Checking In On… the Atlantic Sun Conference

Posted 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.

Reader’s Take

 

Looking Back

  • 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).

The Talented Torrey Craig Of USC Upstate Was More Than Deserving Of The RTC Atlantic Sun Player of the Year Honor

End-of-Year Awards

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.

Bob Hoffman (coach), Isiah Brown (defensive), and Brett Comer (freshman) also earned RTC honors for their impressive regular season campaigns

Power Rankings

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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 Released Jordan Burgason Due To A Violation Of Team Rules (AP)

  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

Looking Ahead

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.

    Justin Cecil and Mercer Have A Huge Game Looming Against Belmont (mercer athletics)

  • 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.
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Checking In On… the Atlantic Sun Conference

Posted by rtmsf on January 21st, 2012

Eric Moyer is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun Conference and the Southern Conference. You can find him on Twitter @EricDMoyer.

Reader’s Take

 

Looking Back

  • 1,200 Wins. ETSU needed a second-half rally to earn the 1200th win in program history. Sitting on 1,199 wins, the Bucs faced UNF for the first time since being eliminated by the Ospreys in the semifinals of the 2011 A-Sun Championship. UNF jumped out to a 15-point first-half advantage and held ETSU to 31% shooting. Adam Sollazzo scored 19 of his 21 points in the second half and hit the game-winning free throw with 2.4 seconds remaining
  • Dramatic Finishes. Monday featured three dramatic finishes. In addition to ETSU’s second-half comeback at UNF, a pair of A-Sun contests needed overtime to determine a winner. Jacksonville scored its first win of the conference season after withstanding a tying by USC Upstate at the end of regulation and beat the Spartans in the extra session. The second overtime thriller featured a game-winning three-pointer by Lipscomb’s Damarius Smith in the waning seconds lifting the Bison past Stetson and into a fourth-place tie in the A-Sun race.
  • Coaching Battle. After 16 years seated next to each other on the Belmont bench, Rick Byrd and Casey Alexander met as opponents when Byrd’s Belmont welcomed Alexander’s Stetson Hatters to the Curb Event Center. The Hatters showed they have quickly picked up the trademark Belmont offense hitting 15 3-pointers, the most ever by an opponent in Curb Event Center history. The Bruins, who trailed 31-29 at halftime, dispatched the Hatters with a 55-point second half, winning 84-71.

Kerron Johnson (ball) Leads A Talented Belmont Attack

Power Rankings

  1. Belmont (13-6, Previous Ranking: 1): Despite a surprising home stumble against rival Lipscomb, the Bruins remain atop the Power Rankings after handling FGCU and Stetson. In the 95-53 win against FGCU, the Bruins hit 14 3-pointers and recorded 27 assists on 35 baskets. In wins against the Hatters and Eagles, the Bruins shot a combined 54.5 percent from the floor. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Atlantic Sun Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 18th, 2011

Will Rothschild is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun and the Southern Conferences. Y­­ou can also find his musings online at www.hoopsismymethadone.com or on Twitter @warothschild.

Reader’s Take

The Week That Was

  • KSU Suspends Cummings: In a move that sent shock waves through the league, rookie head coach Lewis Preston announced Tuesday that he had indefinitely suspended Markeith Cummings for “conduct detrimental to the team.” The 6’7” Cummings led the A-Sun in scoring last season and was named the league’s preseason POY. Preston would not provide specific details in our interview with him the day after the announcement, but suspending Cummings is a clear sign that Preston has a long-term vision for building his program that he will not allow to be held hostage by any player – no matter how talented. For more on this, check out our Q&A with Preston at the end of this post.
  • Respectable Showings, But No Signature Wins: While a number of teams acquitted themselves well in matchups with teams from higher-RPI conferences over the season’s first week, a headline-grabbing upset eluded the A-Sun. Obviously, the closest was Belmont’s 77-76 loss to No. 6 Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Bruins nearly overcame a 16-point second-half deficit, but Andre Dawkins’ cold-blooded three-pointer with 16 seconds remaining sealed it. On the same night, Florida Gulf Coast and first-year coach Andy Enfield dropped a one-point decision at TCU, East Tennessee State led for much of the first half before cold shooting (29 percent) doomed them in an 11-point loss at Virginia Tech, and Jacksonville overcame a big early deficit to get back in the game and play Florida State to a standstill over the final 30 minutes in a 12-point defeat.

