Morning Five: 11.10.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 10th, 2014

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  1. The 2004 USC football team might have some company soon after Dan Kane’s latest piece on the North Carolina academic scandal showed just how pervasive the academic fraud was on the 2005 North Carolina basketball team that won the national title. According to Kane, five members of that team–four of whom are labeled as “key players”–enrolled in 35 bogus classes with nine of them in the fall semester and 26 in the spring semester when they were on their way to winning the national title. The names of those five individuals have not been released, but we think it is safe to assume that Rashad McCants was one of them since he has come clean with his involvement in it. As for the other three “key players” they would have to include at least one other pretty big name as that UNC team only have seven players other than McCants even score 100 points the entire season. Regardless of which players were actually involved we cannot imagine the NCAA handling this any other way than to vacate that national title.
  2. Three teams–Virginia, Mississippi, and San Diego State–will be without significant pieces to start the season. At Virginia, junior forward Evan Nolte (2.8 points per game last season) and sophomore guard London Perrantes (5.5 points and team-leading 3.8 assists per game last season) were suspended for two preseason scrimmages and the team’s season-opener at James Madison for violation of team rules over the summer. At Mississippi, senior forward Aaron Jones (team leader with 6.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocker per game last season) was suspended for three games–an exhibition game and the first two regular season games–following a violation of team rules. The issue at San Diego State is not a suspension instead it is an injury as sophomore forward Matt Shrigley (5.2 points per game last season) will be out for a month after suffering a “small fracture” in his left elbow after being on the receiving end of a flagrant foul during an exhibition game.
  3. In this space we talk a lot about players getting suspended. What we don’t talk about very often is coaches having the sit out suspension. So that makes the decision by Kennesaw State to suspend Jimmy Lallathin for one game for a self-reported violation by the program interesting. What makes it even more interesting (or amusing depending on your point of view) is that Lallathin’s has not even coached a game as the official head coach yet. He did go 3-13 over the final two months of last season acting as an interim coach following the departure of Lewis Preston on January 3. And just to make the suspension a little more bizarre, the Kennesaw State administration decided to suspend Lallathin for the second game of the season–against California–so he will be available for their season-opener–against Syracuse.
  4. It always seems like the NCAA comes down to the wire with its decision regarding the eligibility of certain players. The case of Louisville freshman Shaqquan Aaron appears to be no different as he is still waiting to receive a response from the NCAA with the Cardinals opener coming up on Wednesday. Aaron, a top-30 recruit, reportedly submitted the final documents for the NCAA to review on Friday (truthfully, in most cases the timing of these decisions is probably more the fault of the player and his family than the NCAA) and is hopeful that he will get a (positive) response in time for Wednesday’s game against Minnesota. Even if he doesn’t start for the Cardinals, his presence should add some depth to the Cardinals in an area they need some more help.
  5. With all this talk of who won’t be available to start the season and who shouldn’t have been able to play nearly a decade ago, we do have one bit of positive news on Monday as BYU forward Kyle Collinsworth was cleared to play again after tearing his right ACL at the end of last season. Collinsworth, who averaged 14 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game last season while being named All-WCC, is a huge addition for the Cougars even if he is not back to full strength when the season starts. He probably won’t be enough to make the Cougars competitive with Gonzaga this season, but should make them a threat for second place in the conference and a possible NCAA Tournament bid.
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Big East M5: End of the World (And I Feel Fine) Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on December 21st, 2012

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  1. The system that Buzz Williams has put into place at Marquette has generally done a good job of preventing major letdowns after the Golden Eagles lose significant contributors. However, this year’s Marquette squad has struggled at times, especially during Wednesday’s loss to Wisconsin-Green Bay. What looked to be a solid core that includes Vander Blue, Junior Cadougan, Davante Gardner, Jamil Wilson, and Chris Otule has really struggled to score this year, with only Blue and Gardner averaging double figures in points at just over 12 per game each. The Eagles are 162nd in the country in scoring this season, at 68.6 points per game
  2. Many coaches contend that some of the best games for a developing team are the ones that count in the win column but feel like losses. Jim Boeheim’s 900th career victory sure felt like a loss in many ways, and he will find plenty of teachable moments in Syracuse‘s near-collapse against Detroit. This was the first game all year where the Orange really had their backs against the wall, and that situation provides good feedback to Boeheim and his coaching staff. “These are things that usually you don’t learn from games that you win, but usually players almost need to lose a game to really think about things such as ‘this is what we have to do’ and I think this game feels more like a loss. It’s good to get one that feels like it but isn’t and I think we’ll be able to look at some plays.”
  3. The Kevin Ollie situation seems to be wearing on UConn, as evidenced by comments made by Shabazz Napier following a Thursday practice: “Warde (Manuel), our AD, we all know what he’s doing… After (beating) Michigan State, I felt like he was going to get this job, but sometimes it doesn’t seem that way. I’ve kind of come to terms that, no matter what we do, it’s not going to be in our hands. We can win as many games as we want, I still don’t believe it’s going to be in our hands where he’s going to give him a job.” With no postseason prospects to look forward to, the chance to win long-term job security for Ollie is one of the tangible things that the Huskies have to play for this year; but if new athletic director Manuel is really that difficult to win over, it will be interesting to see how the team reacts.
  4. One of the major categories that hurt USF early on this year was their mediocre efforts on the glass. Enter: Victor Rudd. After seeing the Bulls get dominated in the rebounding department through the first few games of the year, Rudd took it upon himself to excel in this area and he is now averaging 8.2 boards per game, good for third in the Big East. Rudd’s rebounding prowess, coupled with improved play from Toarlyn Fitzpatrick and Anthony Collins, has helped the Bulls recover from a slow start. USF has won four of its last five games, with the only loss coming to a ranked Oklahoma State squad.
  5. According to Blue and Gold Illustrated‘s Wes Morgan, Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant has a bruised back and may miss the Irish’s game against Niagara tonight. After scoring 14 points the last time out, Grant left Notre Dame’s game against Kennesaw State after a collision with an Owls player. Grant, who is second on the Irish in scoring this year, would be a big loss if he misses extended time, but Mike Brey’s squad should not have any issue with a 5-6 Niagara squad tonight with or without him in the lineup.
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Checking In On… the Atlantic Sun Conference

