For Arizona and most high-major college basketball teams, early season tournaments aren’t about the money.
It’s about playing (usually) good teams in a neutral-court setting that mimics the NCAA Tournament and accelerating their RPIs and experience level while getting to play four games that only count for three against the NCAA scheduling maximum.
Beach time and/or sightseeing are bonuses.
But playing in the Battle 4 Atlantis this week should also net Arizona some decent cash: The Wildcats basically get an all-expenses-paid trip to the Bahamas and a $150,000 fee for showing up. The school merely has to pay the difference between commercial airfare that the event would have provided and its charter flight.
“It wasn’t a deciding factor in why we did it, but it’s obviously great for us to get that for the athletic department,” said Ryan Reynolds, UA’s director of basketball operations.
Many other early season events pay little, if anything. UA received all of a $7,500 stipend for playing in the 2015-16 Wooden Legacy event in Fullerton and Anaheim, California, and nothing from the Las Vegas Invitational they played in last season.
“Most of them just pay for travel and basic stuff,” Reynolds said.
Begun in 2011, the Battle 4 Atlantis not only offered teams generous packages in exchange for their participation, but also used to throw out a generous performance “donation” of up to $200,000 to schools that play in the winner’s bracket.
The performance incentive was included when Arizona signed the contract for the event in October 2013. It was amended out on Jan. 27, 2017, in an agreement signed by both sides, according to records obtained by the Star under a public records request.
Even if the trip breaks even, Arizona still comes out well ahead in basketball terms. The Wildcats will open with a high-major opponent (N.C. State), will face a well-respected mid-major on Thursday (SMU or Northern Iowa) and could face fifth-ranked Villanova in the championship game if both teams win their first two games.
Arizona already played a game that won’t count toward the scheduling limit when it hosted UMBC in a “mainland” game at McKale Center on Nov. 12.
Not surprisingly, Arizona coach Sean Miller is a fan of the multi-team events. Even last year, when UA played two consecutive days in the less-prestigious Las Vegas Invitational over two straight days, he said it was a valuable experience — in part because Arizona lost 69-65 to Butler in the final.
“Three games in three days is very challenging,” Miller said. “It tests your starters, guys who played heavy minutes, but you learn a lot about your team. Your team grows from that experience.
“We really improved after we lost to Butler because we had our team’s attention. We were able to fix some things that needed to be fixed. ... playing just at home or not playing great competition only does so much for you. (In the Battle 4 Atlantis) we have both of those challenges.”
- Arizona moved to No. 2 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll released Monday, after then-No. 2 Michigan State lost to top-ranked Duke last week. Villanova was No. 5, while among definite UA opponents USC was No. 10, Texas A&M 16th and UCLA 23rd.
- Five-star center Bol Bol of California’s Mater Dei High School announced he will play for Oregon next season. Arizona was believed to be leading for the son of former NBA standout Manute Bol before the federal investigation into college basketball became public in September.
- ASU’s Tra Holder was named the Pac-12 Player of the Week after averaging 23.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.7 assists in three Sun Devil wins last week. He scored 35 points on 13-for-15 shooting against UC Irvine.