Checking In On… the Atlantic Sun Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 18th, 2011

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

Reader’s Take

The Week That Was

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

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

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

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

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Morning Five: K-903 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on November 16th, 2011

  1. The Tip-Off Marathon has come and gone, but it wasn’t without an envious spectacle at the Champions Classic last night at Madison Square Garden. We’ve known for months that Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski‘s pursuit of his mentor Bob Knight’s career wins D-I wins record of 902 would be matched and surpassed in the first few weeks of this college basketball season. But that didn’t make it any less touching when the man known around the sports universe simply as “Coach K” went over to his former coach after the game and embraced him with a resounding thank you. We’ll have more on #903 later this morning, but if you missed the poignant moment between arguably two of the five greatest college coaches of all-time, you can view it here. If you would like to read how and why the two men became so successful teaching young men how to play this sport, Seth Davis’ masterful piece artfully gets to the core of their relationship. And if you simply want to see a worn-out but certifiably giddy Krzyzewski addressing the Duke student body after getting off the bus last night in Durham, that’s here too. No matter what you think of the man, no objective observer of this sport can make a reasonable argument that there’s anyone more deserving of this record. Nobody. Congratulations, Coach K — your contributions to this game are immeasurable — best of luck on your way to K1K.
  2. We made reference in Tuesday’s M5 to UCLA’s Reeves Nelson facing an indefinite team suspension as a result of what was termed “attitude” problems. Yesterday we learned that one of the best players in the mid-major ranks, Kennesaw State’s Markeith Cummings, has also been suspended indefinitely for conduct detrimental to his team. The preseason Atlantic Sun POY did not play at all in Monday night’s loss at Auburn, and there appears to be no timetable as to when the 6’7″ guard who consistently produces 18/6 nights may return.
  3. Perhaps it wasn’t the best day for UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero to announce such a thing, but on his weekly blog Tuesday he announced that the new Pauley Pavilion (currently under renovation) will have a statue of John Wooden constructed outside of it. The irony of UCLA announcing such a thing to honor the greatest of greats certainly isn’t lost on us at the same time Ben Howland’s current Bruin program appears to be coming apart at the seams. Not only has there been turmoil among players resulting in suspensions (Nelson) and public apologies (Josh Smith), but the primary issue is that UCLA is losing, and not only losing, but doing so badly. On the same day that Guerrero announced a terrific honor for a coach that once won 88 games in a row, his current coach’s team gave up 71% shooting (and 10-11 threes) at ‘home’ to Middle Tennessee State.  Wow.
  4. We complained about this in yesterday’s M5, and we’re happy that someone has finally taken the advertising overlords head on and decided that the safety of players on the basketball court supersedes the right of companies to peddle their products. During the Memphis-Belmont game yesterday, UM guard Chris Crawford slipped and fell awkwardly on one of the various EA Sports Maui Invitational stickers littering the FedEx Forum’s playing surface. The official’s crew of Rick Randall, Rick Hartzell and Bert Smith then made a unilateral decision that the plastic advertisements were a dangerous obstacle and ordered them removed for the rest of the game. It will be very interesting to see if the burgeoning groundswell of anti-sticker sentiment results in the NCAA making an injunctive decision to ban the ads in the name of player safety; or, if schools themselves begin threatening to sit their teams unless the stickers are removed. Regardless, this is a situation that has a feeling like change is imminent — we’d be surprised if these annoying ads make it through the rest of the pre-conference tournament season.
  5. The Kansas vs. Kentucky game last night wasn’t the prettiest sight to behold, but it did have the two programs with the most wins in college basketball history between them — Kentucky with (now) 2,054, Kansas with 2,039. This article by Brady McCullough at the KC Star (written before the game, incidentally) takes a look at the differing ways in which the two programs continue to rack up 30-win seasons year after year. The key takeaway from this piece is that recruiting, at the end of the day, is a zero-sum game. If there are only 20 five-star recruits in a given class, and one coach is harnessing three to five of them every year, that leaves a finite number for the rest. John Calipari’s move from Memphis to Lexington changed the recruiting game somewhat, and it appears that Bill Self and his Kansas program could be one of the resultant casualties of that shift.
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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.

