Checking in on… the Atlantic Sun

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 10th, 2010

Bucky Dent is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun Conference. 

A Look Back

  • The Mercurial Bucs: East Tennessee State notched an impressive win last Wednesday at Dayton, which had a 40-game winning streak at UD Arena against non-conference foes. So with all that momentum behind them, the Buccaneers naturally went down to USC Upstate and face-planted, losing 60-59 in a game which saw them hit nine of their first 40 shots and blow no less than a dozen layups. That loss carried over to a 79-59 blowout defeat at College of Charleston, dropping them to 3-4 as they enter a very tough part of an eight-game road trip (at Mississippi State, at Ole Miss, three games in Cancun). While it‘s a long season, ETSU might regret that inexplicable loss at Upstate if it costs it a better seed come conference tournament time.
  • The Spartan Life: Remember what we said two weeks ago about USC Upstate struggling to win a game? Well, the Spartans took that theory and pitched it right out the door of the Hodge Center with a double overtime win over UNC Asheville and the aforementioned upset of ETSU. Upstate hadn‘t beaten the Bucs in six prior tries, but got a great game from Torrey Craig. He scored 18 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, but his best play was grabbing a loose ball along the baseline and turning a broken play into Chalmers Rogers’ game-winning layup with 3.6 seconds left. Craig already looks like a go-to guy for a program which hasn’t had one of those for a while.
  • Player of the Week: Ayron Hardy, Jacksonville – The do-it-all 6‘5 senior continues to stuff the stat sheet the way dead Chicagoans used to stuff the ballot box back in the day. Hardy spearheaded the Dolphins’ home sweep of A-Sun foes Stetson and Florida Gulf Coast by averaging 11 points, 10 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. Just missing the gold medal were Craig and North Florida’s Jerron Granberry. Craig’s 15 rebounds against ETSU were the third-most by a freshman in the country this year, while Granberry scored 20 points on just eight shot attempts, hitting 6-6 on three-pointers, in a Cancun victory over Prairie View A&M.

Power Rankings

1. Belmont (6-2, 1-0)
Next Week: 12/16 vs. Kennesaw State
The Bruins keep on trucking with superior depth and defense. They‘ve forced at least 16 turnovers in each of their first eight games this season, including 27 from unbeaten Tennessee. Belmont’s only losses are to SEC East powers Tennessee and Vanderbilt, and neither one exactly ran and hid. In fact, the Bruins will get another crack at the Volunteers December 23 in Knoxville. Guard Jordan Campbell, who struggled badly from deep for the season’s first seven games, helped Belmont pull out an overtime win over Middle Tennessee State by canning eight threes. If the A-Sun were a horserace, Belmont would be a 2-to-1 favorite at this point.

2. Jacksonville (6-1, 2-0)
Next Week: 12/12 at Winthrop, 12/15 at Saint Louis
One has to love how the Dolphins are playing defense. In four of their six wins, they’ve held the opposition to 60 points or less, doing it with perhaps the conference’s smallest lineup. They pressure the ball and force the opposition into either turnovers or quick shots, then finish the possession by getting a rebound nearly 70 percent of the time. While there will be a couple of difficult non-conference tests prior to January, JU looks like a good bet for a 20-win season, barring injury or a sudden decrease in defensive efficiency

3. Lipscomb (5-2, 1-0)
Next week: 12/11 at Tennessee Tech
The best news out of a three-game winning streak is that the Bisons did it mostly with defense. The opposition’s field goal percentage has dropped to 43.7, which could give this team a serious chance to win a conference title with all the firepower it has on board. Adnan Hodzic is now averaging a double-double (20.3 points, 10.3 rebounds) and Josh Slater is starting to hit his shots, upping his shooting percentage to a more palatable 46.2. Jordan Burgason is a concern, though, as the normally deadeye 3-point shooter is down to 32.5 percent from the arc and has lost his spot in the starting lineup.

4. East Tennessee State (3-4, 0-1)
Next Week: 12/11 at Mississippi State
Losing games isn‘t coach Murry Bartow‘s biggest worry. It’s that an offense which looked a little more slump-proof going into the season suddenly can’t get out of the 50’s on a consistent basis. The problem is that the team’s jump-shooters aren’t consistently making shots or being aggressive enough to earn free throw opportunities. In the loss at College of Charleston, the Buccaneers garnered just four foul shots, which has nothing to do with officials and everything to do with a lack of aggression. Junior forward Isiah Brown is playing the best ball on a nightly basis, but got into it with Bartow early in the second half at Charleston and was benched for the game’s remainder. With five more games left in its eight-game road trip, ETSU doesn’t need any more issues in addition to those it already has

5. Campbell: (4-3)
Next Week: 12/10 vs. Western Carolina, 12/16 at USC Upstate
Lorne Merthie is becoming more of a go-to player with Jonathan Rodriguez having graduated after what seemed like a ten-year career. Merthie is averaging a team-high 14.1 points per game and canning 52 percent from the three-point line. The Camels are shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor, although their schedule hasn’t exactly been the toughest. They are awaiting the return of forward Eric Griffin (12.2 PPG, 6.0 RPG), who’s missed the last two games with an ankle injury

6. North Florida: (4-4, 1-1)
Next Week: 12/11 at Purdue, 12/14 at Texas
Back to the death march for the Ospreys, who missed a good chance to improve to 2-0 in the conference by losing for the second straight year at home to Stetson. Four of their next five games are of the “paycheck” variety against Purdue, Texas, Maryland and Kansas State. To have any chance of surviving that stretch, they’ll have to cut down on turnovers, as they’re averaging 18.5 per game. First-shot defense remains solid (41.9 percent from the field, 32.7 percent on 3s) but UNF is allowing 16 offensive rebounds per game, which helps the opposition score 74 points per game