Belmont Acquitted Itself Well But Couldn't Pull Off the Upset (Belmont Sports)

  • Stetson’s Newcomers Make Statement: When Casey Alexander was hired last spring at Stetson, league observers predicted the longtime Belmont assistant would quickly energize the long-floundering program. So far, so good: Alexander got the Hatters off to a 2-0 start with solid wins over Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M. (The “That-Can’t-Be-Right” nugget of the week: The 2-0 start was the first for Stetson since 19-friggin’-52. Right after Dwight Eisenhower was elected president. Seriously.) Stetson is benefitting from more than just a new face on the bench. Adam Pegg, a 6’9” transfer from Delaware, was named A-Sun Newcomer of the Week after averaging 14.5 points in the two victories.

Quote of the Week: “When your team can come into Cameron Indoor Stadium and make that kind of a comeback… and almost win the game, then as I just told (the players), we’re no worse a team because we lost by one than we would have been had we won. We’d have been a lot happier if we had won by won, but the team’s the same. The two points are nothing.” -Belmont coach Rick Byrd

Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking in on… the Atlantic Sun

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 8th, 2011

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

A Look Back

  • The Agony Ends… and Resumes: While no one picked Kennesaw State to win the conference this year, no one thought it would have a ten-game losing streak, either. But that‘s what happened as the Owls played poor defense and were too shot-dependent. KSU broke the spell with a 78-71 home win against USC Upstate Jan. 3, with the Spartans getting 23 points from Kelvin McConnell and 16 rebounds from Aaron Anderson. But it went back to losing two nights later when it allowed East Tennessee State to light it up for 51 percent shooting in an 80-69 decision.
  • Stetson Makes Lipscomb Smell: While no one would dare pick the Hatters over the Bisons in a seven-game series, Stetson did send the conference a message January 3 with a 76-66 upset in DeLand, Florida. Freshman point guard Corey Walden lit it up for 23 points and eight assists as the Hatters erupted for 58 points in the second half. It was another reminder why Lipscomb, as currently constituted, might never win anything that truly matters. It just doesn’t make enough of a commitment to defense.
  • Player of the Week: Adam Sollazzo, East Tennessee State: It‘s safe to say no one saw this coming. Sollazzo lost his job less than a month ago as coach Murray Bartow tried a point guard-less lineup for three games. Now he‘s the king of the A-Sun hill after averaging 16 points and 4.5 assists per game in wins over Mercer and Kennesaw State, canning a game-winning shot against Mercer. Just missing the gold medal is teammate Mike Smith, who averaged 14.3 points and nine rebounds during the Bucs’ trip to Cancun, and North Florida’s Parker Smith, who dropped 20 and 25 points on Maryland and Kansas State, respectively, in the dying days of 2010.

Power Rankings

1. Belmont (12-3, 4-0)
Next Week: 1/8 vs. North Florida, 1/10 vs. Jacksonville, 1/13 vs. Lipscomb

The beat goes on for the Bruins, which followed a solid non-conference win over Miami (OH) with easy conference road wins over Florida Gulf Coast and Stetson. Coach Rick Byrd netted the 500th win of his impressive career at Stetson and figures to tack on about 15 more to that total this year. Byrd unleashed his bench on the Hatters and it made the difference as they outscored Stetson‘s reserves 44-2, led by 14 from freshman J.J. Mann. Belmont‘s dominance has caught the eye of mid-major pollsters that are making it a regular in their top 25s. If this continues, a nation may notice this squad in March.