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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 December 10th, 2010

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

A Look Back

  • The Mercurial Bucs: East Tennessee State notched an impressive win last Wednesday at Dayton, which had a 40-game winning streak at UD Arena against non-conference foes. So with all that momentum behind them, the Buccaneers naturally went down to USC Upstate and face-planted, losing 60-59 in a game which saw them hit nine of their first 40 shots and blow no less than a dozen layups. That loss carried over to a 79-59 blowout defeat at College of Charleston, dropping them to 3-4 as they enter a very tough part of an eight-game road trip (at Mississippi State, at Ole Miss, three games in Cancun). While it‘s a long season, ETSU might regret that inexplicable loss at Upstate if it costs it a better seed come conference tournament time.
  • The Spartan Life: Remember what we said two weeks ago about USC Upstate struggling to win a game? Well, the Spartans took that theory and pitched it right out the door of the Hodge Center with a double overtime win over UNC Asheville and the aforementioned upset of ETSU. Upstate hadn‘t beaten the Bucs in six prior tries, but got a great game from Torrey Craig. He scored 18 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, but his best play was grabbing a loose ball along the baseline and turning a broken play into Chalmers Rogers’ game-winning layup with 3.6 seconds left. Craig already looks like a go-to guy for a program which hasn’t had one of those for a while.
  • Player of the Week: Ayron Hardy, Jacksonville – The do-it-all 6‘5 senior continues to stuff the stat sheet the way dead Chicagoans used to stuff the ballot box back in the day. Hardy spearheaded the Dolphins’ home sweep of A-Sun foes Stetson and Florida Gulf Coast by averaging 11 points, 10 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. Just missing the gold medal were Craig and North Florida’s Jerron Granberry. Craig’s 15 rebounds against ETSU were the third-most by a freshman in the country this year, while Granberry scored 20 points on just eight shot attempts, hitting 6-6 on three-pointers, in a Cancun victory over Prairie View A&M.

Power Rankings

1. Belmont (6-2, 1-0)
Next Week: 12/16 vs. Kennesaw State
The Bruins keep on trucking with superior depth and defense. They‘ve forced at least 16 turnovers in each of their first eight games this season, including 27 from unbeaten Tennessee. Belmont’s only losses are to SEC East powers Tennessee and Vanderbilt, and neither one exactly ran and hid. In fact, the Bruins will get another crack at the Volunteers December 23 in Knoxville. Guard Jordan Campbell, who struggled badly from deep for the season’s first seven games, helped Belmont pull out an overtime win over Middle Tennessee State by canning eight threes. If the A-Sun were a horserace, Belmont would be a 2-to-1 favorite at this point.

2. Jacksonville (6-1, 2-0)
Next Week: 12/12 at Winthrop, 12/15 at Saint Louis
One has to love how the Dolphins are playing defense. In four of their six wins, they’ve held the opposition to 60 points or less, doing it with perhaps the conference’s smallest lineup. They pressure the ball and force the opposition into either turnovers or quick shots, then finish the possession by getting a rebound nearly 70 percent of the time. While there will be a couple of difficult non-conference tests prior to January, JU looks like a good bet for a 20-win season, barring injury or a sudden decrease in defensive efficiency

3. Lipscomb (5-2, 1-0)
Next week: 12/11 at Tennessee Tech
The best news out of a three-game winning streak is that the Bisons did it mostly with defense. The opposition’s field goal percentage has dropped to 43.7, which could give this team a serious chance to win a conference title with all the firepower it has on board. Adnan Hodzic is now averaging a double-double (20.3 points, 10.3 rebounds) and Josh Slater is starting to hit his shots, upping his shooting percentage to a more palatable 46.2. Jordan Burgason is a concern, though, as the normally deadeye 3-point shooter is down to 32.5 percent from the arc and has lost his spot in the starting lineup.

4. East Tennessee State (3-4, 0-1)
Next Week: 12/11 at Mississippi State
Losing games isn‘t coach Murry Bartow‘s biggest worry. It’s that an offense which looked a little more slump-proof going into the season suddenly can’t get out of the 50’s on a consistent basis. The problem is that the team’s jump-shooters aren’t consistently making shots or being aggressive enough to earn free throw opportunities. In the loss at College of Charleston, the Buccaneers garnered just four foul shots, which has nothing to do with officials and everything to do with a lack of aggression. Junior forward Isiah Brown is playing the best ball on a nightly basis, but got into it with Bartow early in the second half at Charleston and was benched for the game’s remainder. With five more games left in its eight-game road trip, ETSU doesn’t need any more issues in addition to those it already has

