Checking In On… the Atlantic Sun ConferencePosted by EMoyer on February 18th, 2012
Eric Moyer is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun Conference and Southern Conference and a contributor to the RTC SEC Microsite. You can find him on Twitter @EricDMoyer.
- Tickets Punched: The conference’s two newest programs, USC Upstate and FGCU, secured the first General Shale Brick A-Sun Championships berths recently. Eight of the 10 schools will earn spots for the event, set to begin on Wednesday, February 29. For the third straight year, Mercer will serve as host.
- High Scoring Defeats: Stetson’s grasp on the eighth and final qualifying position became more tenuous as the Hatters dropped a pair of high-scoring affairs to Lipscomb (99-91) and Belmont (106-93). The Hatters have lost six games this season when scoring at least 80 points. Only one other school in the country has suffered even five such defeats (VMI).
Since this edition is the last “Checking In On” for the A-Sun before the end of the season, no time seemed more appropriate than now to dole out some hardware (hardware not included).
- Coach of the Year: Bob Hoffman, Mercer – In the preseason, Belmont dominated the top of the polls, garnering a combined 36 of the 39 first-place votes between the coaches and media. Hoffman’s Bears reached 20 wins for just the seventh time in 106 years and did it without the star power of someone like past standouts such as James Florence, Danny Emerson or Brian Mills. Six players average between 8.1 and 11.0 points per game this season.
- Defensive Player of the Year: Isiah Brown, ETSU – Brown moved into the top 10 in A-Sun history in blocks and top 20 in rebounds. He also surpassed the 100-steal mark for his career.
- Game of the Year: While Mercer scored the only win against a BCS school (at Georgia Tech) and ETSU’s Jarvis Jones buried a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer at Charlotte, the winner goes to USC Upstate taking down Belmont for the first time in program history. The Spartans rallied from 16 points down in the first half and only took the lead on a game-winning bucket by Torrey Craig with two seconds left. That win started a three-game win streak for USC Upstate against Belmont, Lipscomb and ETSU, a streak not seen in the league in six years.
- Freshman of the Year: Brett Comer, FGCU – After teaming with Austin Rivers in high school, Comer fit right in at FGCU by averaging 9.1 points and a league-leading 5.5 assists. He is on pace to be one the few freshmen in the country to record both 100 rebounds and 100 assists.
- All-Conference Team: Torrey Craig, USC Upstate (17.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.3 SPG); Jake Gollon, Mercer (10.6 PPG, 5.7 APG, 83.3 FG Pct) Kerron Johnson, Belmont (13.9 PPG, 5.4 APG, 52.5 FG Pct); Adam Pegg, Stetson (14.7 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 50.4 FG Pct); Adam Sollazzo, ETSU (15.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 4.5 APG)
- Player of the Year – Torrey Craig, USC Upstate. Craig reaps the benefits of the balance attacks featured at Mercer and Belmont to earn the league’s top individual honor. Of course pacing the league in scoring and ranking second in rebounding didn’t hurt his candidacy.
- Mercer (20-7, Previous Ranking: 2): The Bears won the highly-anticipated showdown with USC Upstate on Feb. 4, then survived a tight road contest an in-state rival Kennesaw State to reach 20 victories for the seventh time in school history and for the first time since 2002-03. The regular-season title, top seed in the A-Sun Championship and the league’s automatic NIT bid could be at stake when the Bears welcome Belmont in the regular-season finale.
- Belmont (20-7, Previous Ranking: 3): In improving to 12-2 in A-Sun play, the Bruins extended their streak of seasons with at least 12 league victories to nine-in-a-row. No other school can boast such an active streak, however, Kansas needs to win just one of its final five Big 12 contests to join the Bruins at eight.
- USC Upstate (17-10, Previous Ranking: 1): The Feb. 4 loss to Mercer likely ended the Spartans’ dreams of an A-Sun regular-season crown. However, they are in a strong position to post the biggest turnaround in the nation. The Spartans have 12 more victories than a season ago, matching Manhattan for the biggest win improvement from 2010-11.