7. Kennesaw State (2-5)
Next week: 12/11 at SIU Edwardsville, 12/16 at Belmont
With 15 days to rest, take final exams and work on weaknesses exposed during the first seven games, the Owls are ready for the season‘s bulk to begin. What they must do is find more scoring threats besides Markeith Cummings and Spencer Dixon, as well as improve first-shot defense (46.6 percent from the field, 40.5 percent on threes) and rebounding (minus 3.9 per game). If KSU can do a few of those things, it will be a tough out for any A-Sun team

8. Stetson (3-4, 1-1)
Next week: 12/12 at Miami (Fla.), 12/15 at Florida State
After the horror of a home loss against D-II foe Palm Beach Atlantic, the Hatters didn‘t sulk, winning two of their next three, including a conference road victory over North Florida. Freshman Aaron Graham can flat-out shoot the rock, indicated by his 14-25 numbers from three-point range. He looks like Larry Bird in comparison to the rest of this crowd, which is just 18-88 from beyond the arc. But Stetson is making improvements in first-shot defense (44.2 percent from the floor) and is outrebounding the opposition. When it hits more free throws (60.7 percent) and cuts its 17.1 turnovers per game down to 15 or fewer, the win total will go up

9. USC Upstate: (2-6, 1-0)
Next week: 12/11 at N.C. State, 12/16 vs. Campbell
As we suggested would happen two weeks ago, senior guard Josh Chavis began finding the range from the three-point line. In wins over UNC Asheville and East Tennessee State, Chavis hit 6-of-19, pushing his season percentage over the Mendoza line at 22.4 percent. The Spartans’ stunner over ETSU not only gives them a boost of confidence they badly needed, it fired a warning shot for conference opponents who may have circled Upstate road trips as a win. While winning on the road may be next to impossible for this young, undersized squad, take them lightly at your risk when traveling to Spartanburg

10. Florida Gulf Coast: (2-5, 0-2)
Next week: 12/15 at Ohio State
The good news is that Ole Miss transfer Kevin Cantinol is eligible for the trip to the second-ranked Buckeyes, giving the Eagles a much-needed 6‘9, 250-pound slab of beef inside. The bad news is Cantinol might not make much difference for this team on either side of the floor. Despite the efforts of Anthony Banks (15.4 PPG, 7.4 RPG) and Reed Baker (17.7 PPG), FGCU is really this bad. Good thing that coach Dave Balza won a contract extension prior to the season because there might not be many wins left for the Eagles this year

11. Mercer: (2-7, 0-2)
Next Week: Dec. 10 vs. Navy
The good news for the Bears is this is their only game in a 19-day period. The bad news is they still have 20 more games to play this year, perhaps more if they can qualify for the A-Sun tourney on their home court. That will be tough, since this team does nothing well except force turnovers (17.1 per game). It’s clearly a transitional year for this program and it can’t be good for the future that the top three scorers are all seniors

Playing the Percentages
Every week, we’ll look at an intriguing individual or team stat and determine fluke or trend. This week, we zero in on Florida Gulf Coast‘s Anthony Banks, a live body who can crash the offensive glass with the best of them. After grabbing 100 offensive caroms last year, Banks owns 31 in his first seven games this season, placing him atop the conference and in a tie for 8th nationally. We’re calling trend here. Banks is one of those guys with a nose for the ball and the quickness to go get it no matter where it is. If the Eagles get good in the next three years, you can bet the Banks this sophomore will have had a lot to do with it.

A Look Ahead

  • With most teams either approaching or in the middle of exam periods, schedules are fairly light. Belmont tries for its second A-Sun win on the 16th when it welcomes Kennesaw State to Nashville.
  • USC Upstate tries to keep the upset train on the tracks when it welcomes Campbell to the tiny Hodge Center Dec. 16 for the Camels‘ conference opener.
  • North Florida will try to make the conference look respectable to Power Six audiences when it visits Top 25 inhabitants Purdue and Texas in a four-day span.
  • Lipscomb’s recent improvement on defense will be tested Saturday night with a trip to Tennessee Tech, which loves to push the tempo.
Share this story

Checking in on… the Atlantic Sun

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 27th, 2010

Bucky Dent is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun Conference.  [ed note: this post was written prior to the Nov. 26-28 games]

A Look Back

  • Tommy Hubbard Injured: East Tennessee State forward Tommy Hubbard is battling knee problems which have kept him out of two games and hampered him in the only game he played, a Nov. 15 loss at Murray State. While the Buccaneers have enough depth to still field a solid lineup, they don’t want to think about life without Hubbard, their best defensive player and top scorer last year when they won the A-Sun tourney as a five seed. This puts more pressure on Mike Smith, Micah Williams and Justin Tubbs to score the ball without Hubbard‘s presence.
  • TV league Upsets: In the first two weeks of the season, A-Sun teams have already scored three attention-grabbing upsets over Power Six foes. Stetson outran and outscored Wake Forest 89-79 Nov. 12, followed by Kennesaw State’s 80-63 whacking of Georgia Tech Nov. 15 (think the Yellow Jackets will ever play in Kennesaw again?). Campbell followed with a 61-54 win at Auburn Nov. 20. One thing all three A-Sun teams have in common: they also lost their next game after those big victories.
  • Player of the Week: Lorne Merthie, Campbell - A streaky shooter, Merthie was on during the Camels’ 2-1 showing in a tournament at Auburn, averaging 15.7 points per game. Merthie also picked up four steals against the Tigers, while tallying 22 points and drilling 4-4 three-pointers in a narrow loss to Samford. Just missing the gold medal were Spencer Dixon and Ridge Graham. Dixon‘s 27-point outburst spearheaded Kennesaw State‘s epic drilling of Georgia Tech, while the ultra-athletic Graham went for a 21-point, 12-rebound double-double in the Hatters‘ victory at Wake Forest.