5. Campbell: (4-3)
Next Week: 12/10 vs. Western Carolina, 12/16 at USC Upstate
Lorne Merthie is becoming more of a go-to player with Jonathan Rodriguez having graduated after what seemed like a ten-year career. Merthie is averaging a team-high 14.1 points per game and canning 52 percent from the three-point line. The Camels are shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor, although their schedule hasn’t exactly been the toughest. They are awaiting the return of forward Eric Griffin (12.2 PPG, 6.0 RPG), who’s missed the last two games with an ankle injury

6. North Florida: (4-4, 1-1)
Next Week: 12/11 at Purdue, 12/14 at Texas
Back to the death march for the Ospreys, who missed a good chance to improve to 2-0 in the conference by losing for the second straight year at home to Stetson. Four of their next five games are of the “paycheck” variety against Purdue, Texas, Maryland and Kansas State. To have any chance of surviving that stretch, they’ll have to cut down on turnovers, as they’re averaging 18.5 per game. First-shot defense remains solid (41.9 percent from the field, 32.7 percent on 3s) but UNF is allowing 16 offensive rebounds per game, which helps the opposition score 74 points per game

7. Kennesaw State (2-5)
Next week: 12/11 at SIU Edwardsville, 12/16 at Belmont
With 15 days to rest, take final exams and work on weaknesses exposed during the first seven games, the Owls are ready for the season‘s bulk to begin. What they must do is find more scoring threats besides Markeith Cummings and Spencer Dixon, as well as improve first-shot defense (46.6 percent from the field, 40.5 percent on threes) and rebounding (minus 3.9 per game). If KSU can do a few of those things, it will be a tough out for any A-Sun team

8. Stetson (3-4, 1-1)
Next week: 12/12 at Miami (Fla.), 12/15 at Florida State
After the horror of a home loss against D-II foe Palm Beach Atlantic, the Hatters didn‘t sulk, winning two of their next three, including a conference road victory over North Florida. Freshman Aaron Graham can flat-out shoot the rock, indicated by his 14-25 numbers from three-point range. He looks like Larry Bird in comparison to the rest of this crowd, which is just 18-88 from beyond the arc. But Stetson is making improvements in first-shot defense (44.2 percent from the floor) and is outrebounding the opposition. When it hits more free throws (60.7 percent) and cuts its 17.1 turnovers per game down to 15 or fewer, the win total will go up

9. USC Upstate: (2-6, 1-0)
Next week: 12/11 at N.C. State, 12/16 vs. Campbell
As we suggested would happen two weeks ago, senior guard Josh Chavis began finding the range from the three-point line. In wins over UNC Asheville and East Tennessee State, Chavis hit 6-of-19, pushing his season percentage over the Mendoza line at 22.4 percent. The Spartans’ stunner over ETSU not only gives them a boost of confidence they badly needed, it fired a warning shot for conference opponents who may have circled Upstate road trips as a win. While winning on the road may be next to impossible for this young, undersized squad, take them lightly at your risk when traveling to Spartanburg

10. Florida Gulf Coast: (2-5, 0-2)
Next week: 12/15 at Ohio State
The good news is that Ole Miss transfer Kevin Cantinol is eligible for the trip to the second-ranked Buckeyes, giving the Eagles a much-needed 6‘9, 250-pound slab of beef inside. The bad news is Cantinol might not make much difference for this team on either side of the floor. Despite the efforts of Anthony Banks (15.4 PPG, 7.4 RPG) and Reed Baker (17.7 PPG), FGCU is really this bad. Good thing that coach Dave Balza won a contract extension prior to the season because there might not be many wins left for the Eagles this year

11. Mercer: (2-7, 0-2)
Next Week: Dec. 10 vs. Navy
The good news for the Bears is this is their only game in a 19-day period. The bad news is they still have 20 more games to play this year, perhaps more if they can qualify for the A-Sun tourney on their home court. That will be tough, since this team does nothing well except force turnovers (17.1 per game). It’s clearly a transitional year for this program and it can’t be good for the future that the top three scorers are all seniors

Playing the Percentages
Every week, we’ll look at an intriguing individual or team stat and determine fluke or trend. This week, we zero in on Florida Gulf Coast‘s Anthony Banks, a live body who can crash the offensive glass with the best of them. After grabbing 100 offensive caroms last year, Banks owns 31 in his first seven games this season, placing him atop the conference and in a tie for 8th nationally. We’re calling trend here. Banks is one of those guys with a nose for the ball and the quickness to go get it no matter where it is. If the Eagles get good in the next three years, you can bet the Banks this sophomore will have had a lot to do with it.