Posted by EMoyer on February 3rd, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

Looking Back

  • Spartan Conquest: USC Upstate continued its season-long upswing, beating Belmont, Lipscomb and ETSU in succession. Granted the scheduling gods rarely have one school face the three Tennessee schools in order, but regardless, no A-Sun team had beaten the Bruins, Bison and Buccaneers in order since Gardner-Webb in February 2006.
  • Top Byrd: The Nashville Sports Council named Belmont head coach Rick Byrd as one of five finalists for the Nashville Sports Person of the Year award on Wednesday. Byrd, who received the 2011 Hugh Durham National Coach of the Year award, joined a pair of Vanderbilt head coaches – James Franklin (football) and Tim Corbin (baseball) – IndyCar driver Dario Franchitti and Nashville Predator goaltender Pekka Rinne as finalists.
  • January’s Best: Although the league does not have an official monthly award, RTC recognizes Lipscomb’s Jordan Burgason as the A-Sun Player of the Month. He led all A-Sun players in scoring for the first month of 2012, averaging an even 19.0 points per game and surpassed the 1,000-point plateau during January. Over the nine games, he connected on 35 3-pointers (fourth-best in the country for the month) and shot 54.7 percent from the 3-point arc (seventh-best in the NCAA among those who made at least 20 3’s in January).

Lipscomb's Jordan Burgason is threatening to set the A-Sun single-season record for 3-point percentage

Power Rankings

  1. USC Upstate (14-9, Previous Ranking: 5): Despite trailing both the Bears and Bruins by a game in the loss column in the A-Sun standings, the Spartans ascended to the top spot thanks to the historic “Tennessee Trifecta.” Torrey Craig, an A-Sun Player of the Year candidate, became the first Spartan to reach double-figure scoring in every game of a single month in the Division I era (since 2007-08).
  2. Mercer (17-7, Previous Ranking: 2): The Bears extended their win streak to six and moved into a first-place tie after Belmont stumbled at USC Upstate. Ay 17-7, the Bears have not posted a better 24-game record since 2002-03 when they started 19-5 en route to sharing the A-Sun regular-season South Division title. Read the rest of this entry »
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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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RTC Conference Primers: #21 – Atlantic Sun Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 16th, 2011

Will Rothschild is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun. You can find him on Twitter at @warothschild.

Reader’s Take I

Top Storylines

  • Belmont’s Last Dance In The A-Sun: In May, realignment hit the conference when it was announced that Belmont will join the Ohio Valley Conference starting in the 2012-13 season, meaning this campaign will mark the Bruins’ A-Sun swan song. The repeal of a stipulation requiring every OVC program to field a football team (which Belmont doesn’t have) appeared to be the final hurdle. Belmont’s new home is a step up in terms of competition and is more favorable for its travel schedule.  As the Bruins have represented the Atlantic Sun in the NCAA Tournament four of the last six seasons, a new leader will have to rise.

Mick Hedgepeth Leads Belmont In Its Final Season As A Member Of The Atlantic Sun. (Getty Images)

  • New Coaches To Watch: On paper, the A-Sun’s three first-year coaches look to be as good a collective group as has ever entered the conference. How they deliver – and how quickly – both on the court and in recruiting will be worth watching. All three – Casey Alexander at Stetson, Andy Enfield at Florida Gulf Coast, and Lewis Preston at Kennesaw State – inherit programs that lost 20 or more games last season. All three also are first-time head coaches who were highly-regarded assistants at successful programs: Alexander at Belmont, Enfield at Florida State, and Preston at Notre Dame, Florida (where he was on the staff of the repeat title teams in ’06 and ’07) and Penn State.
  • ETSU Hopes To Stay Afloat: In eight seasons in Johnson City, coach Murray Bartow has taken the Bucs to three NCAA Tournaments while averaging just under 20 wins per season and finishing third or better in the standings five times. Most recently, the Bucs enjoyed a 24-win campaign in 2010-11, earning a spot in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament and advancing to the semifinals of that event, marking the first time in school history the team had captured two postseason victories in the same season. During the regular season, the Bucs enjoyed their highest RPI ranking since 2004, and won road games against quality opponents such as Mississippi State and Dayton. But to keep ETSU near the top of the A-Sun this year will require Bartow to do one of his best jobs. Gone are POY Mike Smith and two other standouts who combined to average more than 42 points per game, a whopping 60 percent of ETSU’s offensive production. Bartow welcomes in another highly-regarded recruiting class and welcomes back 6’4″ forward Tommy Hubbard, a major talent who missed all but four games last season with an injury. How well Hubbard regains his old form and meshes with the talented newcomers will determine whether this proud program maintains its traditional perch among the top three or gets overtaken by one of several improving programs.
  • Bruins Poised For A Cinderella Run: For what has become one of the best mid-major programs in the country, the only thing missing on Belmont’s“To Do” list is a run in the NCAA Tournament. After nearly knocking off Duke in 2008, the 13th-seeded Bruins lost to four-seed Wisconsin last March and are seeking their fifth NCAA tournament trip in the past seven seasons. So Belmont is well past any “We’re just glad to be here” feelings about making it to the Dance. With four starters and all but two of its 11-player rotation back from a 30-5 (19-1 A-Sun) team, the Bruins have the look of a team that could become a national darling in March.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Morning Five: 03.08.11 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on March 8th, 2011

