Predicted Order of Finish:
- East Tennessee St. (20-7) (13-3)
- Belmont (19-12) (12-4)
- Lipscomb (15-15) (10-6)
- Campbell (13-16) (7-9)
- Gardner-Webb (10-18) (6-10)
- South Carolina – Upstate (6-21) (4-12)
- Jacksonville (17-10) (11-5)
- Mercer (17-12) (10-6)
- Kennesaw St. (14-14) (10-6)
- Stetson (13-15) (8-8)
- Florida Gulf Coast (5-23) (3-13)
- North Florida (3-24) (2-14)
WYN2K. The Atlantic Sun has been an up and down league over the past decade. It spent much of the late 90s and early 2000s as a league hovering at the top of the low-majors (#19-#23 ranked conference most years). But the last two seasons it has fallen hard, finishing as one of the bottom four conferences in the computer rankings both years. Its OOC record (70-174, .287) the last three years is standard for a league at this level. Still, the NCAA typically shows some love to the conference champion, having given the A-Sun only five #16 seeds in 64/65-team era (and two of those were when the league received multiple bids) and peaking with a #11 seed in 2001 (Georgia St. defeated #5 Wisconsin in the first round). The league has earned a #14 or #15 seed each of the last six years, and we see no reason for this to end.
Predicted Champion. East Tennessee St. (#15 Seed NCAA). We see Murray Bartow’s ETSU squad (16-2 last season in the A-Sun) as the team to beat here. They return league POY Courtney Pigram and bring in former juco D2 POY Kevin Tiggs, a combo guard from whom big things are expected immediately. As a program, ETSU is no stranger to the NCAA Tournament, having made the Dance two of the last five years (as a member of the Southern Conference) and seven times overall.
Others Considered. The A-Sun North division is clearly the class of the league, containing two-time defending tourney champion Belmont and rising Lipscomb. Belmont is a system program predicated on efficient ball movement (#21 nationally in eFG%) and tight defense (#5 nationally in eFG% defense), but the loss of their two best post men (Boomer Herndon and Andrew Preston) makes it difficult for us to pick them again. Lipscomb is another intriguing choice if for no other reason than they’re hosting the conference tourney this year – oh, and they’re 24-2 at home during the last two seasons. Jacksonville engineered one of the all-time greatest turnarounds last year, going from one win in 2006 to fifteen in 2007, and while they won eight of their last eleven regular season games, we’re not ready to push them past the more experienced teams just yet.
Games to Watch. There’s likely only one A-Sun game probably worth watching this year.
- Atlantic Sun Championship Game (03.08.08).
RPI Booster Games. The A-Sun has thirty games against BCS opponents scheduled this year, and hopefully it can perform a little better than last year when it was 0-34. There are some opportunities against lower-tier BCS teams, however, in the following list of games:
- Belmont @ Cincinnati (11.09.07)
- ETSU @ Georgia (12.21.07)
- Lipscomb @ Vanderbilt (12.08.07)
- Campbell @ South Carolina (11.28.08)
- Jacksonville @ Florida (12.03.07)
- Alabama @ Mercer (11.13.07)
- Kennesaw St. @ Auburn (11.13.07)
Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. <5%. It’s extremely unlikely that this is a two-bid league, but if any team was going to make it so, it would be ETSU. It would require domination of the league as well as a scintillating non-conference record before they lose in the conference tourney – we don’t see that happening.
Neat-o Stat. We have a couple for the A-Sun. First, North Florida last season enjoyed the dubious distinction of having the least efficent offense in the nation, scoring a mere 79.6 pts per 100 possessions. Secondly, Florida Gulf Coast (one of four transitional schools making the jump to D1 in the A-Sun) is the youngest D1 university in America, having opened its doors to students in 1997.
64/65-Team Era. In 26 appearances, the Atlantic Sun is 3-23 (.115) over the era, scoring the #11 over #6 upset mentioned above, #12 College of Charleston defeating #5 Maryland in 1997, and #14 Arkansas-Little Rock defeating #3 Notre Dame (Digger!) in 1986. That UALR team then took NC State to double OT in the next round before succumbing – that is the closest the league has gotten to the Sweet 16 in its history.
Final Thought. Belmont has gotten destroyed by Georgetown (80-55) and UCLA (78-44) in the last two years in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. It doesn’t appear that their style of play is conducive to pulling off an upset against a bigger, more athletic team. The league would have a much better chance at the first round upset if an uptempo, athletic team like ETSU earns the automatic bid.