Power Rankings

1. Belmont (3-1)
Next Week: 11/29 at Tennessee State, 12/2 vs. Mercer

This has a chance to be the best team of coach Rick Byrd‘s 25 seasons in Nashville. The Bruins have excellent length and play fundamentally sound defense, forcing teams to take one well-contested shot, then finish the possession with a rebound. The offense is averaging 85.5 ppg in the first four games behind sophomore guard Ian Clark, who would have Dick Vitale screaming his name if he played in a bigger league. Inside, Belmont can count on Mick Hedgepeth and Scott Saunders, who are very productive as long as they can stay out of foul trouble, which isn‘t a given. Point guard Drew Hanlen provides an outrageous 22-to-1 assist-turnover ratio and is a knockdown shooter from the three-point line. Eleven different players are averaging double-figure minutes, making this the league’s deepest and best team as we gird for conference openers next week.

2. East Tennessee State (1-2)
Next Week: 11/27 vs. Milligan, 12/1 at Dayton

When rating teams in this conference, one has to keep the big picture in mind. While the Buccaneers’ record isn’t impressive, consider their losses are at Kentucky and Murray State. Not too many teams anywhere would avoid a sweep in Lexington or Murray. Coach Murry Bartow just wants to weather the December storm (i.e. eight straight road games) and come out of it with his team healthy. The key will be getting Tommy Hubbard back from his knee woes. Mike Smith appears to be 100% after last year‘s injury nightmare, torching Tennessee Tech for an easy 26 points in a 73-60 win Nov. 20. ETSU remains one of the league‘s top defensive teams, doing it with a variety of zones devised by assistant coach Scott Wagers, who basically runs the defense. If it can get reasonable point guard play and get Hubbard healthy, it will challenge for a third straight NCAA Tourney bid.

3. Lipscomb (2-2)
Next week: 11/27 at UT-Martin

Mixed returns so far for the Bisons, which were competitive in losses at major powers North Carolina and Baylor but still aren’t playing good enough defense, allowing opponents to shoot 46.9 percent from the floor and average 82.8 points per game. The good news is Lipscomb’s offense isn’t running at full efficiency yet but is still scoring 83.2 points per game. The 1-2 senior punch of Adnan Hodzic and Josh Slater is performing as one would expect, combining to score nearly 38 PPG. Hodzic has become a better passer out of double-teams early this year and is also hitting 80 percent at the foul line, his career best. Freshman guard Robert Boyd is providing a spark off the bench, averaging 10.5 points and 2.5 steals per game.

4. Jacksonville (3-1)
Next Week: 11/27 at Auburn, 12/2 vs. Stetson

Last year at this time, the Dolphins had overscheduled and were getting blown out on a regular basis, although they bounced back to tie for the regular season title and win a first round NIT game at Arizona State. This year, with a less experienced team and a more reasonable schedule, they‘ve started 3-1. The star player is definitely Ayron Hardy, who, if you were playing A-Sun fantasy basketball (and if you are, you’ve got too much time on your hands), would be your No. 1 overall pick. All he’s done in four games is average 14.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 3.8 steals and 1.8 blocked shots. Besides Hardy’s all-around excellence, Jacksonville is getting much-improved production from sophomore forward Glenn Powell, who’s averaging 12.8 points and hitting 64.5 percent from the field. The defense is allowing just 66.8 ppg and forcing nearly 21 turnovers per game. Don’t sleep on these guys in this league.

5. North Florida: (3-3)
Next Week: 12/2 vs. Florida Gulf Coast

It is a good sign for this program that it‘s 3-3 after a brutal six-game road trip to start the year. Tossing out blowout losses against top-flight programs in Florida State, Pittsburgh and Missouri isn‘t easy, but the Ospreys were impressive on the defensive end in a 59-52 win Nov. 24 against MEAC kingpin Morgan State in Cancun. Sophomore forward Andres Diaz has become more of a scoring threat inside at 11.8 points per game, although he remains a brutal foul shooter at 47.8%. Tennessee State transfer Parker Smith has given this offense-starved squad scoring punch off the bench (11.5 ppg, 38.1 percent 3-pointers). Second-year coach Matt Driscoll, who helped Scott Drew rebuild the Baylor program, has quietly built a nice foundation in his own program.

6. Campbell: (2-3)
Next Week: 11/27 vs. Longwood, 11/29 vs. Johnson C. Smith

With a bunch of new players trying to find roles alongside a veteran backcourt, it might be until January before we know who the Camels are. Guards Lorne Merthie and Junard Hartley supply perimeter scoring punch and excellent defense, in that order. Junior college transfer Eric Griffin is the team‘s leading scorer and rebounded through five games, although he‘s making less than 43% of his shots. The roster‘s remainder is a bunch of decent role players who rarely go above or beyond what they can do. Tune in about six weeks from now and you‘ll know about the Camels.

7. Kennesaw State (2-4)
Next week: 11/26 at Creighton

When their shots are dropping, the Owls can beat anyone, like the ACC‘s Georgia Tech. When they aren’t, they can lose to anyone, like Alabama State, and lose by 40 at mediocre Iowa State. If nothing else, the current four-game losing streak is a reminder that coach Tony Ingle still has a bunch of sophomores who have growing to do at this level. The biggest things Kennesaw State must fix are defense and rebounding. It’s allowing opponents to hit nearly 46 percent from the floor, including 41.2% on 3-pointers, and is being outboarded by nearly four per game. Improvement in those areas might mean not being so shot-dependant.

