One of the true beauties of non-conference play in November is all of the various tournaments and the match-ups that they enable. With multiple events tipping off this weekend, let’s start this series of previews by analyzing two of the bigger annual events — the Puerto Rico Tip-Off (bracket) and the Charleston Classic (bracket).
Puerto Rico Tip-Off
Potential top-10 pick Jakob Poeltl and Utah headline a strong Puerto Rico Tip-Off. (AP)
Favorite: Utah. Just about everyone other than Delon Wright and Dallin Bachynski is back, and Brandon Taylor can fill enough of Wright’s shoes without making the team so reliant on any one player. Arizona is the Pac-12 favorite by default this season but it’s looking incredibly wide open after that and it ultimately may come down to the Utes defending their second-place crown against upstart Cal.
Darkhorse: Butler. It’s Butler in a tournament setting — you’re not quite sure you see the Bulldogs coming but you’re not surprised when they do. Roosevelt Jones (yes, he’s still there) and Kellen Dunham (yep, him too) lead a team that dropped a Big East record 144 points on The Citadel transitioning from Chuck Driesell (344th in adjusted pace last year) to Duggar Baucom (the former VMI coach who was perpetually first)
Most on the line: Miami, Minnesota, Temple. The Hurricanes might be the most interesting team in this tournament. That’s not a surprise considering they were also one of the most interesting teams for most of last season. Will they be the “winning at Cameron by 16” Miami or the “losing at home to Eastern Kentucky” Miami? Probably somewhere in-between. The Gophers are entering Year Three of the Richard Pitino Experiment, but closed Year Two by losing six of their final eight games. They’ll be eager to get off to a good start. The Owls couldn’t keep it close with a Marcus Paige-less UNC team in Annapolis and they have as much on the line as any team this weekend by virtue of their status as annual NCAA bubble candidates.
Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 21st, 2014
Note: To gauge relative team strength, we are using current Kenpom ratings.
Charleston Classic: Fresh off Monday’s big upset over Florida, Jim Larrañaga‘s squad is looking to make some more noise in the Gildan Charleston Classic. On Thursday afternoon, Miami (#40) topped Drexel (#161), 66-46, with its defense, holding the Dragons to 31.4 percent shooting from the field. Next up for the Hurricanes will be this afternoon’s semifinal game (2:30 ET – ESPN2) with Akron (#181), a team that beat USC (#169) yesterday in a mild surprise. It looks like Miami’s only chance for a quality win here would be in Sunday night’s championship game (9:00 ET – ESPN2) against a team from the more competitive side of the bracket. The tourney’s pseudo-host, South Carolina (#81), will meet Charlotte (#87) in today’s other semifinal, so either way Miami will face its toughest opponent in the event on Sunday, with another pretty good opportunity for a resume-building win.
Puerto Rico Tip-Off: Boston College (#147) rebounded from its first loss of the year with a somewhat surprising opening round win on Thursday over New Mexico (#55), 69-65, in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Olivier Hanlan came up big down the stretch with 10 points in the last 7:03 to clinch the win. A look at the bracket shows a tough road ahead for the Eagles with today’s semifinal matchup (5:00 ET – ESPN2) against West Virginia (#47) followed by a game with either Dayton (#50) or defending national champion Connecticut (#18). If Boston College wins one or two more games here, it will be good news for the ACC. Last year, after a terrible non-conference performance, the Eagles became a drag on the entire ACC’s RPI, but this year they may actually be helpful in that regard.
2K Sports Classic: California (#63) shocked Syracuse (#12) by a score of 73-59 on Thursday night in Madison Square Garden to advance to tonight’s championship game of the 2K Sports Classic, where they will take on Texas (#15). Syracuse, who will face Iowa (#24) in the consolation game (5:00 ET – ESPN2) trailed by 12 at the half and never threatened the Bears the rest of the way. California got a measure of revenge, though, as the Orange beat the Bears in last year’s Maui Invitational on the way to that event’s championship. Jim Boeheim’s Orange saw their hot streak in these type of early tournaments come to a halt, after winning five such events in a row over a six-year period. The last time Syracuse came up short was back in the 2007 NIT Tipoff, also held at the same New York venue, where they settled for third place.