2. Jacksonville (9-3, 3-0)
Next Week: 1/8 at Lipscomb, 1/10 at Belmont, 1/13 vs. USC Upstate

For just the second time in their A-Sun tenure, the Dolphins have won their first three conference games. To match a 5-0 start in 2007-08, all they have to do is sweep their Nashville road trip against Lipscomb and Belmont. Don’t discount this undersized but super-quick team, which has had seven different players lead the team in scoring during the first 12 games. JU continues to play excellent first-shot defense (40.7 field goal percentage, 29.2 3-point percentage) and force turnovers at a clip of more than 17 per game. One major concern is that it’s making only 62.5 percent of its free throws.

3. East Tennessee State (8-7, 3-1)
Next week: 1/8 vs. Florida Gulf Coast, 1/10 vs. Stetson, 1/13 at North Florida

Looks like a return to A-Sun play was the cure for what ailed the Bucs. In the last four games, they‘ve topped 70 points three times, thanks largely to Sollazzo‘s increased contribution on offense. Mike Smith and Justin Tubbs have found the range more lately, but the biggest news is the team‘s commitment to the “pack line“ defense invented by Dick Bennett and perfected by Tony Bennett during his time at Washington State. With the exception of allowing Kennesaw State to hit 51 percent from the floor, the Buccaneers have taken to the pack approach. The roll should continue against Florida Gulf Coast and Stetson.

4. Lipscomb (8-5, 3-1)
Next Week: 1/8 vs. Jacksonville, 1/10 vs. North Florida, 1/13 at Belmont

Coach Scott Sanderson said it best after the Bisons‘ inexplicable loss to Stetson January 3. “There are no free games in this league. That loss stung. There’s no way around it.” There’s also no way around the fact that this team refuses to make a consistent commitment to defense, which isn’t just something you can do when you feel like it. That Lipscomb continues to permit opponents to score 78.5 ppg and shoot better than 45 percent indicates that either Sanderson’s message isn’t getting through or that there are a bunch of below-average defenders on this roster. Until Adnan Hodzic, Josh Slater and Co. mix in a few possessions of defense with their fun-to-watch offense, they won’t win any championships.

5. North Florida: (5-9, 2-1)
Next Week: 1/8 at Belmont, 1/10 at Lipscomb, 1/13 vs. East Tennessee State

OK, so the Ospreys are 5-9 and Campbell is 7-6. Yet we rank them about the Camels for two reasons — head-to-head result and strength of schedule. Not only did North Florida win straight-up January 5 in Buies Creek, it’s played a brutal schedule, cashing checks in exchange for beatings and lessons. What we’ve learned about coach Matthew Driscoll’s team is that when they play someone their own size (i.e.: the A-Sun), they’re pretty darn competitive. The addition of Parker Smith has given this team a breakout scorer they didn’t have last year. The Ospreys will stay around .500 in the league and beat people they shouldn’t.

6. Campbell: (7-6, 1-3)
Next Week: 1/7 vs. Kennesaw State, 1/10 vs. Mercer

Losing at two-time A-Sun tourney champion ETSU is one thing. Losing at home against a Jacksonville team good enough to win at Florida is another. Losing at home against undermanned North Florida is inexcusable. Yet the Camels did it in spite of shooting 55 percent from the field. The most shocking thing about this defeat was that they committed 26 turnovers against an Ospreys team which isn’t known for its fierce defensive pressure. Even point guard Junard Hartley, who’s normally careful with the ball, hacked up five turnovers. Campbell needs to sweep the Georgia schools because its Nashville trip awaits.

7. Stetson (4-10, 2-2)
Next week: 1/8 at USC Upstate, 1/10 at East Tennessee State

It says something for the Hatters that their 17-point loss to Belmont on Wednesday was the closest any A-Sun team has come to the Bruins so far. Their upset of Lipscomb should tell everyone in the conference not to take it easy when visiting central Florida. The 1-2 punch of Corey Walden and Ridge Graham looks like quite a nucleus for emotional coach Derek Waugh, who appears to have found another good piece in 6‘8, 280-pound freshman center Steve Forbes. He’s taken a spot in the starting lineup and delivered a 12-point outing against Belmont.