8. Stetson (1-2)
Next week: 11/26 vs. Palm Beach Atlantic, 11/30 vs. Savannah State, 12/2 at Jacksonville

The win over Wake Forest resonated throughout the conference, but losses to Bethune-Cookman and Central Florida were a reminder that rebuilding remains for the Hatters. With sophomore forward Ridge Graham providing a double-double threat on a nightly basis, this team has a go-to option on the offensive end. Two other sophomores —  Tyshawn Patterson and Joel Naburgs — are also scoring in double figures. The down side is the team’s defense, which is allowing opponents to shoot 45% from the field and score nearly 81 points per game. But there is a future for Stetson, as this league will find out a year or two from now.

9. Mercer: (1-3)
Next week: 11/26 vs. Western Carolina (Williamsburg, Va.), 11/27 at William & Mary, 11/28 vs. Gardner-Webb (Williamsburg, Va.), 12/2 at Belmont

Where have you gone, James Florence, Daniel Emerson and E.J. Kusnyer? Without three players which combined for more than 44 points per game last year, the Bears are off to a sub-.500 start which doesn’t look like it will get a lot better. There are a couple of decent weapons in Brandon Moore and Jeff Smith, who are averaging a combined 28.5 ppg. But as a whole, Mercer doesn’t shoot well, especially from three-point range (21-of-90), and isn’t playing well enough on the defensive end (45 percent shooting, 71.2 ppg allowed). The Bears will have to fight just to make the conference tournament on their home floor.

10. Florida Gulf Coast: (2-2)
Next week: 11/27 vs. Miami (Fla.), 12/2 at North Florida

The record looks OK, but the two losses — 88-60 at Indiana and 90-47 at Arkansas — reveal that this team is still second-division material in the A-Sun. Good news is that guard Reed Baker has found his missing shot of a year ago, as he‘s averaging 19.5 ppg and went for 33 in a win at Grambling. But this is still a below-average team offensively (39.6 percent from the floor, 10-of-56 on 3s) and a poor team on defense (49.4 opponents’ field goal percentage, 81.5 ppg). While Ole Miss transfer Kevin Cantinol will help this team get tougher inside when he becomes eligible next month, he probably won’t make the difference between mediocrity and respectability.

11. USC Upstate: (0-6)
Next Week: Nov. 29 vs. UNC Asheville

There have been bright spots, such as the development of freshman forward Torrey Craig, as well as a nine-block shot performance from freshman Babatunde Olumyiwa in a Nov. 23 loss at South Carolina. But the Spartans are easily the conference‘s worst team, one which won‘t be favored in any game it plays this year. Not to pile on too much, but they might be the worst offensive team in America as they are scoring just 51.3 ppg and shooting just 31 percent from the field. Like a minor league baseball team, Upstate should concentrate more on player development and less on the record, although it would love to get that zero out of the win column sometime.

Playing the Percentages

Every week, we’ll look at an intriguing individual or team stat and determine fluke or trend. This week, it’s the three-point accuracy of USC Upstate guard Josh Chavis. A 37.9 percent shooter last year, when he canned ten threes in a game against Florida Gulf Coast, Chavis is colder than Siberia. The 5’9 senior is sinking just 5-of-30 from the arc and is a hideous 5-of-40 overall. We’re saying fluke for now because his career numbers aren’t close to being this bad. Keep on shooting, kid.

A Look Ahead

  • Conference play opens up on a limited basis next week. Belmont starts A-Sun play at home with struggling Mercer, which doesn‘t look like a fair fight. Jacksonville welcomes Stetson to town for each team‘s first A-Sun game. Can the Hatters keep their turnovers down against the very athletic Dolphins?
  • North Florida finally plays its home opener after six straight away from Jacksonville as it takes on A-Sun rival Florida Gulf Coast.
  • East Tennessee State begins a brutal eight-game road trip against a Dayton team which needs every win it can get as it tries to reach the NCAA Tournament. This would be a nice “statement“ game for the Buccaneers.
Share this story

Checking in on… the Atlantic Sun

Posted by rtmsf on February 19th, 2010

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

Current Standings

  1. Campbell (12-5 A-Sun, 17-9)
  2. Belmont (12-5 A-Sun, 17-10)
  3. Jacksonville (12-5 A-Sun, 16-10)
  4. Lipscomb (11-6 A-Sun, 14-12)
  5. East Tennessee State (10-6 A-Sun, 14-13)
  6. Mercer (10-7 A-Sun, 14-13)
  7. North Florida (7-10 A-Sun, 12-15)
  8. Kennesaw State (7-10 A-Sun, 12-16)
  9. USC Upstate (5-12 A-Sun, 5-21)
  10. Florida Gulf Coast (4-14 A-Sun, 7-20)
  11. Stetson (4-14 A-Sun, 6-21)

