Atlantic Sun Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 2nd, 2011

Bucky Dent is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun. The A-Sun is among the first of the conference tournaments to tip off, with action set to begin Wednesday.

Tournament Preview and Prediction

The top two seeds play Wednesday, giving them a day off before playing in semifinal matchups Friday night. While weird stuff happens in March, there’s nothing to suggest that Belmont or ETSU should lose against Kennesaw State or Campbell, respectively.

On the other hand, a North Florida upset of Jacksonville or a Mercer victory over Lipscomb wouldn’t come as a surprise. The Ospreys’ season would be made by beating their crosstown rivals and the Bears are as hot as anyone not named Belmont in this league.

Regardless of who wins those games, though, it would be a real surprise if Belmont and ETSU didn’t play for the championship as they were clearly the league’s best teams. Strangely enough, the one fly in the ointment might be if Lipscomb survives Mercer on the Bears’ floor and gets a third crack at its Nashville rivals in the semifinals. All bets might be off at that point, but there’s a reason Belmont was 19-1 in the league this year. It had the best team and could win any type of game – fast, slow or moderately-paced. Look for the Bruins to win the A-Sun tourney and perhaps win an NCAA Tournament game with the right draw.

A Look Back

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Checking in on… the Atlantic Sun

Posted by rtmsf on December 26th, 2010

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

A Look Back

  • Belmont‘s the Best: There is no team as consistent in this league as the Bruins, who came within a Scotty Hopson layup of scoring an upset win at Tennessee Thursday night. How good is Belmont? It went 8-of-35 from the 3-point line, had a 37-10 disadvantage in free throw chances and still fought a top 20 team — a top 20 team with decisive neutral court wins over Villanova and Pittsburgh — down to the wire. Between ripping his team after the game, Volunteers coach Bruce Pearl couldn’t stop expressing his admiration for the Bruins’ half court offense. If Belmont wins this league, it could win a first round game in the NCAA Tournament with the right draw.
  • Jacksonville‘s Not Far Behind: And what about those Dolphins, going into Florida on December 20 and walking away with an overtime win against a team which two days earlier held Kansas State to 44 points? Right now, Cliff Warren is the favorite for A-Sun Coach of the Year. All he’s done is take a team which lost its top scorers to graduation (Ben Smith and Lehmon Colbert) and usually has no one taller than 6’5 in its lineup and make it a much better defensive outfit. While it helps to have a do-it-all type like Ayron Hardy in your lineup, JU keeps getting meaningful contributions from the likes of Keith McDougald, Glenn Powell and Travis Cohn. Mark down January 10 on your calendar; that’s when the Dolphins visit Belmont.
  • Player of the Week: Scott Saunders, Belmont. Coming off the bench — which should tell you just how deep this team is — Saunders averaged 12.7 PPG and 7.3 RPG in wins over Kennesaw State, Troy and Alabama State. His 19-point, 10-rebound performance December 16 against Kennesaw State represented the first double-double of his career. A year after his arrival, the Rice transfer is having the impact many thought he would. Just missing the gold medal is Jacksonville’s Keith McDougald, a freshman who averaged 15 PPG in road games against Saint Louis and Florida. McDougald canned four free throws in OT to clinch the Dolphins’ 71-68 upset of the No. 20 Gators.

Power Rankings

1. Belmont (9-3, 2-0)

Next Week: 12/30 vs. Miami (OH)

Want to know two more reasons why the Bruins win? Rebounding and depth. They are outrebounding foes by nearly four per game, including an impressive 47-40 wiping of the boards at Tennessee, and play 10 players at least 10 minutes per game. In that respect, they play the game exactly like a BCS school, which is why they are this league’s favorite until further notice. One troubling trend, though, is that sophomore Ian Clark’s scoring average is down to 11.9 ppg. He had just six points and fouled out late in the loss at Tennessee. Belmont becomes a bit more vulnerable if Clark keeps slumping.

2. Jacksonville (7-3, 2-0)

Next Week: 12/30 vs. Bethune-Cookman

The Dolphins‘ win at Florida made them the first A-Sun team to beat a top 25 foe since Mercer walloped USC and O.J. Mayo in the 2007 season opener. They don’t win with a lot of style points, given their low shooting percentages across the board, but JU is better equipped to win games in March this year thanks to its emphasis on defense. It is in some ways harder to guard because of the absence of a go-to player like it had last year in Ben Smith. If Belmont has some slippage, this looks like the team best suited to jump into the breach.

3. Lipscomb (7-3, 2-0)

Next week: 12/30 at Memphis

Predictably, Jordan Burgason has found his lost 3-point shooting touch, canning 16-of-32 in the team‘s last three games and averaging 20 points in that span. Center Adnan Hodzic continued his run to 2,000 career points, climbing to 1,670 for his career after a rare off-game netted him just 12 at Alabama. That was about the only thing worth mentioning from a 71-51 loss which was highly disappointing to coach Scott Sanderson, who said his team competed for five minutes of the second half. Losing at a BCS school is expected, but losing by 20 against a .500 BCS school when you expect to contend for a league title just doesn’t sit well with Wimp’s son. Nor should it.

4. Campbell (7-3, 1-0)

Next Week: 12/30 at East Tennessee State

No team in the league won in more dramatic fashion last week than the Camels, who trailed UNC Wilmington almost all night until Junard Hartley unloaded a game-winning 3-pointer with 1.4 seconds left for a 57-56 decision Dec. 22. Campbell is winning with defense, limiting its last four opponents to less than 40 percent marksmanship from the field. We’ll start finding more out about the Camels next Thursday night when they visit two-time conference tourney champ East Tennessee State.

