RTC Conference Primers: #22 – Atlantic Sun ConferencePosted by nvr1983 on October 13th, 2010
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Predicted Order of Finish
- Belmont (16-4)
- East Tennessee State (15-5)
- Lipscomb (13-7)
- Campbell (12-8)
- Jacksonville (11-9)
- North Florida (10-10)
- Mercer (10-10)
- USC-Upstate (7-13)
- Kennesaw State (6-14)
- Stetson (5-15)
- Florida Gulf Coast (5-15)
- Markeith Cummings (F) – Kennesaw State (17.4 PPG and 6.1 RPG)
- Adnan Hodzic (C) – Lipscomb (22.7 PPG and 9.1 RPG; last year’s A-Sun POY)
- Mike Smith (G) – ETSU (15.3 PPG and 7.7 RPG as a sophomore; injured last year)
- Josh Slater (G) – Lipscomb (17.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG, and 5.2 APG)
- Ian Clark (G) – Belmont (14.9 RPG and 3.3 RPG; last year’s A-Sun Freshman of the Year)
Fred Landers (F) – UNF. Normally we would go with Lester Wilson, a forward out of Knoxville who decided to stay in Tennessee when he signed with ETSU, but the glut of perimeter players on the Buccaneer roster will probably limit Wilson’s playing time. Landers won’t have such a problem at UNF where he should get plenty of playing time at power forward and should contribute immediately for a team with an anemic offense where their leading scorer only scored 9.0 PPG.
What You Need To Know
- Last year the conference regular season championship was mess with four teams having identical 14-6 conference records. That kind of parity should not be an issue this year as it seems like two teams (Belmont and ETSU) have separated themselves from the rest of the field.
- After responding surprisingly well to losing five seniors last season, Belmont returns a team that should be the dominant team in the conference for the next two to three seasons with only two seniors on this year’s roster. Clark should be the driving force behind their push to make it back to the NCAA Tournament. You might remember the Bruins from their last trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2008 when they lost to #2 seed Duke by a single point in the opening round.
- While the Bruins will be relying on underclassmen, the Buccaneers will be relying on a strong group of seniors led by Mike Smith, a guard who was injured last year after only four games. Many expected the Buccaneers to fall apart after losing Smith, but they rebounded to make win the Atlantic Sun Tournament and make it to the NCAA Tournament before losing to #1 seeded Kentucky.
- If you are looking for a sleeper, keep an eye on Lipscomb who could be a threat with what might be the best 1-2 punch in the conference with Hodzic and Slater. If the Bisons are going to surprise Belmont and ETSU, those two will need help from Jordan Burgason (12.8 PPG) and Brandon Brown (10.4 PPG).
Belmont (NCAA Seed: #14). With their solid performance in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year last year, Rick Byrd should expect to make a trip back to the NCAA Tournament this year if they are able to overcome ETSU and Lipscomb. Even though the Bruins will rely heavily on Clark and Mick Hedgepeth (11.6 PPG and 6.5 RPG), they will need to get production out of Scott Saunders and Jon House on the inside and steady perimeter play from Drew Hanlen, Jonny Rice, and Jordan Campbell to win the Atlantic Sun.
- ETSU could have easily been considered the favorite to win the Atlantic Sun this year with a dynamic group of seniors who will surely be looking to leave school with three consecutive NCAA Tournament bids and maybe win a game when they get there. Honestly this one was a toss-up so it could go either way.
- With two 1st team all-conference players Lipscomb could also easily find a way to sneak into the NCAA Tournament if they get hot or Hodzic dominates the Atlantic Sun Tournament. If he does lead them to the NCAA Tournament, the inside-outside combo of Hodzic and Slater could present an interesting match-up for a power conference team that draws them on Selection Sunday.
Top 10 RPI Boosters [Ed. Note: For some reason Belmont’s schedule is not yet available online so we only know about one of their games.]
- November 12th: ETSU at Kentucky – A rematch of last year’s opening round game. Fortunately for ETSU, John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins will not be walking through that door (unless the Wizards and/or the Kings aren’t playing that night). Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, Brandon Knight and about 24,000 crazed Wildcats fans will be.
- November 12th: Lipscomb at UNC. The first regular season game of the year for the Bisons also doubles as the regular season debut of Harrison Barnes. We’re guessing the latter will get the headline on SportsCenter.
- November 12th: Campbell at Virginia Tech – The back-end of a home-and-home. Robbie Laing will probably be having nightmares about Malcolm Delaney after this one.
- November 15: ETSU at Murray State – In a match-up against one of the Cinderella teams from last year’s NCAA Tournament, the Buccaneers should be competitive against a Racers team that returns much of its balanced scoring attack. This could be a big game for the conference’s RPI and reputation early in the season.
- November 16th: Belmont at Tennessee – Part of the NIT Season Tip-Off. The last time these two teams met (2008) the Volunteers barely survived a 30-point barrage from Alex Renfroe before winning 79-77.
- November 22nd: Lipscomb at Baylor. LaceDarius Dunn may or may not be back in action for this game, but Perry Ellis will be. The Bisons have a chance to make this interesting if Dunn is still out and the Bears haven’t found a replacement on the inside for Ekpe Udoh to battle Hodzic.
- December 1st: ETSU at Dayton. Nobody can say that ETSU didn’t test itself with a solid out-of-conference schedule that has to rank up there with any in the country. A win against the Flyers and NBA prospect Chris Wright would only add to ETSU’s NCAA Tournament resume.
- December 18th: ETSU at Mississippi. A trip down to Starkville should mercifully be the last extremely difficult challenge for the Buccaneers (their game against a depleted Mississippi State will likely be one of the last games of Renardo Sidney‘s never-ending suspension). A win here against a middle-of-the-pack SEC team could be what the Atlantic Sun needs to avoid the dreaded 15/16 lines on Selection Sunday.
- December 20th: Jacksonville at Florida. An in-state game that the Dolphins will be at a decided disadvantage at this year without Ben Smith and Lehmon Colber, their top two players who just graduated.
- December 30th: Lipscomb at Memphis. Now that Josh Pastner has his recruits eligible (most notably Will Barton) this game should be much more challenging for the Bisons, but it should be an interesting contrast of styles.
Key Conference Games
We aren’t going to get too fancy here. This should be a three-team race so there are six games to mark on your calendar.
- January 13th – Lipscomb at Belmont
- January 21st – Lipscomb at ETSU
- January 23rd – Belmont at ETSU
- January 25th – Belmont at Lipscomb
- February 17th – ETSU at Belmont
- February 19th – ETSU at Lipscomb
NCAA Tournament History
There is no easy way to say this. The conference’s record in the NCAA Tournament is 3-29 (.094) and all three of those wins are courtesy of three schools (Arkansas-Little Rock, College of Charleston and Georgia State) that are not even in the conference any more. Belmont is the only team that is still in the Atlantic Sun that has come close to winning a game (in 2008 against Duke).
Even though it won’t get a lot of respect from many casual college basketball fans, the Atlantic Sun should be extremely competitive this season with three potentially solid teams. With their strong out-of-conference schedules we should see if these teams are legit. If the big three win a couple of those games (all on the road), the nation may finally begin to take notice.