Checking In On… the Atlantic Sun ConferencePosted by rtmsf on January 6th, 2012
- After each school opened league play in December, the A-Sun’s conference season resumed on Monday. Belmont and Mercer each scored a pair of impressive victories. The Bruins own the only unblemished A-Sun mark at 4-0, while the Bears sport a 3-1 mark – with that lone loss coming at Belmont. Both have positioned themselves inside of CollegeRPI.com’s top 100.
- For the Bruins, this start only builds off their dominating championship season of a year ago. Over their last 27 games against A-Sun foes, the Bruins own a 26-1 mark with the one loss came against their next opponent, cross-town rival Lipscomb.
- For Mercer, wins against Florida Gulf Coast and Stetson came on the heels on a 13-day road swing on which the Bears notched wins at Georgia Tech and Navy to conclude the non-conference portion of the season at 8-5, their best non-conference record since going 5-2 in 2004-05.
- On Tuesday, legendary head coach Gene Bartow passed away at the age of 81. His son, Murry, took to the bench one day later guiding his East Tennessee State Buccaneers to an 88-73 victory against USC Upstate. Following that win, which improved the Bucs’ record to 6-7 (1-2 in league play), Bartow said, “Today was difficult and the last 24 hours were tough with the news of my dad. But I was proud of my guys and the way they came out ready to play. We had a lot riding on this game because we started the year 0-2 in our conference, and then my dad passing away just added even more motivational factors. Honestly, I would have shocked if we had lost considering all of that.”
- Bartow’s first head coaching job came following his dad at UAB. In nine seasons in Johnson City, he has taken the Bucs to three NCAA Tournaments, one NIT appearance, and advanced to the semifinals in last year’s CIT. In a statement released by ETSU, Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Dave Mullins said, “On behalf of the entire ETSU athletic department, we pass along our condolences to the Bartow family. Gene Bartow was a true gentleman and obviously one of the greatest head coaches in the history of college basketball. It was our great fortune to get to know him and have him as part of the Buccaneer family over the last eight years.”
Welcome to the Family
- On December 8, the Atlantic Sun announced it would add Northern Kentucky University to the conference for the 2012-13 academic season. The Norse will give the conference its first school ever from the common wealth of Kentucky and will keep the membership at 10 schools as Belmont will leave for the Ohio Valley Conference. Northern Kentucky represents the first expansion for the A-Sun since FGCU and USC Upstate joined in the fall of 2007. NKU carries a rich basketball tradition that includes a pair of Division II Regional Championships and features the 9,400-seat Bank of Kentucky Center, the jewel of the NKU facilities.
- Belmont (11-5): The overwhelming favorite missed on two chances to score premier wins during non-conference play, dropping a one-point decision to Duke and losing at Memphis. The Bruins rebounded from a mid-December swoon by defeating Marshall at the Curb Event Center and winning at Austin Peay before taking a pair in “The River City” toppling UNF and Jacksonville by a combined 42 points. Showing they maintain tremendous depth, 10 players average more than 9.0 MPG and five averaged double figures in scoring.
- Mercer (11-6): Picked fifth in the preseason polls, the Bears amassed their best non-conference record in seven years, 8-5, and scored their first victory against Georgia Tech since 1974. The Bears lost more than 67% of its scoring and 60% of its rebound totals off of its 2010-11 roster, so head coach Bob Hoffman has relied on a balanced attack with four players averaging between 9.8 and 11.2 points per game. The Bears have also been getting the job done at the defensive end, holding opponents to a conference-best 63.9 points per game.
- North Florida (8-8): Last season’s runner-up to Belmont again challenged itself in the non-conference portion of the season by taking to the road to face Alabama, Florida, Miami (FL), Ohio State, Kansas State, Auburn, and Virginia Tech so it’s no surprise to see where the Ospreys’ seven out-of-league losses came from. They scored an important victory against cross-town rival Jacksonville in early December, their first win against the Dolphins in front of the home fans since January 2006.
- USC Upstate (8-7): During their four-year reclassification period (which ended at the conclusion of last season), the Spartans won an average of less than seven games per season. With eight victories already, they have exceeded last year’s total by three and could have scored more wins during the non-conference, losing two-possession games to Toledo (at Dayton) and at South Carolina. Sophomore Torrey Craig (17.3 PPG/7.2 RPG) again leads the way, pacing the A-Sun in scoring and ranking third in rebounding.
- Florida Gulf Coast (5-8): Like USC Upstate, the Eagles concluded their reclassification last season and also like the Spartans, they have suffered multiple close losses that could have easily reversed the Eagles’ 5-8 mark. They lost by one point at TCU, at Southern Methodist, and at Nebraska all within the first month of the season. Under first-year coach Andy Enfield, the Eagles rank second in the conference in both field goal percentage at 45.8% and in defensive field goal percentage at 40.8%.
- East Tennessee State (6-7): The Buccaneers curiously struggled out the gates. In early December, they traveled to FGCU and Stetson, against whom the Buccaneers owned a combined 14-6 mark, and suffered a pair of losses as part of a four-game slide. After responding with two victories, the Bucs narrowly claimed wins at Tennessee and Clemson, falling by a combined 10 points to the two BCS foes. Adam Sollazzo, a career 5.4 PPG scorer entering his senior season, has become the go-to guy in Johnson City, pacing the Bucs at 15.0 per game this season.
- Lipscomb (7-9): The Bison had to replace almost 4,600 points of production following the graduations of Adnan Hodzic, Josh Slater and Brandon Brown. Sharpshooter Jordan Burgason, who missed the first five games of the season, has lived up the billing, shooting 52.6% from the 3-point arc – highlighted by a Bison NCAA-era single-game record nine 3-pointers from the Ames, Iowa native in a homecoming game at Iowa State. No A-Sun shooter has finished a season hitting on at least 50% of his 3-point tries since 1996-97.
- Stetson (5-9): After a 3-1 start, the Hatters have notched just two wins in their last 10 games, both which did come against A-Sun opponents. For the second-straight year Stetson took down ETSU at the Edmunds Center and on Monday (they also won at Kennesaw State for the first time in three years). Under first-year head coach Casey Alexander, the Hatters rank second to Belmont (where Alexander served as an assistant to Rick Byrd for 16 years) in 3-point field goals per game at 8.0 per game, up from 5.3 per game last year.
- Kennesaw State (3-12): The first season for Lewis Preston has been a struggle. Early in the season he had to suspend the A-Sun Preseason Player of the Year Markeith Cummings and on the court the Owls rank last in the conference in scoring margin and rebounding margin. Cummings has returned to the team and leads the Owls in scoring. He needs 11 points to surpass Ronell Wooten for the Owls’ Division I career scoring record.
- Jacksonville (2-12): It has been a shocking season for a program that has averaged 19 wins over the past four seasons and was picked third by the media, fourth by the coaches in the preseason. The Dolphins have suffered 10 straight losses since opening 2-2 – their longest losing streak since 2007-08 – and rank second to last in scoring and field goal percentage.
Here are a couple of games in the coming days for fans to keep an eye out for:
- Monday, Jan. 9: Mercer at USC Upstate
- Saturday, Jan. 14: Stenson at Belmont
- Saturday, Jan. 14: USC Upstate at North Florida