A Look Ahead

  • With most teams either approaching or in the middle of exam periods, schedules are fairly light. Belmont tries for its second A-Sun win on the 16th when it welcomes Kennesaw State to Nashville.
  • USC Upstate tries to keep the upset train on the tracks when it welcomes Campbell to the tiny Hodge Center Dec. 16 for the Camels‘ conference opener.
  • North Florida will try to make the conference look respectable to Power Six audiences when it visits Top 25 inhabitants Purdue and Texas in a four-day span.
  • Lipscomb’s recent improvement on defense will be tested Saturday night with a trip to Tennessee Tech, which loves to push the tempo.
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RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Deep South Region

Posted by rtmsf on October 14th, 2010

It’s October.  The leaves are starting to turn colors.  Halloween candy is already in the stores.  There have been a few nights where you may have even turned on the heat.  Midnight Madness is imminent and RTC is full bore into the 2010-11 Season Preview materials headfirst.  For the second October in a row, we’re bringing you our RTC Impact Players series.  The braintrust has gone back and forth on this and we’ve finally settled on a group of sixty players throughout ten geographic regions of the country (five starters plus a sixth man) to represent the who and where of players you should be watching this season.  Seriously, if you haven’t seen every one of these players ball at least once by the end of February, then you need to figure out a way to get a better television package.  As always in a subjective analysis such as this, some of our decisions were difficult; many others were quite easy.  What we can say without reservation is that there is great talent in every corner of this nation of ours, and we’ll do our best to excavate it over the next five weeks in this series that will publish on Mondays and Thursdays.  Each time, we’ll also provide a list of some of the near-misses as well as the players we considered in each region, but as always, we welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments.

You can find all previous RTC 2010-11 Impact Players posts here.

Deep South Region (GA, FL, AL, MS, LA)

  • Chris Warren – Sr, G – Ole Miss. Returning from a torn ACL he suffered just 12 games into his sophomore season in 2008-09, Ole Miss’ Chris Warren had some folks concerned after his first game back last season when he played only 27 minutes, scored just nine points, and struggled with a 3-11 shooting night against Arkansas-Little Rock. Six days later, though, he and his fellow Rebels cruised down to the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in San Juan, where Warren scored 16, 27 and 24 points, respectively, in wins against Indiana and Kansas State and a loss in the final to Villanova. He averaged just under 32 minutes over those three contests and shot a combined 23-45, and, perhaps more importantly, put to bed any remaining fears about the status of that knee. Warren would go on to start all 35 games last year, average 32.9 MPG (tops on his team) and put up only two other single-digit scoring efforts for the whole season. His 17.2 PPG from last season means he’s the second-leading returning scorer in the SEC, trailing only Georgia’s Trey Thompkins by half of a point. When you hear numbers like this, it’s easy to forget that the guy’s doing all this as a 5’10 point guard, another testament to his toughness. Despite his role at the point, ignoring his outside shot isn’t recommended, either; he finished 14th in the nation with 3.4 threes per game, and led the SEC in three-point shooting in league games at 43.8%. Warren’s achievements earned him an all-SEC second team slot last year and we’re certain to see him on the Bob Cousy Award nominee list (again), and wouldn’t be surprised to see him as a finalist. If Mississippi is to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in nine years, head coach Andy Kennedy will need that kind of final season from his floor leader.

You May Not Yet Know Thompkins, But You Will

  • Trey Thompkins – Jr, F – Georgia. After toiling behind Florida and Kentucky for years in the SEC, Mark Fox has the Bulldogs poised for a resurgence. While many Georgia fans are focused on the recruitment of Kentavious Caldwell and Julian Royal this year, Thompkins along with Travis Leslie (below) could lead the Bulldogs back to the NCAA Tournament. After an exceptional sophomore season where he averaged 17.7 PPG and 8.3 RPG and briefly considered leaving Athens to enter the NBA Draft, Thompkins has a legitimate chance at being a 20/10 player this year, which is something that only Artsiom Parakhouski and Omar Samhan did last year and neither Radford nor St. Mary’s play in the SEC. Most NBA Draft experts already had Thompkins pegged as a borderline first round pick after last season and he should only improve on that as he continues to refine his game. With his combination of a solid outside game to match a developing inside game Thompkins has more than made up for his primary weakness—his relative lack of explosiveness—to become one of the top power forwards in the country. Unfortunately that was hidden from most of the country as the Bulldogs were buried on regional coverage as they managed a meager five SEC wins last season. If Leslie learns to translate some of that athleticism into a more complete overall game and Fox is able to get production out of freshman Marcus Thornton and transfer Gerald Robinson, the Bulldogs could be in the second tier of SEC teams this year just being UF and UK, but still in the spotlight enough that we get to see much more of Thompkins. Although you will probably see more of Leslie on ESPN’s highlight reel-laden recaps on television, if you look at the box score you will end up seeing that it is more likely that Thompkins did the majority of the hard work. Now that Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins have left Kentucky, Thompkins should be the top inside player in the SEC (at least until the NCAA figures out what to do with Enes Kanter) and has a chance to contend for SEC Player of the Year.