  1. He’ll coach in the Big 12 Tournament, but after that, you can run down the curtain on the Pat Knight era at Texas Tech. The school released Knight on Monday after a three-year run that resulted in no NCAA Tournament trips and an overall 50-60 record. Now, we know in terms of basketball tradition, Texas Tech is not Indiana, but following Bobby Knight at any coaching job is certainly an unenviable position, and we’re intrigued to see how Pat does as the top dog someplace where his father’s influence never reached, a place where he can stake his own claim and not be known simply as the default-hire son of the legend who preceded him. The linked article also explains how Knight the Younger knew this was coming.
  2. Knight is unfortunately not the only coach to endure the fall of the axe (or at least the prod in the back) on Monday. Pat Kennedy resigned at Towson after seven seasons; Kirk Earlywine was dismissed from Eastern Washington; and Kennesaw State released Tom Ingle, citing academic shortcomings of Ingle’s players rather than the 8-20 record posted by the Owls this season (Ingle was 248-215 overall). That’s the only negative about March: coaches lose jobs, and the coaching carousel begins.
  3. On a much lighter note, for any coach who finds him/herself without employment over the next few weeks, for renewal of purpose, we submit this story from Jeff Goodman about Greg Lansing. He’s headed to the Tournament as the honcho at Indiana State, tournament champions from the Missouri Valley Conference. Just a few years ago, he was fired from his  assistant position by Steve Alford when the two were at Iowa. There’s also an interesting tidbit in there about the positive omen Lansing received on Saturday, the day before his squad beat Missouri State for the MVC tournament title.
  4. Texas is taking some punches from hoops fans everywhere, these days. Not surprising, when you consider that they dropped three of their last five games this season, and upon remembering that Hindenberg of a stretch run last year. A burnt child shuns fire, after all. But if you think the late-season missteps this year indicate a return of last season’s problems, senior Gary Johnson says it’s a mistake, but invites you keep on thinking that if you wish. Others within the Texas basketball family evidently join him in that sentiment, and contend that UT is still a national title contender.
  5. Big game in the Ivy League tonight, as Princeton travels to Penn for the last game of the Ancient Eight’s regular season. If Penn wins, Harvard clinches the Ivy title and goes to their first NCAA Tournament in 65 years. If Princeton wins, the Tigers would sit tied atop the league table with Harvard and force a one game playoff (which would be played at Yale) on Saturday. If that’s not cool enough for you, tonight’s Princeton-Penn game is at The Palestra — the home of the Quakers, and one of the most regal, venerable buildings in our sport (P.S.: we can’t wait to get there!).
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Circle of March III

Posted by rtmsf on March 3rd, 2011

Three more conference tourneys kicked off last night, and that meant more eliminations from the national title race.  From the Atlantic Sun, OVC and Patriot League, let’s bid good tidings to Kennesaw State, Campbell, Tennessee State, Eastern Kentucky, Colgate, Holy Cross, Army and Navy — there are now 302 schools still alive.

Coming next: a big night, as thirteen more teams will be eliminated from the national picture this evening.

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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 Brian Goodman on February 20th, 2011

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

A Look Back

  • Belmont Clinches: By knocking off East Tennessee State, 68-58, Thursday night in Nashville, the Bruins clinched the regular season title and the top seed for next month‘s conference tournament in Macon, Georgia. Belmont also gained no worse than an automatic bid to the NIT should it somehow stumble in Macon, which looks doubtful. Easily the deepest, most physical and most talented team in the A-Sun, the Bruins could face tough semifinal and championship challenges in Macon but also appear well-equipped to handle them. Of course, weird things happen in March.
  • Bear Essentials: Back on January 31, Mercer senior forward Brandon Moore went down for the season with a torn ACL, joining teammate Jeff Smith on the sidelines. Instead of going back to their Georgia cave and whimpering in pain for the season’s remainder, though, the Bears fought back. Granted, a schedule larded with home games against A-Sun slugs didn’t hurt, but give Mercer credit for ripping off four straight wins and improving to 9-7 in the league, clinching a spot in the conference tournament. Bob Hoffman probably deserves a few Coach of the Year votes for this little surge.
  • Player of the Week: Mike Smith, East Tennessee State: Smith won the award for the fourth time, the most in recent A-Sun history, by averaging 25 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists in homecourt wins over Jacksonville and North Florida. The clear favorite for A-Sun Player of the Year, Smith is in the league’s top five in scoring and rebounding. Just missing the gold medal were Campbell’s Eric Griffin, who scored 22.5 points per contest against Lipscomb and Belmont last week, and Markeith Cummings of Kennesaw State, who rattled off three 30-point games in a four-game span to fuel the Owls’ first extended burst of competence this year.

Power Rankings

1. Belmont (24-4, 16-1)
Next Week: 2/19 vs. USC Upstate, 2/24 at Mercer
These guys are good. How good? Consider that they can fall behind North Florida by 11 with six an a half minutes left, as they did earlier this month in arguably their worst game of the season, and still rip off a 20-2 run to steal a 69-67 win. The Bruins have gotten everyone’s best shot for most of the conference season and have only slipped up once — in the second half of a January 25 loss at Lipscomb. Stat geek alert: Guard Kerron Johnson ranks sixth in Division-I in steal percentage (percentage of possessions that a player notches a steal while in the game) according to Ken Pomeroy’s metrics. On most teams, Johnson would start. Here, he’s backing up ultra-steady Drew Hanlen.

