Checking in on… the Atlantic Sun

Posted by jstevrtc on December 11th, 2009


Ryan Dunn is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun Conference.

Current Standings:

  1. Belmont (7-2, 2-0)
  2. Campbell (5-2, 1-0)
  3. East Tennessee State (5-5, 1-0)
  4. USC Upstate (1-6, 1-0)
  5. Kennesaw State (4-4, 1-1)
  6. Lipscomb (3-5, 1-1)
  7. Jacksonville (0-5, 0-0)
  8. Florida Gulf Coast (0-6, 0-0)
  9. Stetson (2-5, 0-1)
  10. Mercer (4-5, 0-2)
  11. North Florida (1-5, 0-2)

League Nuggets:

Conference play is underway in the Atlantic Sun and so far the pre-conference trends have continued through the first weeks of the conference season.  Lipscomb and Mercer still cannot defend anyone.  Campbell continues to win games but still has the toughest part of their schedule upcoming.  Jonathan Rodriguez has broken even more records since our last Atlantic Sun look in.  He now has the most career double-doubles in league history with 43 and has also moved into second place on the school’s all-time scoring list.  Speaking of records, Mercer’s James Florence continues to shatter league and school records as well.

Hottest Team:

The Belmont Bruins are clearly the hottest team this go around and are getting hot at the perfect time with conference play getting underway.  The Bruins have reeled off five straight W’s in the last two weeks.  Two key statistics stand out for their success up to this point.  The Bruins lead the Atlantic Sun in both field goal percentage (49.5%) and field goal percentage defense (39.6%).  They are led by a quartet of double figure scorers in Keaton Belcher (13.4 PPG), Mick Hedgepeth (13.3 PPG), Ian Clark (12.9 PPG), and Scott Saunders (10.0 PPG).

Biggest Disappointment:

After starting the season at a 3-2 clip the Mercer Bears have dropped three straight and most importantly their first two conference games before finally knocking off Piedmont just last night.  The Bears feature the top scorer in the league and the best rebounder in the league but as we have seen from this club over the last couple of years, talent isn’t always what wins games.  The Bears have the talent to be near the top of the league but have yet to figure out how to pick up wins in the Atlantic Sun.   It is puzzling to figure out how the Bears are struggling as they are near the top of the league in most categories; however, they are giving up over 78 PPG and is a key factor to their struggles in the last couple of weeks.

Best of the Rest:

Campbell – The Camels continue to impress as they are off to their best start since becoming a Division I school (1977-78).  During the first half of Monday’s win over Southern Virginia, Jonathan Rodriguez moved into 2nd place on Campbell’s all-time senior college scoring list (1737) behind only Sam Staggers (1947 points from 1973-77).  Rodriguez also set the Atlantic Sun Conference record for career double-doubles (43) on Monday vs. Southern Virginia.   Rodriguez already has four double-doubles on the year.  Campbell leads the Atlantic Sun Conference in scoring defense (62.2 PPG), scoring margin (+11.2), steals (11.3) and turnover margin (+3.3), while ranking 2nd in free throw percentage (.710), defensive FG percentage (.423) and rebounding margin (+5.0).

ETSU – The Bucs earned an impressive victory at Arkansas before knocking off North Florida to open conference play. Alabama transfer Justin Tubbs (15.6 PPG) continues to impress for ETSU along with junior Tommy Hubbard (15.8 PPG) as the duo ranks sixth and seventh in scoring in the A-Sun.  The Bucs dropped two straight against Tennessee and UAB knocking off North Georgia.  ETSU has finally got production from preseason all-conference selection Mike Smith, as he had started out the season with an injury.  If he can provide a spark, look for the Bucs to be near the top of the league.

Florida Gulf Coast – The Eagles are near the bottom of the league in just about every category but, in their defense, a very tough non-conference schedule is causative of the poor stats.  The lone bright spots for the Eagles are freshman Anthony Banks (11.7 PPG) and sophomore Reggie Chambers (10.2 PPG).

Jacksonville – Our preseason pick to finish second in the league is off to a slow start, but like Florida Gulf Coast, the Dolphins have started with a brutal non-conference schedule.   They most recently dropped a contest to #11 Florida at home 86-67 where they were in the contest pretty much throughout until the final few minutes.   I am fairly confident that the Dolphins will make plenty of noise in conference play.  Jacksonville is led in scoring by Ben Smith who is averaging 15 PPG.

Kennesaw State – The Owls are proving to be anything but an easy out in conference play.  They dropped a heartbreaker to open league play against Belmont before earning a huge win over Lipscomb in which they drilled a school record 19 treys while shooting 76% from deep.  The Owls set a school Division I record for field goal percentage in the contest as well at 63%.   Redshirt freshman Markeith Cummings leads the Owls in scoring at 17.3 PPG, good enough for fifth in the league.

Lipscomb – The Bisons were picked as our most disappointing team during our last check in and still continue to struggle even though they have picked up a couple of victories.   Lipscomb earned a nice victory over Mercer to start conference play in which they reeled off 98 points.  The Bisons are led by Adnan Hodzic, who was our pick for preseason player of the year in the league.  Hodzic is second in the league in scoring at just under 22 PPG and is fourth in rebounding at 7.6 RPG.  A nice surprise has been the play of guard Josh Slater who is third in the league in scoring at 19 per.

North Florida – The Ospreys have continued to play hard under new head coach Matthew Driscoll.  UNF is winless in conference play up to this point but gave Campbell a real scare on the road but they were unable to hold on to a first half lead.  The Ospreys will surprise teams in this league with their rugged play.

Stetson – There is really no way around but the Hatters just might be the worst team in the league at this point.  Their only two wins have come against non-Division I opponents but their slow down style of play will keep them in games, but I don’t expect too many victories from this team.  Guard A.J. Smith (14 PPG) is the only legitimate scoring threat for the Hatters.

USC Upstate – The Spartans got off to a nice start to conference play with a 22 point victory over struggling Stetson. Upstate had a very difficult non-conference schedule and while not the most talented team in the league they do play very hard.   I look for the Spartans to be competitive in the league and earn some upsets over some of the heavyweights.

Key Upcoming Games:

  • Lipscomb @ Cincinnati (12/19) – Games like this are interesting this time of the year with the distraction of exams and the holidays so look for this game to be either very close or a game that gets out of hand early.
  • Jacksonville @ Campbell (12/19) – A huge early season conference tilt that features two teams that look to be fighting at the top of the conference.
  • Jacksonville @ ETSU (12/21) – Jacksonville starts out A-Sun play with quite possibly their toughest conference road stretch as they take on a tough ETSU squad just two days after taking on Campbell.
  • Mercer @ Vanderbilt (12/21) – Mercer has a history of knocking off major conference opponents so look for James Florence and the crew to give Vandy their best shot as the holidays approach.
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