8. Mercer (4-11, 1-3)
Next week: 1/10 at Campbell

There may be no hotter player in the league at the moment besides senior forward Brian Mills, who has reached double figures in eight straight games, going off for a career-high 30 points in a January 5 win over USC Upstate. Mills is averaging 19.3 ppg and 8.8 rebounds in conference games. Now for the bad news: Besides the losing, 35 of the team’s 41 double-figure scoring games this year have come from seniors. It sure doesn’t say much for the seven players coach Bob Hoffman recruited. Unless some players suddenly blossom over the next 16 games, Mercer could miss the conference tournament on its home floor.

9. Kennesaw State: (3-11, 1-3)
Next week: 1/7 at Campbell

There are some good individual performances going on this year, such as the rebounding of Aaron Anderson, who hauled in 16 against USC Upstate, and the play of point guard Spencer Dixon, who‘s become one of the league‘s top combo guards. But there is nothing good going on when it comes to defense. Opponents are hitting 47.3 percent of their field goals and averaging more than 76 points per game. Its regression from last year makes this the conference’s biggest disappointment to this point.

10. USC Upstate: (2-12, 1-3)
Next week: 1/8 vs. Stetson, 1/10 vs. Florida Gulf Coast, 1/13 at Jacksonville

It‘s becoming apparent that as the losses pile up, the Spartans are still giving their fans hope for next year and the year beyond. Freshmen Torrey Craig and Babatunde Olumuyiwa are forming what could be a pretty good 1-2 punch in the frontcourt, while another freshman, Chandler Hash, is beginning to look like a guy who can hit 3-pointers in bunches. Home games against the central Florida schools this week could give Upstate a shot at back-to-back wins.

11. Florida Gulf Coast: (3-10, 0-4)
Next Week: 1/8 at East Tennessee State, 1/10 at USC Upstate

Well, the weather is great in Ft. Myers and the Eagles’ blue/green color scheme is easy on the eyes. And their women‘s basketball team might be headed for an unbeaten regular season, even though it‘s unlikely to make the NCAA Tournament since the school is in its final season of reclassification. As for the men? Suffice it to say that opponents are averaging more than 79 points per game and that the offense can’t shoot from the field (40 percent), the three-point line (30.4 percent) or the foul line (63.8). No matter how much the 1-2 punch of Anthony Banks and Reed Baker do, it’s not enough.

Playing the Percentages

Every week, we‘ll take a look at an intriguing trend around the conference and decide fluke or trend. This week, it’s the recent scoring surge of ETSU junior Adam Sollazzo, who’s averaged  15 points over the last four games after averaging 3.9 PPG in the first 11 games and losing his starting job. We’re going to say fluke, because Sollazzo has never come close to scoring like this for any stretch of time until now. But if Sollazzo keeps averaging double figures, the Bucs become a lot more dangerous in this league.

A Look Ahead

Now things start to get interesting in the league, as the top teams run into each other in a series of matchups that could crystalize the pecking order going forward.

  • Jacksonville takes its yearly Nashville road trip, playing Lipscomb and then Belmont. A sweep seems unlikely, but a split would be a very solid showing for the Dolphins.
  • After they play the Jacksonville schools, Belmont and Lipscomb get together for the first of their meetings at Belmont.
  • Meanwhile, ETSU has a chance to take on more wins against very beatable foes when it hosts Florida Gulf Coast and Stetson, then visits North Florida.
  • Stetson tries to keep one of the weirdest trends in the conference going when it travels to ETSU. It’s won the last two games in Johnson City and some feel it’s because coach Derek Waugh, who played at Furman when the Bucs enjoyed their glory days of a generation ago, gets his team more ready for this game than for others.
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