5. East Tennessee State: (5-7, 0-1)

Next Week: 12/30 vs. Campbell

The Buccaneers‘ inconsistent point guard play is a nightly concern, but so are their slow starts. Until a 79-51 win on Christmas Eve against Appalachian State, they fell behind by double figures before the second media timeout in three straight games — all losses. It appears more and more likely that senior forward Tommy Hubbard is headed for a redshirt year, shifting more of the load to Mike Smith, Micah Williams, Justin Tubbs and Isiah Brown. So far, none of those four has consistently been able to be the No. 1 offensive option for more than a game or two at a time. Someone has to at some point or a once-promising season could end in a sea of mediocrity.

6. North Florida: (4-7, 1-1)

Next Week: 12/29 at Maryland

Now we get to the A-Sun‘s second division, where there presently seems to be little difference from sixth place to the cellar. On the premise that the Ospreys have played the toughest schedule in the league, we’ll go with them at No. 6. It’s not a good sign that they continue to have trouble scoring the ball. It’s an even worse sign that they have failed to earn more trips to the foul line than their opponents in 11 straight games. For a team which struggles to score consistently, it needs to find more ways to draw fouls and get easy points.

7. Mercer (3-8, 0-2)

Next week: 12/30 vs. Charlotte

You had to feel bad for Brian Mills, who fumbled a potential game-winning layup against Georgia Dec. 23 through his hands and out of bounds. Talk about the Grinch rappelling down your chimney at rocket speed. It was a lost opportunity for a team which continues to struggle to score points. And it was a rotten ending to a great game for Mills, who had 21 points and 12 boards. The Bears are still getting almost nothing out of underclassmen, a bad sign long-term.

8. Florida Gulf Coast (3-7, 0-2)

Next week: 12/27 vs. IUPUI

Reed Baker is going out with a bang, firing in a game-high 25 points in a Dec. 21 win over North Carolina Central. The senior guard is averaging nearly 18 points per game, although his usage rate suggests he needs to score more to justify his low shooting percentage. Other than sophomore forward Anthony Banks, who might be the league’s top offensive rebounder, there’s still little to like about this team across the board. Ole Miss transfer Kevin Cantinol hasn’t contributed much, suggesting there’s considerable rust to chip off his game.

9. USC Upstate: (2-9, 1-1)

Next week: 12/30 at Virginia Tech

Unlike Mercer, which recruited a bunch of freshmen and isn‘t getting much production from them, the Spartans can boast of freshmen who lead the team in scoring (Torrey Craig), rebounding (Craig) and blocked shots (Babatunde Olomuyiwa). In fact, Olomuyiwa’s 35 blocked shots are more than six teams in the conference. So while Upstate is probably headed for another 20-loss season, it at least is bringing along young players who appear capable of leading this program to brighter days in 2-3 years.

10. Stetson: (3-9, 1-1)

Next week: No games scheduled

One could say the Hatters crapped out in Las Vegas, where they lost on consecutive days to Rice, Akron and Arkansas-Little Rock to stretch their losing streak to five games. Defense was an issue in the final two games as the Zips and Trojans combined to hit a total of 25 3-pointers. The one consistent scorer individually continues to be sophomore Ridge Graham, who’s eighth in the league at 15 points per game and third in rebounding at 7.3. With the Nashville schools coming to town after the New Year, followed by a road trip to Upstate and ETSU, Stetson needs to improve first-shot defense soon or their five-game losing streak might not end for a while.

11. Kennesaw State: (2-9, 0-2)

Next Week: Dec. 28 at Wyoming

What‘s happened here? Since an 80-63 blowout of Georgia Tech Nov. 15, the Owls have lost nine in a row and are getting blown out more often than worn tires on a pothole-strewn expressway. Not even a lineup shakeup in a Dec. 22 loss at Fordham could change this team‘s slumping ways. This team shouldn’t be losing nine in a row, but will lose more than that unless it starts hitting more shots and making more of a commitment to playing tough defense like it did in last year’s A-Sun tourney.

Playing the Percentages

Every week, we’ll look at an intriguing individual or team stat and determine fluke or trend.  This week, we eyeball Belmont‘s first half dominance. Until it trailed 35-23 at halftime of a December 23 game at Tennessee, the Bruins had outscored their first 11 opponents by a combined 156 points, or an average of 41-27.  We’re going to say fluke, even though we think this is the conference’s top team. With conference opponents — the guys who see you twice a year — on the docket for most of the season’s remainder, Belmont might not display this type of dominance immediately.

A Look Ahead

After opening Santa‘s presents, A-Sun teams will mostly practice and get ready for the bulk of conference play in the last week of 2010, although there are some intriguing games.

  • Campbell tries to improve to 2-0 in conference play when it makes its final trip to Johnson City for a date with two-time A-Sun tourney champ East Tennessee State.
  • Belmont plays Miami (Ohio) in what should be a fascinating battle for tempo control. The Bruins love to play fast but Miami coach Charlie Coles gets almost everyone to play at a waltz pace.
  • North Florida goes back to the road (and the bank) when it fleshes out a brutal non-conference schedule with a Maryland-Kansas State swing.
  • Lipscomb takes its last swing at a significant non-conference road win when it makes a 200-mile bus trip to Memphis. The more experienced Bisons will have had nine days to stew over a rotten performance in a loss at Alabama.
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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.
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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.
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