Paradise Jam: This afternoon, Clemson (#91) will kick off the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands with a matchup (1:30 ET) against Gardner-Webb (#191). Here’s a look at the bracket for this event, and it’s clearly not full of top-notch programs compared to many of the other early tournaments. Still, if Clemson were to win this tournament — the championship game is Monday night (9:00 – CBS Sports Network) — beating Seton Hall (#75) and LSU (#77) along the way, it would be a slight boost to the Tigers’ resume and the ACC’s conference RPI. Of course, the opposite is true as well. With a bad home loss to Winthrop (#188) already on its ledger, Clemson can ill afford to drop another game to an opponent outside of the top 100.
Coaches vs. Cancer Classic: Coming off its Champions Classic victory over Michigan State on Tuesday, Duke (#2) is in Brooklyn tonight (9:30 ET – TruTv) to take on Temple (#109) in the semifinals of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. Former Blue Devils player and assistant coach Johnny Dawkins leads Stanford (#52) against UNLV (#98) in the other semifinal game. As a player, Dawkins is widely regarded as the most important recruit in Mike Krzyzewski’s illustrious career in Durham, and later he spent 11 years as an assistant coach at his alma mater. If the two meet on Saturday night (Finals: 9:30 ET – TruTv), it would be the first time Dawkins would get to match coaching wits with his mentor. Now in his seventh year at Stanford, Dawkins needs another solid season to stay off the hot seat. He finally got his team to the NCAA Tournament last March, when the Cardinal upset Kansas before losing to Dayton in the Sweet Sixteen.
Derek Kellogg’s UMass team was picked to finish fourth in the new-look Atlantic 10 this season, which would seem to position the Minutemen squarely on the bubble in pursuit of their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1998. In recent years, UMass has missed nearly every key opportunity to strengthen its non-conference resume (losing to Boston College, Seton Hall, Florida State, North Carolina State, Tennessee, and Miami twice), but this squad has garnered national attention by passing every tough test. Through eight games, UMass remains perfect, collecting wins over four power-conference teams (Boston College, LSU, Nebraska, and Clemson), along with high-mids New Mexico and BYU, and earning a championship in the Charleston Classic. What’s more impressive — aside from overcoming a nine-point second-half deficit to defeat Boston College, UMass has been in complete control of each of its other games. The Minutemen find themselves ranked in both major polls (#22 AP; #20 Coaches), and are currently ranked #1 in the RPI.
Senior guard Chaz Williams is living up to his preseason all-conference accolades (umassathletics.com).
Senior guard Chaz Williams, a preseason first team all-A-10 selection, has led the attack – averaging 17.5 points per game, thanks in part to shooting 44 percent beyond the arc. When he’s not scoring, he’s helping others do so, as Williams ranks 20th nationally in assist rate. He finished the BYU game with a ridiculous 15:1 assist/turnover ratio, and all of it has led to a balanced and potent offense, as three other Minutemen are also averaging 12 points or more per game: Cady Lalanne (15.0 PPG, to go along with 10.4 rebounds per game), Sampson Carter (13.8 PPG), and Raphiael Putney (12.6 PPG). To boot, each of these contributors is 6’8″ or taller, constantly testing opponents’ interior defense.
Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 27th, 2013
After a lackluster start in non-conference play, the ACC has somewhat rebounded with some impressive showings in the early season tournaments so far. In the seven events that have already completed, the ACC has a record of 12-5 (not counting designated home games related to the events, only the neutral court games). That record includes three championships, one runner-up, and two third place finishes. That’s a big improvement over recent years, considering that ACC schools have only won five such titles in the previous three seasons combined.
Marcus Paige leads North Carolina to Hall of Fame Tip-off Title (Photo: Getty Images)
Leading the way was North Carolina, which bounced back from a home loss to Belmont the weekend before to stun #3 Louisville 93-84 in the championship game of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off in Connecticut on Sunday. That followed a 82-72 Tar Heels win over Richmond the day before. Marcus Paige was sensational in his new role as North Carolina’s primary perimeter scorer, scoring 58 points in the two contests. He displayed a tremendous shooting touch going 9-of-14 on three-point attempts and 19-of-20 from the free throw line over the weekend.