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RTC Conference Primers: #22 – Atlantic Sun Conference

Posted by nvr1983 on October 13th, 2010

Rush The Court is actively seeking a correspondent for the Atlantic Sun Conference. If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a correspondent, please contact us at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

a sun

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Belmont (16-4)
  2. East Tennessee State (15-5)
  3. Lipscomb (13-7)
  4. Campbell (12-8)
  5. Jacksonville (11-9)
  6. North Florida (10-10)
  7. Mercer (10-10)
  8. USC-Upstate (7-13)
  9. Kennesaw State (6-14)
  10. Stetson (5-15)
  11. Florida Gulf Coast (5-15)

All-Conference Team

  • Markeith Cummings (F) – Kennesaw State (17.4 PPG and 6.1 RPG)
  • Adnan Hodzic (C) – Lipscomb (22.7 PPG and 9.1 RPG; last year’s A-Sun POY)
  • Mike Smith (G) – ETSU (15.3 PPG and 7.7 RPG as a sophomore; injured last year)
  • Josh Slater (G) – Lipscomb (17.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG, and 5.2 APG)
  • Ian Clark (G) – Belmont (14.9 RPG and 3.3 RPG; last year’s A-Sun Freshman of the Year)

Adnan Hodzic: The dominant force in the Atlantic Sun (Credit: AtlanticSun.Org)

Sixth Man
Tommy Hubbard (F) – ETSU (13.9 PPG and 8.2 RPG)

Impact Newcomer

Fred Landers (F) – UNF. Normally we would go with Lester Wilson, a forward out of Knoxville who decided to stay in Tennessee when he signed with ETSU, but the glut of perimeter players on the Buccaneer roster will probably limit Wilson’s playing time. Landers won’t have such a problem at UNF where he should get plenty of playing time at power forward and should contribute immediately for a team with an anemic offense where their leading scorer only scored 9.0 PPG.

What You Need To Know

  • Last year the conference regular season championship was mess with four teams having identical 14-6 conference records. That kind of parity should not be an issue this year as it seems like two teams (Belmont and ETSU) have separated themselves from the rest of the field.
  • After responding surprisingly well to losing five seniors last season, Belmont returns a team that should be the dominant team in the conference for the next two to three seasons with only two seniors on this year’s roster. Clark should be the driving force behind their push to make it back to the NCAA Tournament. You might remember the Bruins from their last trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2008 when they lost to #2 seed Duke by a single point in the opening round.
  • While the Bruins will be relying on underclassmen, the Buccaneers will be relying on a strong group of seniors led by Mike Smith, a guard who was injured last year after only four games. Many expected the Buccaneers to fall apart after losing Smith, but they rebounded to make win the Atlantic Sun Tournament and make it to the NCAA Tournament before losing to #1 seeded Kentucky.
  • If you are looking for a sleeper, keep an eye on Lipscomb who could be a threat with what might be the best 1-2 punch in the conference with Hodzic and Slater. If the Bisons are going to surprise Belmont and ETSU, those two will need help from Jordan Burgason (12.8 PPG) and Brandon Brown (10.4 PPG).

Predicted Champ

Belmont (NCAA Seed: #14). With their solid performance in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year last year, Rick Byrd should expect to make a trip back to the NCAA Tournament this year if they are able to overcome ETSU and Lipscomb.  Even though the Bruins will rely heavily on Clark and Mick Hedgepeth (11.6 PPG and 6.5 RPG), they will need to get production out of Scott Saunders and Jon House on the inside and  steady perimeter play from Drew Hanlen, Jonny Rice, and Jordan Campbell to win the Atlantic Sun.