2. East Tennessee State (19-10, 14-4)
Next Week: 2/19 at Florida Gulf Coast, 2/24 at Campbell
Remember two weeks ago when we warned that the Buccaneers could slip up on their road trip to Florida Gulf Coast and Stetson and you probably guffawed? That was before they somehow didn’t score in the last 5 minutes, 38 seconds and blew an 11-point lead in a brutal 55-54 loss at Stetson. While coach Murry Bartow was correct in nothing that the game affected nothing as far as the team’s NCAA hopes, since this league will only get one bid, it might keep this team from beating out the Big East’s 13th place team for a spot in the CBI or collegeinsiders.com tourney. That’s why ETSU couldn’t afford to take that loss.

3. Jacksonville (17-8, 11-5)
Next week: 2/18 vs. Kennesaw State, 2/20 vs. Mercer, 2/24 at Florida Gulf Coast
A third-place team might normally rate some consideration for the conference tournament. Not so with the Dolphins, who are 0-4 against the league’s big boys — Belmont and ETSU — with an average defeat margin of nearly 16 points. What that says is that this team beats the people it should and simply doesn’t have enough height or offensive punch to overcome the superior foes. Jacksonville’s only chance of winning the A-Sun tourney is to have one of the big boys lose along the way and hope that when they have to play the other that it either has a hot-shooting game or the other team can’t find the bucket.

4. Lipscomb (16-10, 11-6)
Next Week: 2/19 vs. East Tennessee State, 2/24 at Kennesaw State
Senior guard Josh Slater had one of the season‘s unique triple-doubles in a Thursday night win over USC Upstate, finishing with ten points, 12 assists and ten steals. It was the first triple-double in the Bisons’ Division-I era and the first time any A-Sun player notched 10 steals in a game against a Division-I foe since 1997. Lipscomb’s task is to build momentum for the conference tournament, when it might earn a third crack at Belmont in the semifinals. One gets the feeling that might be the only way the Bruins don’t win the A-Sun tourney.

5. Mercer: (12-15, 9-7)
Next Week: 2/18 at North Florida, 2/20 at Jacksonville, 2/24 vs. Belmont
Ball control has been the Bears‘ strength during their unexpected run into the league‘s middle of the back. In their last seven games, they are averaging just nine turnovers per game and have had four games with fewer than ten, including a six-turnover performance in Tuesday night‘s 57-55 win over Kennesaw State. It’s helped that senior guard Mark Hall, who’s not been known as a scorer in his Mercer career, has suddenly started draining three-pointers as though he were former Bear great James Florence. Hall drilled five in a Feb. 10 OT win over Stetson and added three against Kennesaw State.

6. North Florida: (10-17, 7-9)
Next Week: 2/18 vs. Mercer, 2/20 vs. Kennesaw State, 2/24 at Stetson
Guard Parker Smith is the nation‘s top scorer among players who haven‘t started a game, but he‘s been locked in a deep, dark forest lately. Since dropping 30 points on Belmont February 5, he’s not been able to ignite this team off the bench, going 2-for-13 in a Sunday loss at East Tennessee State. Coach Matthew Driscoll has been more concerned with Smith’s performance in other areas, feeling that the sophomore isn’t doing enough on the defensive end. As presently constructed, the Ospreys aren’t good enough to win many games unless all their key players are contributing.

7. Kennesaw State (8-18, 6-10)
Next week: 2/18 at Jacksonville, 2/20 at North Florida, 2/24 vs. Lipscomb
Welcome to the season, Owls. What took you so long? Finally, this team has decided to play hard on defense and share the ball on offense, much as folks expected they could in preseason. While it might not be enough to get them a decent seed in the A-Sun tourney, they could be a tough out for somebody in the first round. Sophomore Markeith Cummings has been arguably the league’s hottest player besides Smith, scoring 30 points in three of his last four games. Forward LaDaris Green has channeled his inner Kenneth Faried with five straight double-doubles.

8. Campbell (12-15, 6-11)
Next week: 2/19 at Florida Gulf Coast, 2/24 vs. East Tennessee State
Indulging in a farewell swipe at the A-Sun, Camels coach Robbie Laing said one reason his team is struggling is because they don‘t have a travel partner and therefore always catch fresh teams, such as when they lost 78-57 to Belmont February 12 by allowing the last 16 points. Another reason Campbell is struggling is its inability to consistently score the ball as it’s been held under 70 points in 12 of its 17 conference games. While the recent absence of guard Lorne Merthie (knee) hasn’t helped, the simple truth is this team hasn’t played very well since the middle of December.

9. Stetson: (7-21, 5-12)
Next week: 2/21 at Florida Gulf Coast, 2/24 vs. North Florida
Thursday night‘s 64-61 home loss to Campbell was a gut punch for the Hatters, which are in ninth place in the league and would miss the conference tournament if it started tomorrow. Officially a game behind the Camels, Stetson was swept in the season series, so it would lose any tiebreaker. Turnovers and poor foul shooting have hampered it in many of the close losses they’ve had lately. Those are things young teams traditionally struggle with and they have bitten the Hatters hard.

10. Florida Gulf Coast: (6-19, 3-12)
Next week: 2/19 vs. Campbell, 2/21 vs. Stetson
The Eagles‘ season is down to five games as they‘re ineligible for the conference tournament. All they can do is serve as spoiler for the likes of the Camels and Hatters, who visit Ft. Myers in the league’s riveting battle for eighth place and the last spot in the A-Sun tourney. One piece of good news for FGCU is that underclassmen such as Anthony Banks, Christophe Varidel and Chase Fieler have led the team in scoring in 14 of the last 15 games. The January departure of Reed Baker might have been the best thing to happen to this team because Varidel wouldn’t have gotten enough playing time to average 16.7 points per game in the last 13 games had Baker stuck around.