Team News 

  • Campbell has now won five straight and is closing a four-game homestand tonight against ETSU.  It is the final home game of the season and should be an electrifying atmosphere with it being Jonathan Rodriguez’s final career game in Buies Creek.  I expect the Camels to play with intensity and passion to finish out with a huge home win.  The Camels close the year at Jacksonville and at North Florida.
  • Belmont continues to play well and they certainly have a scheduling advantage over the other top teams in the league.  The Bruins just defeated lowly Stetson last night and they travel to a struggling Florida Gulf Coast team tomorrow.  The Bruins close the season at home against Mercer and Kennesaw State.
  • Jacksonville has gotten back on track with three straight victories after losing two straight before that.  They earned a nice road victory against Kennesaw State last night.  However, they still have games at Mercer, at home against Campbell, and at home against ETSU.  That will certainly be a tough test for the Dolphins down the stretch.  
  • Lipscomb fell out of the top spot last week when they were knocked off by USC Upstate on the road.  Lipscomb is a tough team to figure out as they are perhaps the most talented team in the league with the best big man (Adnan Hodzic) and in my opinion the best combo guard (Josh Slater).  Lipscomb goes to Stetson before hosting Kennesaw State and Mercer to close out the year.
  • East Tennessee State has a huge game tonight at Campbell with a chance to move right back in the mix at the top of the league.  After the trip to Campbell they host USC Upstate before traveling to North Florida and to Jacksonville.  They must win out to have a chance at a regular season title.
  • Mercer is trying to move up in the league standings because they do have an advantage in that they are hosting the A-Sun tournament on their home floor.  The talent is certainly there with James Florence and company but the Bears have been a streaky team throughout the year.  However, they have an extremely tough three-game stretch to close the year as they host Jacksonville and travel to Belmont and Lipscomb.
  • North Florida has been a pesky team all season long under new head coach Matthew Driscoll.  The Ospreys are still looking to improve their seed for the upcoming tournament.  They travel to Kennesaw State before hosting ETSU and Campbell. 
  • Kennesaw State is a young and talented basketball team, but they are a team that looks to be running out of gas.  The Owls can still improve their seed against UNF, Belmont and Lipscomb.
  • USC Upstate has been known to pull some upsets in conference play.  The Spartans just defeated Lipscomb last week and will be looking to win a couple more to end the season on a high note.  USC Upstate plays ETSU, FGCU, and Stetson to close the season and winning two of three is certainly possible.
  • FGCU has fallen on hard times as they have dropped their last seven contests.  The Eagles will look to at least get a win down the stretch with games against Belmont and USC Upstate.
  • Stetson has lost three straight and have struggled throughout the season though they have had some injury troubles.  The Hatters take on Lipscomb and USC Upstate to close out the season.

Key Upcoming Games

  • ETSU @ Campbell (2/19) – Senior night for four Campbell seniors including all-everything Jonathan Rodriguez.  It should be a very good atmosphere and will be a battle between two good teams.
  • Mercer @ Belmont (2/25) – If the Bruins win this game they have a great chance to win the A-Sun regular season crown.  Belmont controls the tiebreaker with Campbell.
  • Campbell @ Jacksonville (2/25) – A battle with two teams at the top of the league standings.  The game could mean one team winning the league and one falling out of the top three.
  • ETSU @ Jacksonville (2/27) – Both teams with tough tests to finish the year.  It could be a battle for first place by that point.
Share this story

Checking in on… the Atlantic Sun

Posted by rtmsf on February 5th, 2010

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

Current Standings

  1. Jacksonville (9-3 A-Sun, 13-8)
  2. Lipscomb (9-4 A-Sun, 10-12)
  3. Belmont (8-5 A-Sun, 13-10)
  4. Campbell (8-5 A-Sun, 13-9)
  5. East Tennessee State (8-5 A-Sun, 12-12)
  6. Kennesaw State (7-6 A-Sun, 12-12)
  7. Mercer (7-6 A-Sun, 11-12)
  8. North Florida (5-7 A-Sun, 10-12)
  9. Florida Gulf Coast (4-10 A-Sun, 7-16)
  10. USC Upstate (3-9 A-Sun, 3-18)
  11. Stetson (3-11 A-Sun, 5-17)

News and Notes

Each team in the Atlantic Sun plays each other twice and so far each team has at least played everyone in the league once.  So with more than half of the conference season out of the way we have named our all-conference team through the first half.

  • G – Ben Smith (Jacksonville) – Smith was the preseason player of the year by many publications and although he started a little slow this season, he has really turned it on in conference play and is second in the A-Sun in scoring at 20 points per game.  If the Dolphins can win the regular season I wouldn’t be surprised to see him named as the conference player of the year.
  • G – Josh Slater (Lipscomb) – This guy continues to amaze me with his play and if the season ended today he would no doubt be my selection for A-Sun player of the year.  The lefty can do it all, especially in the big games.  Just ask Campbell and ETSU.  Slater is the reigning player of the week in the league and could win the award again this week after his incredible performance at Campbell (scored 21 pts and hit the game winning three).
  • G – James Florence (Mercer) – Florence got off to a sizzling start to the season but has cooled off as of late.  However, he is still averaging over 19 pts per game on the season and is quite possibly the most prolific scorer in the league.  Florence, just like Jonathan Rodriguez, will go down as one of the most productive players in school history.
  • F – Adnan Hodzic (Lipscomb) – The big man was my pick for preseason player of the year and he has certainly not disappointed as he leads the league in scoring at just under 22 pts per game.  Hodzic also ranks fourth in the league in rebounding.
  • F – Jonathan Rodriguez (Campbell) – The senior has shattered tons of team and conference records this season.  He now has over 2,000 points and over 1,000 career rebounds.  He will go down as quite possibly the most successful player in school history and he is currently leading Campbell to its best mark since 1992.