Similarly, Maryland rebounded from a bad home loss last Sunday to Oregon State, winning the Paradise JamTournament title. The Terrapins got to the title game with wins over Marist, 68-43, and Northern Iowa, 80-66. They then beat Providence, 56-52, in Monday’s championship game. Dez Wells was selected as the tournament MVP while averaging 15 points and five rebounds over the three games. He was supported by transfer player Evan Smotrycz who scored 20 points against Northern Iowa and had a double-double (13/11) in the finals.
Nebraska has gotten off to a 3-0 start and has shown a versatile new-look roster that has looked impressive so far. Tim Miles has brought in eight newcomers who have jelled rather nicely in the early stages of the season. The Cornhuskers will be tested this weekend, however, as they will travel to the Palmetto State to play in the Charleston Classic (full bracket here). Nebraska kicks off the tournament on Thursday afternoon against UMass, and with a win could take on nationally-ranked New Mexico on Friday. Regardless of the opponents that Nebraska ends up facing, here are some things to look for during their three games in the tournament this weekend.
Tim Miles Takes His Undefeated Team to Charleston Today
Offensively, the two things that stood out from the Huskers’ first three games was their ability to get to the free throw line and their low turnover rate. They went for over 80 points in two of the three contests, and they also shot over 30 free throws in each. They need to continue to use their abundance of athletic, rangy wings like Shavon Shields and Terran Petteway to get to the rim. If they fall into the trap of overdependence on the three-point touch of Ray Gallegos, they might be heading to the losers bracket rather quickly. Tai Webster has been the most aggressive Husker in terms of getting to the line, but he’s only 15-of-27 (55%) there thus far this season. Petteway and Shields are each shooting over 80 percent from the stripe, but Petteway needs to get there more instead of settling for shooting long mid-range shots.He’s gone 6-of-7 from the line, but obviously the problem is that he’s only been there seven times.
As part of our preseason coverage on the ACC microsite, we will be looking at ACC teams competing in early season tournaments in a three-part series . Today we present Part I, which includes an overview and a look at the 2KSports Classic, the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic and the Charleston Classic.
In these early season tournament previews we will present them in order of when the championship games will be played. To make it easier to find each team’s event we will include a table with all the teams in alphabetical order, with bold print to indicate the schools featured in that part of the series. All of these events are not constructed alike but there are two main types. The first type is the traditional eight-team tournament in which all teams play three games through winners’ and losers’ brackets. The second type is the newer popular model, usually with four well-known teams predetermined to play a semifinal and championship round at a neutral site after hosting two lower rated teams at home. The Preseason NIT is the lone tournament to stick with a traditional format with 16 teams competing in a winners’ bracket. Each preview will look at potential match-ups with links to the brackets, and a brief outlook on the ACC team’s chances. Note that N.C. State and Notre Dame will not be included in the analysis as they are playing in exempt events with all the match-ups predetermined.
Date Time(ET) TV Location Opponent Conf 2012-13 W-L
Th-Nov 14 7:00 PM ESPN3 HOME Toledo MAC 15-13
Su-Nov 17 8:00 PM ESPNU HOME Florida Atlantic ConfUSA 14-18
Th-Nov 21 7:00 PM ESPN2 New York Connecticut AAC 20-10
Fr-Nov 22 TBD ESPN 2/U New York Indiana Big Ten 29-7
or Washington Pac 12 18-16
And The Winner Is: Connecticut – With one of the finest backcourts in the nation and the motivation of being NCAA Tournament-eligible, look for the Huskies to come out on top in New York in a couple of close games.
Possible Surprise Team: Boston College – With all key players returning from last year, the Eagles will probably be ahead of rebuilding Indiana or Washington at this early stage of the season. They even have a decent shot at taking down UConn. Sophomore guards Olivier Hanlan and Joe Rahon won’t be easily overmatched, and Connecticut lacks an established inside scorer to punish the smallish frontcourt Boston College frequently uses.