11. USC Upstate: (4-23, 3-14)
Next Week: 2/19 at Belmont
Coach Eddie Payne finally blew his stack after a listless loss to North Florida February 11, saying his team lacked leadership and didn‘t know how to win. If that remark was designed to light a fire under his young squad, it didn‘t work, as it promptly lost to Jacksonville and Lipscomb by an average of 14.5 points. The one ray of sunshine in Spartanburg has been the recent play of Ricardo Glenn, who had 16 points and nine rebounds in a 16-minute burst of excellence against Jacksonville. Glenn, Torrey Craig and Babatunde Olumuyiwa will comprise one of the league’s top frontcourts in 2012-13.

Playing the Percentages

Every week, we‘ll take a look at an intriguing stat around the conference and decide fluke or trend. This week, we zero in on Kennesaw State sophomore LaDaris Green, who has recorded five consecutive double-doubles, including a 14-point, 13-rebound effort at Mercer Tuesday night. The verdict is trend. The 6’9 Green is active enough and is playing the most consistent basketball of a career which still has two-plus years left. As he matures and gets stronger, he should only improve.

A Look Ahead

Belmont has won the league and ETSU will likely finish second, but there‘s still much at stake in terms of momentum and positioning as A-Sun teams head down the homestretch.

  • Mercer could still catch Lipscomb for fourth place if it wins out, including a home game next week with the Bisons. As long as they don’t slip out of fifth, though, the Bears will likely host Lipscomb in the A-Sun quarterfinals March 3.
  • Campbell has a chance to seal a spot in the conference tournament despite its recent struggles. Its schedule (at Florida Gulf Coast, ETSU, USC Upstate) looks favorable and it has a tiebreaker on ninth place Stetson.
  • Kennesaw State has a brutal ending to its regular season (at Jacksonville, at North Florida, Lipscomb, Belmont). The Owls could play decently and lose all four, and if they do, it could open the door for Stetson to beat them out for the last spot.
  • Belmont tries to keep its momentum going for the A-Sun tourney as it hosts USC Upstate Saturday night before a regular season-ending road trip to Georgia, where it plays Mercer and Kennesaw State.
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Checking in on… the Atlantic Sun

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 4th, 2011

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

A Look Back

  • Bruins Beaten: Just when Ken Pomeroy‘s metrics rated Belmont with a 53 percent chance of running through the Atlantic Sun Conference with a 20-0 record, the Bruins were beaten January 25 at Lipscomb. And not just any loss, either. A come-from-way-ahead loss in which they led by 18 in the first half before the Bison reeled them in down the stretch and won 73-64. Not that it seems to have bothered the Bruins too much, however, as they’ve won three straight, including a 76-70 decision at Jacksonville Thursday night in their last difficult road assignment of the regular season.
  • Bucs Draw Closer: Unable to beat Belmont head-to-head last month, East Tennessee State stayed within striking distance by winning the last three games of its season-long five-game homestand. It did so without injured senior Justin Tubbs, cutting its rotation down to eight players and no reserve guards. Then again, it had Mike Smith and Micah Williams and that was more than enough, especially against the league‘s Murdered Row — USC Upstate, Kennesaw State and Mercer. Smith and Williams combined to average more than 46 points per game in those three victories.
  • Player of the Week: Mike Smith, East Tennessee State: Smith is making this little ceremony his private show, winning the award for the second time in a month and just missing out on it the third time to Belmont‘s Ian Clark. All Smith did was score 25.7 points per game, grab 7.0 rebounds and notch career highs in points during consecutive wins over Kennesaw State and Mercer. Just missing the gold medal was Florida Gulf Coast freshman Christophe Varidel, who bombed in a career-high 29 points during an epic triple-OT win at Stetson (more on that later) and averaged 20.7 ppg last week, and Micah Williams, who was good for 22 ppg in three victories.

Power Rankings

1. Belmont (21-4, 13-1)

Next Week: 2/5 at North Florida

Here‘s to Rick Byrd, the classy coach of the Bruins who reached the 600-win mark January 30 at home against Stetson. The son of legendary Knoxville sportswriter Ben Byrd, Rick has built a program which will be around for the long run. Ten of the 11 guys who play regularly for this team will be back next year. Belmont’s bench is so good and deep that it leads the nation in assists per game, steals per game and three-pointers per game. Most teams in this league go to the bench and just hope to survive. The Bruins go to the bench and expect to increase the lead — and often do.

2. East Tennessee State (16-8, 11-2)

Next Week: 2/4 at Florida Gulf Coast, 2/6 at Stetson

No Super Bowl parties for the Buccaneers, unless they hold one on the trip back home from DeLand, Fla., where they play Stetson in a game that will end about an hour and a half before the Packers and Steelers kick off SB XLV. But they are looking like the one team in this league which could keep Belmont from hosting a Selection Sunday party next month — especially the way Smith is playing. The senior is making a good case for A-Sun Player of the Year, doing whatever it takes to win games. As Mercer coach Bob Hoffman said after watching Smith torch the Bears for 28 points on 14 shot attempts Monday night, “Un-stinking-believable.”