Team News

  • Jacksonville has now won ten straight and could possibly be one of the hottest mid-major teams in the country.  They are pressing on defense and that has been the key to their success as of late.  The Dolphins take the brutal trip to Nashville to play Belmont and Lipscomb next.  If they can come away successful on that trip, the Dolphins may pull away in the A-Sun race.
  • Lipscomb has won a couple games in a row but both games could have easily gone the other way.  They defeated ETSU in OT last weekend before knocking off Campbell on the road with a last second three-pointer by Josh Slater.
  • Belmont is no doubt the hottest team in the league other than Jacksonville.  They are playing extremely well on the defensive end and are starting to make some shots from the perimeter, which is scary for the rest of the league.  Coach Rick Byrd always seems to get the most out of his teams and has done quite possibly his best job this season.
  • Campbell was off to a sizzling 6-1 start to conference play and held a one game lead, but the Camels lost three straight and four of five before finally getting a win last night at Stetson.  After the game Saturday at Florida Gulf Coast, the schedule becomes more favorable with four very winnable home games in a row.
  • East Tennessee State, just like Campbell, was in the middle of a skid before coming away with a victory over Florida Gulf Coast last night.  The Bucs are incredibly athletic but can be streaky from the perimeter and when they are hitting shots they have a tough time earning victories.
  • Kennesaw State has a very young team but could have the most talented young roster in the A-Sun.  Freshmen Markeith Cummings and LaDaris Green have been crucial to the success of the Owls as of late.  Kennesaw continues to inch up the A-Sun standings and could be a scary team to play in the tourney.
  • Mercer climbed to the upper half of the league before losing three straight and looks to be running out of gas. The Bears fell to Kennesaw State last night in a road contest that dropped them into seventh in the league. Mercer hosts the conference tournament so they desperately want to earn a top seed.
  • North Florida continues to hang tough and will no doubt be a scary team to play down the stretch for any of the leaders in the league.  The Ospreys don’t have the most talented roster but they play extremely hard and have already pulled some upsets in league play.
  • Florida Gulf Coast has a very talented group but they have struggled a bit lately.  However, they did earn a nice victory over Mercer last week and already earned a victory over Belmont earlier in the year.
  • USC Upstate has lost three straight but they are also one of those teams you can’t sleep on as they have knocked off some the league’s best already this season.
  • Stetson has struggled for much of the season, but have earned some key wins against ETSU and Mercer.  The Hatters have some work to do in order to make the A-Sun tourney, but as of now they are on the outside looking in.

Key Upcoming Games

  • Jacksonville @ Belmont (2/5) – A battle between two of the hottest teams in the A-Sun that could be big for the upper half of the conference standings.
  • Jacksonville @ Lipscomb (2/7) – Battle between the two top teams in the league at this point.
  • Mercer @ Campbell (2/12) – Mercer knocked off Campbell at home so the Camels will  try to return the favor.
  • Mercer @ ETSU (2/14) – A Valentine’s Day matchup between two teams that are currently struggling.  This game could be key in determining seeds in the A-Sun tourney.
Share this story

Checking in on… the Atlantic Sun

Posted by jstevrtc on January 23rd, 2010

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

Current Standings

  1. Campbell (11-6, 6-2 A-Sun)
  2. East Tennessee State (10-9, 6-2 A-Sun)
  3. Mercer                                    (9-8, 5-2 A-Sun)
  4. Jacksonville (9-8, 6-3 A-Sun)
  5. Lipscomb                               (9-9, 6-3 A-Sun)
  6. Belmont (10-9, 5-4 A-Sun)
  7. North Florida (9-11, 4-6 A-Sun)
  8. USC Upstate                          (3-15, 3-6 A-Sun)
  9. Florida Gulf Coast (5-12, 2-6 A-Sun)
  10. Stetson                                    (4-12, 2-6 A-Sun)
  11. Kennesaw State (6-12, 1-6 A-Sun)

News and Notes

This could end up being one of the tightest races of any conference in America at the end of the year.  Six out of eleven teams are within two games of the league leaders.  Teams in the A-Sun play each other twice and we are just about one full time around.  Campbell’s Jonathan Rodriguez has now become the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,948 career points and still plenty of games left to separate himself.  He has also set the school record for career rebounding and is the current NCAA leader in career free throws made.

Remember, only six teams make it to the year end Atlantic Sun tournament.  USC Upstate and Florida Gulf Coast are still not eligible for post season play after completing their transition from Division II.  So that leaves nine eligible teams for post season play and means Stetson and Kennesaw State have some real work to do in order to make up ground and earn a berth.

  • Campbell was off to a sizzling 6-1 start to conference play and held a one game lead.  However, the Camels are in the middle of a brutal road swing with trips to traditional powers Belmont, Lipscomb, and East Tennessee State.  The Camels are already 0-1 on the trip with a loss to a struggling Belmont team.  Campbell is traditionally a struggling road team and they MUST win at least a game on this trip.
  • East Tennessee State always seems to be at the top of the league standings even with a slow start.  This year is no different as head coach Murray Bartow had to reload with newcomers and needed some guys to play a much bigger role than they have in the previous year.  Well, the Bucs are right there at the top and are fresh off a huge victory at Lipscomb just last night.  ETSU struggles at time from the perimeter but they are quick and athletic.
  • Mercer keeps on winning basketball games as they have now reeled off five straight W’s in conference play.  They have many weapons including two all-conference performers in James Florence and Daniel Emerson.  The Bears do play a handful of players over 30 minutes a game so lets see if that could have an effect on them at the end of the year.  But for now, the Bears look to be a top contender.
  • Jacksonville has now won six straight games after opening conference play 0-3.  The Dolphins were picked by most to win the league and they are very much in it.  The Dolphins are finally getting healthy and they are a scary team heading into the second half of conference play.  JU is fresh off a victory against cross town rival North Florida.
  • Lipscomb has been playing better of late — especially defensively —  but lost a little momentum after falling at home to ETSU just last night.  The Bisons must be careful because they have a quick turnaround with league-leading Campbell coming in on Saturday.  If Lipscomb were to lose that one, it could really set them back in the conference race.
  • Belmont is a team that plays extremely hard and they play a very sound style of basketball.  This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for head coach Rick Byrd but his team looks to be one that could be in the race at year’s end.  They have a very young backcourt, and, if they can continue to grow, they truly have a chance.  The Bruins have also gained some momentum after upsetting Campbell at home last night.
  • North Florida is a fun team to follow and it should be interesting to see if the Ospreys can continue to win games and perhaps sneak into the conference tournament.  They have not played their best in the last week or so but they are still more than capable of sneaking up on a league heavyweight.  UNF is a team that plays extremely hard for new head coach Matthew Driscoll.

