coach Felisha Legette-Jack echoed Moren's comments. The Bison were supposed to go to Spain for an overseas trip the summer COVID-19 hit and that was canceled. A few years earlier they were supposed to play in Puerto Rico, but a hurricane moved that tournament.
“Our team has earned the right to exhale,” Legette-Jack said. “This pandemic has been so tumultuous for our team. To get there early and to have them hang out one day on their own and stay a day later, they can let themselves relax.”
Men's teams will also make the trip to the Bahamas for the first college basketball games played outside the United States since COVID-19 changed the world in 2020.
The men's Battle 4 Atlantis tournament returns Nov. 24 after being called off last season due to the pandemic.
The field includes reigning national champion and ninth-ranked Baylor, which is returning to Atlantis for the first time since winning the event in 2016, plus No. 21 Auburn and No. 23 Connecticut. Hall of Fame coaches in Michigan State's Tom Izzo and Syracuse's Jim Boeheim also will join the fray.
Both the men's and women's Atlantis tournaments will take place in Imperial Arena, a converted ballroom at the resort seating about 3,500 fans.
This also is the first year of the men's Bahamas Championship at Baha Mar, a four-team field featuring No. 20 Maryland, Mississippi State, Louisville and Richmond. That event begins Thanksgiving Day and wraps up two days later.
Some other things to know about the tournaments:
No. 23 South Florida will actually be playing games at both venues. The women will play Syracuse in the opener at the Battle 4 Atlantis on Saturday. They'll also play on Sunday and Monday. Coach Jose Fernandez's squad will then play No. 7 Stanford on Friday at Baha Mar.
The top teams are loaded with talent. Preseason AP All-Americans Paige Bueckers of UConn and Aliyah Boston of South Carolina headline the fields. Other players to watch include Haley Jones of Stanford, Ashley Owusu of Maryland and Elissa Cunane of North Carolina State.
The Hurley brothers, Dan and Bobby, will get to spend some time together over the holidays as their teams are playing at the Atlantis tournament. Dan Hurley coaches No. 23 Connecticut while Bobby Hurley is in charge of Arizona State. The two teams are on opposite sides of the bracket.
More AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25
Doug Feinberg, The Associated Press