3. Jacksonville (14-7, 8-4)

Next week: 2/5 vs. Lipscomb, 2/8 vs. North Florida

The Dolphins pulled out all the stops for Belmont‘s visit Thursday night, throwing open the gates to Veterans Memorial Arena for their yearly free admission night courtesy of a seafood restaurant. The season’s largest crowd — 5,240 — couldn’t quite do enough to keep Jacksonville from confirming again that it’s just a notch below the Bruins and ETSU in the A-Sun pecking order this year. Foul shooting again hurt the Dolphins as they were 14-23, which looks positively Rick Barry-esque compared to the January 26 numbers at North Florida — 11-26. Talk about your fishy smells.

4. Lipscomb (15-9, 9-5)

Next Week: 2/5 at Jacksonville, 2/10 at Campbell

So much for the Bisons having finally figured things out. After beating Belmont and then scoring a pair of easy wins, they laid a mutant of an egg at North Florida, trailing 35-19 at halftime and losing 72-62 to cement their reputation as the league’s most mercurial side. Adnan Hodzic had what may be the worst game of his career, going 1-8 from the floor and scoring just two points in 24 minutes. Lipscomb appears headed for a fourth place finish, which could mean a conference tournament semifinal against crosstown rival Belmont.

5. North Florida: (9-14, 6-6)

Next Week: 2/5 vs. Belmont, 2/8 at Jacksonville

While Lipscomb is harder to figure out than calculus, the Ospreys are easier to read than Ryan Leaf‘s eyes on 3rd-and-11. On the nights they shoot the ball well and at least battle to a stalemate on the boards, they win, like Thursday night against Lipscomb. The overall record doesn’t suggest it but they have taken another step forward in coach Matthew Driscoll’s second year. On the nights when Parker Smith is hitting from three-point range and they‘re getting a little inside scoring, this team can beat anyone in the league besides Belmont and ETSU.

6. Campbell: (11-11, 5-7)

Next Week: 2/5 at Mercer, 2/7 at Kennesaw State, 2/10 vs. Lipscomb

Eric Griffin has become this team‘s top offensive option these days, averaging 17 points over his last six games and making better than 63 percent of his field goal attempts. Griffin was slowed by injuries early in the season but is having the impact coach Robbie Laing hoped he would. On the other hand, junior guard Lorne Merthie couldn‘t hit water if he fell out of a boat, making one bucket in a two-game trip to North Florida and Jacksonville. It’s that type of inconsistency which keeps this team mired in the conference’s middle and makes it unlikely they can do much of anything in the A-Sun tourney.

7. Mercer (8-15, 5-7)

Next week: 2/5 vs. Campbell, 2/10 vs. Stetson

One day, someone needs to match the Bears against Virginia Tech and get it on TV so the nation could see which coach has the most creative facial expressions — Bob Hoffman or Seth Greenberg. Watching Hoffman Face rule the sidelines on a recent Monday night at ETSU made for two hours of great theater. Watching Hoffman’s team persevere in the face of serious adversity — senior forward Brandon Moore and senior guard Jeff Smith have suffered year-ending knee injuries in an 11-day span — and still play hard is a tribute to his ability to get a team to believe no matter how steep the odds.

8. Florida Gulf Coast (5-15, 2-9)

Next week: 2/4 vs. East Tennessee State, 2/6 vs. USC Upstate, 2/10 at Kennesaw State

On the same night that Lipscomb ended Belmont‘s hopes for a 20-0 run through the conference, the Eagles and Stetson played one of the season‘s most remarkable games. FGCU won 111-103 in triple overtime as it marched to the foul line 60 times, fouling out five Hatters in the process, and survived buzzer-beating threes to end regulation and the first OT. Forward Anthony Banks took just nine shots from the field but still scored 24 points, going 14-24 at the foul line. Varidel, who’s more than filled in adequately for the departed Reed Baker, is averaging 16.9 points over his last eight games.

9. Stetson: (6-17, 4-8)

Next week: 2/4 vs. USC Upstate, 2/6 vs. East Tennessee State, 2/10 at Mercer

Young teams will have rough patches, but coach Derek Waugh is probably agonizing pretty hard about this one. The Hatters have lost six straight, including that crazy triple OT contest against FGCU in which they were eight seconds from a double OT win before Varidel drilled a 3-pointer. Stetson’s first-shot defense has waned lately as opponents are back to 46 percent from the field. It will have to start paying better attention to the little things or it might sit out the conference tournament for a second straight year.

10. Kennesaw State: (5-17, 3-9)

Next week: 2/7 vs. Campbell, 2/10 vs. Florida Gulf Coast

The Owls were embarrassing in a 93-62 loss at ETSU Jan. 29, regularly refusing to stop the ball in transition, help out a beaten teammate or close out on open jump-shooters. It‘s hard to believe this was a team which not only started with high expectations, but also hammered Georgia Tech back in mid-November. Right now, if the conference tournament were beginning, this team would miss it. With talented players such as Markeith Cummings, Spencer Dixon and LaDaris Green around, that just doesn‘t add up.

11. USC Upstate: (3-19, 2-10)

Next Week: 2/4 at Stetson, 2/6 at Florida Gulf Coast

The Spartans finally ended their 13-game losing streak Monday night with a 12-2 run in the last four minutes that beat Kennesaw State. Freshman forward Torrey Craig’s 27 points against Kennesaw marked his 13th straight game in double figures. He’s just about the only consistent source of offense for this team, which continues to shoot less than 40 percent from the field and score less than 60 points per game. Upstate announced that its January 10 snow-out with Florida Gulf Coast — as we expected — would be rescheduled for February 28. With neither team eligible for the conference tournament, that was an easy call.

Playing the Percentages

Every week, we‘ll take a look at an intriguing stat around the conference and decide between fluke or trend. This week, we eyeball the up-and-down work of ETSU‘s Isiah Brown, who in three straight games:

  • Didn‘t take a shot in 32 minutes against USC Upstate and scored just one point, but had 10 rebounds.
  • Went for 17 points and 12 boards against Kennesaw State.
  • Scored just four points in 18 minutes against Mercer before fouling out on a technical less than three minutes into the second half.