It was a game Colorado really should have wanted to win. But, my god, it really didn’t look like it, did it? After scoring a big opening round win yesterday in the Charleston Classic and earning their way into the winner’s side of the bracket and a chance at revenge against a Baylor team that ended their year last season, the Buffaloes did plenty of good things Friday afternoon, but struggled to slam the door on the Bears. In the last two minutes of the game, they missed five of their six free throw attempts and generally displayed some shaky decision making, allowing Baylor a decent look at tying the game as time expired, only to see an Isaiah Austin jumper go awry. It was all part of a nightmarish 4-for-19 day from the line for CU, but in the end, they were good enough on the defensive end, holding Baylor to 0.85 points per possession, to escape with a win and advance to the championship game of the tournament.
Spencer Dinwiddie And Colorado Finally Closed Out Baylor, Earning a Pair Of Key Wins (Daily Camera)
The good news for the Buffs is that it is only going to get better from here for a young team. While CU likely isn’t on track to be a great free throw shooting team, today’s low was an aberration. For instance, sophomore point guard Spencer Dinwiddie shot better than 81% from the line last year, but today was just one-for-five. More importantly, while Dinwiddie and classmate Askia Booker got plenty of experience last year, they’re still just sophomores tasked with running an NCAA Tournament-caliber team that is trying to fold in a pair of talented frontcourt freshmen to a solid returning core. There were hiccups today, as there were yesterday, but to see this team struggle like this and still come away with a win against a very good opponent provides plenty of hope for just how good this team can be come March. For instance, freshman big man Josh Scott got his first big taste of big NBA-ready frontcourt talent today and, while foul trouble limited his minutes and he turned in season lows in points and rebounds, he showed he could hold his own against guys like Austin and Cory Jefferson. And, he’ll get better by leaps and bounds as the season progresses. Fellow frosh Xavier Johnson impressed in his first two games, but looked very much like the rookie he is today, turning the ball over five times. But, give him credit for trying to fit in with the rest of his new squad by missing three of four free throws – a team-building exercise, right?
The non-conference tournaments get under way in earnest this week, and our Pac-12 microsite game of the week takes us to South Carolina for the Charleston Classic, where Colorado will play Dayton in a first round game Thursday afternoon.
Why It’s Important: Get used to this phrase for the next couple of moments, but this is the ultimate RPI boost game for Colorado. Take a look at the bracket for this tournament: If Colorado wins, it will most likely face some two-game combination of Baylor, St. John’s and Murray State. If Colorado loses, then likely dates with Boston College, Charleston and Auburn are on the ledger. Notice the difference in level of competition? Again, the Pac-12, more than any conference, needs as many opportunities to play high-RPI teams as it can get. Going 1-2 in Charleston with a win over Dayton and losses to Baylor and either St. John’s or Murray State is a whole lot better than going 2-1 with a loss to Dayton and wins over Boston College and Charleston or Auburn. Last year, the Buffaloes went 1-2 in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, but that win didn’t come until the seventh place game in which they beat Western Michigan after losing to Wichita State and Maryland.
Colorado Player to Watch- André Roberson: An obvious choice, but maybe not for a reason that would be considered obvious going into the season. The only player to average a double-double in the Pac-12 last year, Roberson struggled in the season-opening victory against Wofford, scoring just seven points to go along with six rebounds on 2-8 shooting from the field. After the fact, Roberson agreed with Tad Boyle’s assessment that he didn’t play with enough energy. Never a good thing to hear after the first game of the season, and Roberson can ill afford to give a subpar effort against an Atlantic 10 team that is more than capable of beating the Buffs.
Last week we took a look at the early season exempt events that the Oregon and Washington schools would be participating in this season. Today we’ll take a look at the Arizona schools and, for lack of a better term, the Rockies’ schools, breaking down where they’re going, who they’ll potentially be facing and what impact their successes or failures in those tournaments can have on the rest of their season.