Key Upcoming Games

  • Campbell @ Lipscomb (1/23) – Two teams that are amongst the league leaders and could really shake up the conference standings.
  • ETSU @ Belmont (1/23) – Huge game for both teams as ETSU is looking to stay at the top, while Belmont is just trying to stay in the mix.
  • Lipscomb @ Belmont (1/26) – Round two of the “Battle of the Boulevard” as Lipscomb took round one, now Belmont gets a turn at home.
  • Campbell @ ETSU (1/27) – The two top teams in the league will do battle in Johnson City to complete the first rotation of conference play.
Share this story

Checking in on… the Atlantic Sun

Posted by jstevrtc on January 8th, 2010

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

Current Standings:

  1. East Tennessee State (8-7, 4-0)
  2. Belmont (9-6, 4-1)
  3. Campbell (8-5, 3-1)
  4. Lipscomb                                (6-7, 3-1)
  5. Mercer                                      (7-8, 3-2)
  6. Florida Gulf Coast                 (5-8, 2-2)
  7. North Florida (6-8, 1-3)
  8. Jacksonville (4-8, 1-3)
  9. Stetson                                    (3-9, 1-3)
  10. Kennesaw State (5-10, 1-4)
  11. USC Upstate                          (1-14, 1-4)

News and Notes

As 2009 has come to a close and 2010 has gotten underway things are still not clear in the conference race.  However, there are a few teams that we expect to be in the mix until the very end.  There has been more parity in the league this year than we have seen in some time and I expect a very tight race as conference play continues.  Even the bottom feeders of the league are bound to pull an upset or two.  We have already seen it with North Florida, Florida Gulf Coast, and Kennesaw State picking up upsets early on.

East Tennessee State has been a constant at the top of the A-Sun over the last several years and right now it is clear that the Bucs will again be in the mix again for the league title.  They are off to a quick 4-0 start and have looked impressive particularly in the last few weeks.  Tommy Hubbard has been a nice surprise for the Bucs and should certainly be considered a candidate for player of the year at this point of the year.

Belmont is a tough team to gauge at this point even though they are off to a solid start to league play.  They started league play by knocking off Mercer and Kennesaw State in overtime before losing a head scratcher to Florida Gulf Coast and defeating Stetson.  We will see how real this team is once they cycle through league play one time.

Campbell was off to a roaring start to begin non-conference play and that carried over to conference play as well.  The Camels got off to a 3-0 start to league play but fell last night at Mercer.  Campbell has struggled on the road in conference play the last several years and absolutely must find a way to steal some away from home in league play.  Jonathan Rodriguez has continued to carry his team as he is averaging over 18 PPG and over 9 RPG.

Lipscomb was off to a slow start to begin the year but have slowly started to play like the team that I predicted to be league champs.  The Bisons are right in the middle of things in the league and I certainly expect them to be near the top at the end.  Adnan Hodzic looks to be the player of the year at this point as he is averaging 22 PPG while pulling down 8 RPG.

Mercer is an interesting team because we knew that they would be a scary team with their athleticism and experience.  After starting out league play losing two straight, I wasn’t sure what to make of this team but they have since reeled off three straight victories.  I expect the Bears to compete near the top but I am not completely sold on them just yet.  They have been inconsistent throughout this season so far to give them accolades just yet.

Key Upcoming Games

  • ETSU @ Mercer (1/9) – Both teams have been hot lately and should have an immediate impact at the top of the league standings.
  • Campbell @ Kennesaw State (1/9) – Campbell really needs to win this tough road contest if they want to make noise at the top, but they have continued to struggle away from home.
  • Belmont @ Lipscomb (1/11) – They call this one the “Battle of the Boulevards” as it is always a fight between these bitter rivals from Nashville.  As it usually does this game will have a big impact on the conference standings.
  • FGCU @ ETSU (1/16) – Florida Gulf Coast has already proven that they can pull an upset so ETSU needs to be extremely careful at home against the pesky Eagles.
Share this story

Checking in on… the Atlantic Sun

Posted by rtmsf on December 25th, 2009

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

Current Standings

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

Hottest Team

The Florida Gulf Coast Eagles have not had much success since their transition to the Division I level to this point.  However, this current stretch might be their most successful that includes one of their best wins in program history.  Just the other night the Eagles knocked off Big East member DePaul in front of their home crowd.  The win was the first for the Eagles against a Big East opponent.  FGCU has now won four games in a row which is their longest streak since becoming a Division I member.  Sophomore point guard Reggie Chambers has been stellar during the winning streak.  He has won back-to-back A-Sun player of the week honors, the first player this season to do so.  He along with Reed Baker and Anthony Banks can make this team a legitimate threat in the A-Sun race.

Biggest Disappointment

The Jacksonville Dolphins were predicted by many to win the conference this season.  I had them picked second but nonetheless the Dolphins are playing bad basketball right now.  They have started out league play at 0-2, losing by a combined 39 points in their first two A-Sun games to Campbell and ETSU.  I thought that perhaps their brutal non-conference schedule would better prepare them for league play but that has not been the case at all.  The Dolphins are only averaging 63 points per contest while giving up 78 points per game and allowing teams to shoot close to 52 percent from the floor.  Their field goal percentage defense is last in the league.  The Dolphins are also last in the league in assist to turnover ratio.  Most thought this season could be the one for the Dolphins to finally win the league as they return four starters from last season’s runner-up team.  JU still has plenty of time left to get it back together but they need to get back on track sooner rather than later.