- FGCU (13-13, Previous Ranking: 4): The Eagles held steady in the #4 position thanks to scoring their largest victory against a league foe not named USC Upstate, a 21-point win against Lipscomb on Monday.
- ETSU (13-12, Previous Ranking: 6): The Bucs’ offensive woes in losses reared their ugly heads again in recent losses at Mercer an at home against Jacksonville. In the two losses, the Bucs shot only 31.8 percent from floor (22.2 percent from 3-point arc). ETSU needs only one win or a Jacksonville loss to clinch its spot in the A-Sun Championship.
- North Florida (13-15, Previous Ranking: 7): After winning four of five to return to the .500 level, the offensive fire power left the Ospreys on their road trip to ETSU and USC Upstate. They were outscored by 20.0 points per game. The sputter came after shooting nearly 56 percent in wins against Stetson and FGCU. Like the Bucs, the Ospreys need only a win or a Dolphin loss to return to the A-Sun Championship.
- Lipscomb (12-14, Previous Ranking: 5): The Bisons suffered a major setback last week when the school kicked out Player of the Year contender and the nation’s top 3-point shooter, Jordan Burgason, citing a violation of team rules. In the team’s first game without him, the Bisons came within one point of matching the all-time NCAA Division I record for points in an overtime session when they scored 24 in besting Stetson on Saturday.
- Jacksonville (6-20, Previous Ranking: 9): One considered dead in the water, the Dolphins have re-entered the picture for making an sixth straight appearance in the A-Sun Championship. They have closed to within one game of Stetson by scoring big recent victories against the Hatters and at ETSU. The Dolphins close with three home games and could use their recent stingy defense (60.8 PPG) to claim that eighth spot.
- Stetson (8-18, Previous Ranking: 8): Despite increasing their scoring in league games by more than 10 points per game on last season, the Hatters, once a sure bet to return to the A-Sun Championship now hold only a one-game lead on Jacksonville and face road games at FGCU, USC Upstate and ETSU to close out the regular season. As an add on to the Hatters’ bad luck when scoring at least 80 points, the rest of the country is 1407-197 when scoring at least 80 points (87.7 win percentage); the Hatters are 0-6.
- Kennesaw State (3-24, Previous Ranking: 10): The Owls’ modest streak of qualifying for the A-Sun Championship in consecutive years officially ended as the Owls fell to 0-14 in league play. No A-Sun school has gone winless in league games since Campbell in 2004-05.
Here are a couple of games in the coming days for fans to keep an eye out for:
- Monday, February 20: USC Upstate at Belmont: The only A-Sun school to beat Belmont besides Lipscomb since the start of last season came on Jan. 21 at USC Upstate. The Spartans rallied from 16 down at the half to score their first-ever victory against the perennial heavyweight. Torrey Craig hit the game-winning shot with two seconds left, part of a 22-point effort. The Spartans will attempt to become just the fifth team to sweep the Bruins in the last seven years.
- Friday, February 24: North Florida at Jacksonville: With Belmont leaving for the OVC next season, the “SunTrust River City Rumble” becomes the conference’s lone crosstown rival. The Dolphins have controlled the series until very recently. Beginning at last year’s A-Sun Championship where the Ospreys broke an 11-game losing streak to the Dolphins, UNF has won the last two meetings. Jacksonville will need to keep winning to pass Stetson for the eighth spot in the upcoming A-Sun Championship.
- Saturday, February 25: Belmont at Mercer: This game could loom monumental of both teams postseason aspirations. With two weeks to play, the Bears and Bruins own identical 12-2 marks in league play with Belmont owning the head-to-head tiebreaker thanks to a 82-78 home victory on Dec. 3. Despite all the advantages that come to the top seeds, the loser can take solace in the fact that the top seed has won only two of the last 10 A-Sun Tournament titles.