Colorado – Charleston Classic, November 15-18, TD Arena, Charleston, SC
The fifth annual Charleston Classic is not exactly brimming over with great teams, but Colorado lucked out in the draw with an opening round matchup with one of the better teams in the tourney – Dayton – followed by possible matchups with a pair of other teams – Baylor and Murray State – who could be nice scalps for the Buffs, if they’re able to earn them. Of course, the downside of all that is that CU is a team that features six freshmen alongside a pair of sophomore guards, so if the young squad isn’t ready to go from the time the season tips off, they could dig themselves an early hole. To begin with, they absolutely need to take care of business against a promising and experienced Flyers team in the opener. And that starts with game-planning to slow the Dayton’s excellent senior point guard, Kevin Dillard. Last year Tad Boyle’s club did a solid job of limiting dribble penetration from opposing guards, and they’ll need to do the same in this match-up. If they can take care of that battle, expect Andre Roberson, Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson to out-athlete UD up front on the way to the winner’s bracket. Next up could be a rematch with Baylor, the team that ended the Buffs’ season last year, and another challenge for the CU guards, this time in the form of senior point guard Pierre Jackson. And there are decent odds that if somehow the Buffs get on through that challenge, they’ll have another highly regarded point man to face in the finals, in the form of Isaiah Canaan of Murray State. Of those three potential opponents for the Buffs, Baylor will do the most to challenge them along the front line, but by the time Thanksgiving weekend has come and gone, we should have a pretty good idea what that CU backcourt is made up of.
Askia Booker and Backcourt-Mate Spencer Dinwiddie Could Be Seriously Challenged By Elite Point Guards At The Charleston Classic (Cliff Grassmick, Colorado Daily)
Utah – Utah Thanksgiving Tournament, November 21-24, Huntsman Center, Salt Lake City, UT
In lieu of any of the more traditional exempt events, the Utes will be hosting their own tournament in a round robin format with Central Michigan, Idaho State and Wright State the other participants. To be honest, this is not an appealing event in the slightest. Central Michigan is coming off an 11-21 season that led to a coaching change and three transfers. Idaho State was even worse, finishing last year 9-21 but matching the Chippewas’ coaching change and transfers step for step. Wright State had its worst season in a decade in Billy Donlon’s second year, losing 11 of their last 15 on the way to a 13-19 disappointment. Better yet, the Raiders saw four transfers bail on the program, with a fifth opting for early graduation. So, to put it mildly, Utah is not expecting to be embarrassed in front of its home crowd on this holiday weekend. While it may not make for a ton of compelling basketball, it may be just what a Ute team that is bouncing back from its own nightmare season needs. The home folks can get a chance to get real familiar with all the new faces on their roster over the span of a few days, and better yet, they should get a chance to see those new guys have some success and leave the court smiling.
While Colorado has not released an official schedule yet, they’ve released a tentative schedule with times still to be announced and dates to be finalized. Today we’ll take a quick look at their slate and figure out which games we’re most excited about.
Early-Season Tournament: After kicking things off with Wofford on November 9, the Buffaloes head to South Carolina for the Charleston Classic, an ESPN-sponsored tournament whose field this year features maybe four interesting teams. The bracket was just announced this morning and CU will open with Dayton, giving them a chance to score a solid, potentially resume-boosting win in the opening round. If things play true to form in the rest of the bracket, Colorado could get a chance at Baylor in the semifinal there, with Murray State potentially waiting in the championship game. All told, the way the bracket lays out, the Buffaloes have a chance to score three really good wins in Charleston. Of course, the flip side of that is that if the drop their opener with Dayton, they could be relegated to playing teams like Boston College and Auburn in their final two games, matchups that will do no good come March. That Dayton game will be a seriously important game for the Buffs to win.
Toughest Non-conference Game: While their early-season trip to Charleston could give them a couple good challenges, by far their toughest non-conference test will be their trip to Lawrence on December 8 to face Kansas. While Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor are gone, the Jayhawks return Jeff Withey and Elijah Johnson from last year’s Final Four team, while adding a strong 2012 freshman class and gaining the services of a couple highly regarded youngsters who were ineligible last year. Roberson and the rest of the young Colorado frontline will get a serious challenge from Withey, freshman Perry Ellis and company, but it is possible the Buffs will have the advantage in the backcourt. But, as always, regardless of who will be wearing the KU uniforms, the trip to Allen Fieldhouse alone makes it a tough trip.