Best of the Rest

  • Belmont - After being the league’s hottest team two weeks ago, the Bruins have dropped two straight.  However, the most important thing is that they are still perfect in league play as the holidays are here.  Coach Rick Byrd always seems to get the very most out of his teams so I expect the Bruins to be in contention in league play.
  • Campbell - The Camels came out flat against UNC-Wilmington as they fell by 20 to the Seahawks and it looked to be the start of a losing streak.  However, Campbell got it back together by knocking off conference foe Jacksonville by 16 at home.  The Camels are off to a nice 2-0 start to league play and that is the most important thing, but coach Robbie Laing has to be disappointed with his team’s effort against Longwood.  The Lancers built a 20-point lead and held off a late Campbell run to win by eight.  Campbell is still in good shape and looks to be a major contender in the A-Sun.
  • ETSU – The Bucs pounded Jacksonville by 23 just a few nights ago to improve to 2-0 in the league.  I wasn’t sure how the team would come out this season after losing their top two scorers from a year ago, but coach Murray Bartow has reloaded with more athleticism and speed, and has his team playing with a lot of energy.  The Bucs will certainly compete at the top of the league and will be looking for their second straight A-Sun title and NCAA berth.
  • Kennesaw State - The Owls have dropped three straight but all have come against formidable opponents and all have been on the road.  Freshman Markeith Cummings continues to impress as he is the league’s third leading scorer at over 17 per game.  With more athleticism than in years past I expect this team to make a little noise as conference play continues after the holidays.
  • Lipscomb – The Bisons continue to struggle as they stumble into the holidays losers of two straight.  However, those two games were against Cincinnati and Arizona.  They were blown out by the Bearcats but went to overtime with ‘Zona, falling by just a point on a controversial buzzer-beater by Nic Wise.  The Bisons are still dead last in the league in scoring defense (83.4 ppg) and are tenth in the conference in field goal percentage (50.6%).  The defense must get better quick if Lipscomb wants to compete at the top of the league.
  • Mercer – The Bears continue to struggle as they have lost two straight games.  However, both losses have come to SEC heavyweights Vanderbilt and Alabama.  The most disappointing part is that the Bears have not been competitive at all in those games.  Mercer needs to get things rolling in a hurry as conference play is creeping up very quickly in the coming weeks.
  • North Florida – The Ospreys have continued to play hard under new head coach Matthew Driscoll and have won three straight contests by knocking off Canisius and New Orleans in the Southern Miss Christmas Classic before defeating Southern Miss in the championship game.  It could very well be the most successful stretch of games for UNF as a Division I member.  This team plays extremely hard and teams in this league cannot sleep on them when conference play gets into full force.
  • 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 I don’t expect too many victories from this team.  Guard A.J. Smith (13.4 ppg) is the only legitimate scoring threat for the Hatters.  Stetson is near the bottom of the league in just about every offensive category and I don’t expect it to get much better as conference play approaches.
  • USC Upstate – The Spartans got off to a nice start at Arizona State just yesterday and only fell to the Sun Devils by nine.  The Spartans have a nice starting five but are not particularly deep and that will continue to hurt them.  Still, Upstate is well coached and should cause some problems in league play.

Key Upcoming Games

  • Mercer @ UNC Charlotte (12/29) – Mercer has the talent to compete against high major opponents.  Charlotte has gotten off to a blistering start with their only losses coming at the hands off Duke and ODU.
  • Belmont @ Kansas (12/29) – An extremely tough post-Christmas, pre-New Year’s battle against the number one team in the land in Allen Fieldhouse.  Belmont plays hard but they will be physically outmanned and I don’t expect it to be close.
  • FGCU @ Stetson (12/29) – FGCU can join the top of the league if they can knock off the Hatters on the road.  The Eagles must win games like this in order to finish in the upper tier of the league.
  • Mercer @ Jacksonville (1/2) – Big conference showdown between two struggling teams.  The winner can perhaps build some momentum as league play gets going.  The loser may have a rough ride in the A-Sun.
Share this story

Checking in on… the Atlantic Sun

Posted by jstevrtc on December 11th, 2009

checkinginon

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Checking In On… the Atlantic Sun

Posted by jstevrtc on November 27th, 2009

checkinginon

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

Current Standings

  1. Campbell (3-1) – Off to a nice start with only loss to Virginia Tech.
  2. Mercer (3-2) – Earned a couple wins at the World Vision Invitational in Providence.
  3. Belmont (2-2) – Went 1-2 at the Athletes in Action Classic in Seattle.
  4. Kennesaw State (2-2) – Earned two victories over two non-Division I opponents.
  5. East Tennessee State (2-3) – Knocked off two pretty good SoCon opponents.
  6. Stetson (2-3) – Two victories both came over non-Division I opponents.
  7. North Florida (1-2) – Knocked off Savannah State for their only victory.
  8. Jacksonville (0-2) – Were not competitive at all against FSU and Cal.
  9. Florida Gulf Coast (0-3) – Opened season with three straight road games.
  10. Lipscomb (0-4) – Has allowed its opponents to shoot close to 60 percent.
  11. USC Upstate (0-4) – Played its first three games away from home.

League Nuggets

Well, since most of these teams have played an extremely tough opening non-conference schedule, the records are less than stellar.  The combined records of the 11 teams in the league is a shaky 15-28 through the first month.  The A-Sun has been a league that has a history of early season upsets but so far no team in the league has that marquee win against a high major.  There are still plenty of opportunities out there for upsets in the next couple of weeks.   Mercer’s James Florence (21 PPG) earned the league’s first player of the week award after receiving All-Tournament honors at the World Vision Invitational.  Even with Lipscomb’s early season struggles, our preseason player of the year in the league, Adnan Hodzic, has not disappointed.  He is averaging close to 23 PPG to go along with close to eight boards after four games.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story