The word is trend. Brown has been inconsistent throughout his career and this three-game set is emblematic of it.

A Look Ahead

  • While Belmont and ETSU try to maintain their position, others try to improve their seeding for next month‘s tournament.
  • Lipscomb looks for revenge and tries to get back on its feet when it plays Jacksonville Saturday in the Dolphins‘ cozy campus hideout, 1,500-seat Swisher Gym. The winner figures to finish no worse than third in the league and the loser will probably wind up in the same half of the draw with Belmont.
  • North Florida tries its luck with Belmont Saturday night and then rematches with Jacksonville Tuesday night. The Ospreys and Dolphins put on one of the worst free-throwing displays ever in their first meeting, combining to miss 29 of 54.
  • Mercer tries to pick up the pieces without Brandon Moore when it hosts Campbell Saturday. The good news for the Bears is that they‘re starting a four-game homestand, all against beatable teams, so they should be able to piece together enough wins to clinch a conference tourney berth.
  • ETSU tries not to screw up its road trip to central Florida. There‘s no real reason for it to lose against either Florida Gulf Coast or Stetson, but the Bucs tend to mix in a clunker when it least makes sense. So stay tuned Friday night or Super Bowl Sunday just in case.
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Checking in on… the Atlantic Sun

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 21st, 2011

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

A Look Back

  • Leaving it in Bruins: Belmont isn’t just winning its games, it’s flat-out plundering this conference. Going into a Friday date at USC Upstate, the Bruins have won their first eight A-Sun games by an average of 29 points per game and are also receiving votes in the coaches’ top 25. Ken Pomeroy’s tempo-free metrics rank them as the 25th-best team nationally, an eye-opener for those who would prefer to denigrate their accomplishments because of the A-Sun. Anyone who’s seen Belmont and its BCS league-level depth in person would know better.
  • Bucs Going Wild: As for the league‘s remainder, non-Belmont division, East Tennessee State is clearly the crop‘s cream. It’s won eight in a row, including an impressive 74-62 win Saturday at Jacksonville in which it led wire-to-wire. The Buccaneers are shooting much better than they were earlier in the season, but the key has been a defense which consistently denies the opposition clean looks, regardless of whether they’re using the “pack line” man or matchup zones. And now they are headed home to play five straight in the Mountain States Center, where they’re 5-0 this year.
  • Player of the Week: Ian Clark, Belmont: The Bruins’ sophomore shooting guard was a model of efficiency in a 90-55 win over Campbell Saturday night, requiring just eight shots to score 20 points as he canned 4-4 on three-pointers. Clark averaged 16 points per contest in easy wins over Lipscomb and Campbell. Just missing the gold medal for a second straight week was East Tennessee State’s Mike Smith, whose 20-point, 20-rebound game Jan. 8 against Florida Gulf Coast was the first of its kind at ETSU in 52 years. Stetson freshman Luis Jacobo earns the bronze after averaging 17 ppg and going 15-27 from the floor in a split against Mercer and Kennesaw State.

Power Rankings

1. Belmont (16-3, 8-0)

Next Week: 1/21 at USC Upstate, 1/23 at East Tennessee State, 1/25 at Lipscomb

If the Bruins are to lose in the league during the regular season, it will probably happen at ETSU or Lipscomb. If they get through those two unscathed, the only obstacle taller than a speed bump is a February trip to Jacksonville. The recent play of centers Mick Hedgepeth and Scott Saunders brings to mind a collective All-American. The duo is averaging nearly 34 points between them in the last three games while splitting playing time almost right down the middle. Most teams in this league dream of having one decent center, but Belmont has two good ones. That’s why it could win a game in the NCAA Tournament — if it makes it there.

2. East Tennessee State (12-7, 7-1)

Next Week: 1/21 vs. Lipscomb, 1/23 vs. Belmont, 1/25 vs. USC Upstate

Moving Smith to power forward, where he can beat bigger players off the dribble and still moose his way to the bucket against smaller defenders, was the switch which ignited this team. It also hasn’t hurt that senior guard Micah Williams has finally remembered that he can score 20 points any time he plays, averaging 19.3 in the last three games. Now if the Buccaneers could just extract a little more consistency from the mercurial Justin Tubbs, who can’t miss one game and is borderline useless the next, they could be the one team in this league that could prevent a Belmont title.

3. Jacksonville (11-6, 5-3)

Next week: 1/22 at Kennesaw State, 1/26 at North Florida

One thing the last two weeks revealed is that the Dolphins are a notch below Belmont and ETSU, having lost to that duo by a combined 43 points. One major reason is that they can’t make jumpers, having canned just 36 of 145 three-pointers over the last ten games and 16 of 72  in the last five. Opponents are having an easy time taking away the dribble-drive from this quick team and forcing it to settle for jumpers. Unless guys like Travis Cohn and Tevin Galvin can find the range from the arc, every game will continue to be a rocking-chair gut-grinder for Jacksonville.

4. Lipscomb (10-7, 5-3)

Next Week: 1/21 at East Tennessee State, 1/23 at USC Upstate, 1/25 vs. Belmont

Of all the ugly things that happened to the Bisons in their 88-52 beatdown at Belmont Jan. 13, the worst might have been seeing the 72-game double-figure scoring streak of center Adnan Hodzic end after he was held to seven points by Hedgepeth and Saunders. Predictably, Hodzic rebounded with 33 in a 92-81 win over Campbell Monday night. If Lipscomb is to generate any kind of momentum for a run through the conference tournament — the regular season title seems out of reach at this point — a win at ETSU Friday night would be a wonderful starting point.