Andrew Baker is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun and Southern conferences.
Predicted Order of Finish:
Belmont Bruins (23-6) (17-3)
ETSU Buccaneers (20-10) (15-5)
Jacksonville Dolphins (18-11) (14-6)
Stetson Hatters (16-13) (12-8)
Lipscomb Bisons (15-14) (11-9)
Mercer Bears (14-17) (9-11)
Kennesaw State Fighting Owls (13-16) (7-13)
Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (11-20) (6-14)
Campbell Fighting Camels (10-18) (6-14)
USC-Upstate Spartans (9-21) (5-15)
UNF Ospreys (4-25) (1-19)
What You Need to Know (WYN2K).
Non-Conference. I know how far of a stretch this may seem, but all signs point to an improving Atlantic Sun Conference. Some of you will ask, ‘How can a conference that has been mired in the bottom three of the conference RPI be improving?’ Well it can’t get much worse than 29th in the conference RPI ratings, but there is proof of improvement just over the last two seasons. During the 2006-07 campaign the conference went 1-38 against the power conferences (including Mountain West and CUSA). During 2007-08 the conference went 8-41 with three wins coming over SEC teams (Gardner-Webb over Kentucky, Belmont over Alabama, and ETSU over Georgia). Look for the Atlantic Sun’s top five to play tougher against the power conference teams as all those teams are returning a great deal of talent and scoring. The conference also improved upon their overall non-conference record at 46-108 (.299) last year, with 17 more OOC wins than the previous year (excluding non-D-I games). Look for the Atlantic Sun to pull a few more upsets this fall.
Conference. There are two teams in the Atlantic Sun who are thinking about the three time defending champion Belmont Bruins with an incredible amount of rage. The East Tennessee Bucs and Jacksonville Dolphins are both coming into this season with huge chips on their shoulders after losing to Belmont in last season’s Atlantic Sun Championship semifinals and finals respectively. ETSU hates to be reminded of the circumstances, but for those that don’t know it’s worth watching the below video to see why they can’t wait for their games with Belmont. Jacksonville was never competitive in the final and got completely dismantled by Belmont’s signature three-point attack. Only seven teams are eligible for the A-Sun tournament this year out of the eleven in the conference, so expect a dogfight at the top to secure that first round bye into the semifinals.
Champion. Belmont Bruins (#15 NCAA) – Many will think this pick is made because the Bruins are the three time champions. This is partially correct. The real reason is that the Bruins are 30-2 against conference opposition in February and March over the last three years including the conference tournament. They simply find ways to win late in the season. While Jacksonville and ETSU may have more talented squads, the Bruins make up the difference with superb coaching. Belmont has the longest tenured coaching staff in the conference. Rick Byrd has brought his program along from NAIA in 1996 and found a successful formula for winning in this league that has helped them become the first back to back to back champions the A-Sun has ever seen. It also helps that the Bruins will return four starters (Dansby, Wicke, Renfroe, and Dotson) that have 42.1 PPG between them. Wicke and Dotson have not had a season where they haven’t come out as A-Sun Champions. However, it won’t be easy, as ETSU and Jacksonville won’t be far behind the defending champs.
Others Considered. With the departure of Gardner-Webb, the Atlantic Sun will be one big happy family again without the north and south divisions. What does this mean? Well it means teams like Jacksonville and Stetson will have to play more games against Belmont, Lispcomb, and East Tennessee, which for these teams usually ends in an L. This is not to say that Jacksonville won’t be good. They will be excellent, but they will have to play six games against these teams whereas they only played four against them last year, including the A-Sun Final against Belmont. Jacksonville did not come up with a single W against those three squads. Stetson didn’t fare much better, going 1-2 and losing to Garnder-Webb (North) in the A-Sun Quarters. Both teams will have to expect to run at least 4-2 against these teams to even have a shot at the title. Of the two, Jacksonville has the better shot. The Dolphins return fours starters and most of their production. If Stetson is to win then they will do it with defense. Stetson ranked first in the conference last season limiting conference opponents to only 67.4 PPG and only 27.8% from beyond the arc.
What can you say about East Tennessee State? They had the semifinal game in their grasp to move on to the finals, but one technical and a subsequent missed front end of a 1 & 1 doomed their season (see video above). Does ETSU have the talent? Of course they do. Kevin Tiggs (14.6 ppg & 5.6 rpg) and Courtney Pigram (15.8 ppg & 3.2 rpg) are two of the best players in the conference. ETSU’s supporting cast will be bolstered by the arrival of 6’11” Seth Coy and 6’6” PG Adam Sollazzo, whom ETSU considers one of their finest prospects ever. The presence of a big man should add some depth to the ETSU attack and make them a dangerous team come conference time. The Bucs offense is a potent one, but where they struggled was in assists/turnovers (.802 A/TO Ratio). Turning the ball over 20% of the time is just not going to cut it for any team that has aspirations of a trip to the Dance. Can the Bucs break their duck against Belmont? Maybe, but Coach Murray Bartow is going to have to find a way to get a W against the Bruins to get back to the promised land.
Important Games/Games to Watch: Make sure you jot down any game between that involves Belmont and the following teams: ETSU, Jacksonville, and Lipscomb. Belmont has an intense rivalry with Lipscomb being as that they are only two miles away on Belmont Boulevard and have always fought for attention in the saturated sports world of Nashville. The Battle of the Boulevard has gone into overtime five times since Lipscomb’s move into the Atlantic Sun in 2003-04 including the 2005-06 Atlantic Sun Championship Game. The ETSU v. Jacksonville games should be great as well. The most important game of the year of course is the A-Sun Tournament Championship Game in March as only one team in the Atlantic Sun is going to get to Dance.
Atlantic Sun Championship Game (03/07/09)
RPI Boosters. The Atlantic Sun will be looking to improve on the eight wins they had over power conference opponents last year. ETSU is also going to be involved in the Charleston Classic which should add some quality competition, so keep an eye out on their schedule as well. Here are some dates to keep in mind for the top five:
Stetson @ Texas (11/14/08)
Jacksonville @ Florida State (11/15/08)
Jacksonville @ Georgetown (11/17/08)
Stetson @ Florida State (11/20/08)
Jacksonville @ Baylor (11/24/08)
Belmont @ Pittsburgh (11/25/08)
Jacksonville @ Georgia Tech (11/28/08)
Belmont @ Tennessee (12/20/08)
Stetson @ Miami (FL) (11/29/08)
Jacksonville @ Ohio State (12/17/08)
Lipscomb @ NC State (12/20/08)
Stetson @ Missouri (12/20/08)
Lipscomb @ Indiana (12/28/08)
Stetson @ Florida (12/30/08)
The Curse of Two. The Atlantic Sun has sent two teams to the dance only once. In 1993-94, the College of Charleston and Central Florida broke through as 12 and 16 seeds respectively. They both lost in the first round. The only teams that were in the league when that happened were the Mercer Bears and the Stetson Hatters. Both the Bears and the Hatters have seen only two winning seasons since.
University of Northern Fail. The UNF Ospreys have had a tough life since joining Division I. The Ospreys have only scrounged five Atlantic Sun wins in their first three seasons. New members Florida Gulf Coast and USC-Upstate both equaled and in FGCU’s case surpassed them with six wins in their maiden seasons. Coach Matt Kilcullen will most likely be feeling the heat this season if they don’t start seeing better results.
65-Team Era. The A-Sun is 3-24 during the modern era, and despite Belmont’s ridiculously close 71-70 loss to Duke last year, they have simply not been able to get over the hump in the NCAA Tournament during their otherwise impressive run.
Final Thoughts. The Atlantic Sun should be more fun to watch than it has been in recent years. Expect games between the top five schools to be knock-down, drag-outs. A massive amount of talent returns for these schools and it should be fascinating to watch. Don’t expect to see two bids out of this league unless someone wins a majority of their power OOC games and sweeps through the conference schedule only to lose in the final. Is the Atlantic Sun Conference one on the rise? Only if the Atlantic Sun can muster more OOC wins and their champion can again come close or win a NCAA Tournament game when March rolls around.