5. North Florida: (7-12, 4-4)

Next Week: 1/22 at Mercer, 1/26 vs. Jacksonville

And now we get to the point where there‘s almost no difference between the teams. The Ospreys are assigned this spot by dint of a brutal non-conference schedule and their ability to win on the road in the league, proven Thursday night when they cooled off Kennesaw State. Parker Smith continues to lead the league in three-point hits per game, giving the team the best bench production in the non-Belmont division. Had UNF been able to finish out close losses against Lipscomb and ETSU, it would be 6-2 in the conference.

6. Campbell: (9-9, 3-6)

Next Week: 1/22 vs. Stetson, 1/25 at Longwood

Courtesy of the Camels, a Florida Gulf Coast team which looked like a good bet to go 0-for-conference play picked up its first league win Thursday night. Campbell’s not exactly leaving the A-Sun with a bang, having lost six of its last eight in the league. It’s turning the ball over too much and not playing the kind of sticky defense which characterized its run to a co-conference title last year. While Lorne Merthie and Eric Griffin are providing their share of individual highlights, the role-playing remainder of this roster simply isn’t doing enough.

7. Stetson (6-13, 4-4)

Next week: 1/22 at Campbell, 1/25 vs. Florida Gulf Coast

Next on the agenda for the freshman-laden Hatters: Learning how to focus from game-to-game. Coach Derek Waugh rebuked them for lacking that ability when they followed a January 14 win with Mercer with a January 16 loss to Kennesaw State, meaning they still haven’t won consecutive games yet. It’s a pretty sure bet Waugh was even more disgusted when they somehow concocted a loss at 3-17 Savannah State Tuesday night. One good sign: Center Steve Forbes ripped down 13 boards in just 26 minutes against Kennesaw State.

8. Mercer (6-13, 3-5)

Next week: 1/22 vs. North Florida, 1/25 at Kennesaw State

The week‘s most improbable win might belong to the Bears, which followed up the season‘s ugliest win — a 50-47 stink bomb at Florida Gulf Coast — with a 70-68 upset Thursday night over Jacksonville. Defense was the reason as Mercer held the offensively-challenged Dolphins to 25 points in the second half and overtime. If nothing else, this should give the Bears a better chance to at least make the conference tournament in March — on their home floor.

9. Kennesaw State: (5-13, 3-5)

Next week: 1/22 vs. Jacksonville, 1/25 vs. Mercer

Just when you thought it might be time to get excited about the Owls again after they swept their road trip to Florida Gulf Coast and Stetson, they come home and lose by 15 to North Florida. So much for the dramatic layup Spencer Dixon hit at the end against Stetson. While individuals keep logging decent stats — such as Kelvin McConnell moving into second on the school’s all time three-pointers — the team as a whole still isn’t doing enough little things consistently to make any kind of move up the standings.

10. Florida Gulf Coast: (4-13, 1-7)

Next week: 1/25 at Stetson

Freshman Christophe Varidel has been quite a revelation in the last five games, averaging 14.8 ppg and more than ably filling in for senior Reed Baker, who may have played his last game for reasons no one is disclosing. Baker hasn’t played since scoring just five points in 15 minutes of a loss at ETSU January 8. Coach Dave Balza described it as an “internal team matter.” If Baker doesn’t return, he’ll finish his Eagle career 51 points shy of becoming the program’s third 1,000-point scorer.

11. USC Upstate: (2-15, 1-6)

Next Week: 1/21 vs. Belmont, 1/23 vs. Lipscomb, 1/25 at East Tennessee State

Condolences go out to coach Eddie Payne, who missed a Jan. 15 loss at North Florida due to the death of his father-in-law. Assistant coach Kyle Perry presided over that defeat, the team‘s ninth in a row. The Spartans continue to struggle enough offensively to lose close games, although a close game against Belmont Friday night would be a major upset. Upstate still hasn‘t rescheduled its Jan. 10 snowout with Florida Gulf Coast; there‘s a chance it might not take place until the week of the A-Sun Tournament. Neither team is eligible for it due to reclassification, so it‘s not like the applecart would be upset either way.

Playing the Percentages

Every week, we‘ll take a look at an intriguing stat around the conference and decide fluke or trend. This week, we‘ll zero in on the impressive play of Mercer’s Brian Mills, a bit player for most of his career who‘s scored in double figures 10 of the last 11 games, capping it with 24 points in Thursday night‘s upset of Jacksonville.
The verdict is trend. Mills is the top inside threat in this offense and will continue to get touches, and can also create points off missed shots with his relentless work on the glass. If there were a Most Improved Player award in this league, he might be it.

A Look Ahead

With the pecking order set, three of the top four teams converge on Johnson City this weekend for games which could determine a lot.

  • Lipscomb tries to beat someone good in the conference when it plays at ETSU Friday night. The teams annually produce some of the most dramatic finishes, including last-shot wins last year for the road teams as they split the season series.
  • Following its tuneup game at USC Upstate Friday night, Belmont takes the short bus trip up I-26 to Johnson City for a Sunday showdown. The Buccaneers matched up badly against the Bruins last year while being swept, but Smith corrects some of those issues with his versatility.
  • Friday night‘s game with Lipscomb starts a five-game homestand for ETSU, which won‘t have to see another plane or bus again until it leaves Feb. 3 for its Florida Gulf Coast-Stetson swing.
  • Lipscomb will try to exact revenge on Belmont Tuesday night when the Bruins hit Allen Arena. Weird things happen in rivalry games like this one, but it’d have to be really weird for the Bisons to make up 36 points.
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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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