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Atlantic Sun Tournament Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 3rd, 2010

Ryan Dunn in the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun Conference.

News and Notes

The wild and wacky year in the A-Sun will continue as we head into the tournament which will take place March 3-6 at the University Center in Macon, Georgia (Mercer’s home arena).  The tournament takes the top eight teams in the league.  There was never a clear-cut leader in the league through most of the regular season and we were thinking that perhaps a team or two would separate from the rest of the league; however, that never happened and instead got even more jumbled after the last weekend of the regular season.

Campbell led the league through the first half of the regular season but then fell back a few spots after a tough road swing in January.  The Camels got back in the thick of things after winning six straight that catapulted them to the top of the league once again.  But a loss at Jacksonville on Thursday night looked to end Campbell’s hopes of winning a league title until the Dolphins turned around and lost to ETSU in the season finale on Saturday.  With Lipscomb and Belmont winning their final two games of the regular season, both found themselves tied for the league’s number one spot when play concluded on Saturday night.  With that, four teams tied for the regular season championship (Lipscomb, Jacksonville, Belmont, and Campbell).  After all of the tiebreakers took place, Lipscomb earned the #1 seed, Jacksonville #2, Belmont #3, and Campbell #4 for the upcoming A-Sun tournament.  ETSU earned the #5 seed, Mercer #6, UNF #7 and Kennesaw State #8.

With the parity of the A-Sun this season, I have a feeling that there will be some extremely exciting games in the upcoming tournament.  There are no clear favorites; however, I will say that playing on Wednesday can be an advantage because the winners on Wednesday will get to have a much valuable day off before playing in the semifinals on Friday.  So I would give a very slight advantage to Lipscomb and Jacksonville just for that reason.

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Checking in on… the Atlantic Sun

Posted by rtmsf on February 5th, 2010

Ryan Dunn in the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun Conference.

Current Standings

  1. Jacksonville (9-3 A-Sun, 13-8)
  2. Lipscomb (9-4 A-Sun, 10-12)
  3. Belmont (8-5 A-Sun, 13-10)
  4. Campbell (8-5 A-Sun, 13-9)
  5. East Tennessee State (8-5 A-Sun, 12-12)
  6. Kennesaw State (7-6 A-Sun, 12-12)
  7. Mercer (7-6 A-Sun, 11-12)
  8. North Florida (5-7 A-Sun, 10-12)
  9. Florida Gulf Coast (4-10 A-Sun, 7-16)
  10. USC Upstate (3-9 A-Sun, 3-18)
  11. Stetson (3-11 A-Sun, 5-17)

News and Notes

Each team in the Atlantic Sun plays each other twice and so far each team has at least played everyone in the league once.  So with more than half of the conference season out of the way we have named our all-conference team through the first half.

  • G – Ben Smith (Jacksonville) – Smith was the preseason player of the year by many publications and although he started a little slow this season, he has really turned it on in conference play and is second in the A-Sun in scoring at 20 points per game.  If the Dolphins can win the regular season I wouldn’t be surprised to see him named as the conference player of the year.
  • G – Josh Slater (Lipscomb) – This guy continues to amaze me with his play and if the season ended today he would no doubt be my selection for A-Sun player of the year.  The lefty can do it all, especially in the big games.  Just ask Campbell and ETSU.  Slater is the reigning player of the week in the league and could win the award again this week after his incredible performance at Campbell (scored 21 pts and hit the game winning three).
  • G – James Florence (Mercer) – Florence got off to a sizzling start to the season but has cooled off as of late.  However, he is still averaging over 19 pts per game on the season and is quite possibly the most prolific scorer in the league.  Florence, just like Jonathan Rodriguez, will go down as one of the most productive players in school history.
  • F – Adnan Hodzic (Lipscomb) – The big man was my pick for preseason player of the year and he has certainly not disappointed as he leads the league in scoring at just under 22 pts per game.  Hodzic also ranks fourth in the league in rebounding.
  • F – Jonathan Rodriguez (Campbell) – The senior has shattered tons of team and conference records this season.  He now has over 2,000 points and over 1,000 career rebounds.  He will go down as quite possibly the most successful player in school history and he is currently leading Campbell to its best mark since 1992.

Team News

  • Jacksonville has now won ten straight and could possibly be one of the hottest mid-major teams in the country.  They are pressing on defense and that has been the key to their success as of late.  The Dolphins take the brutal trip to Nashville to play Belmont and Lipscomb next.  If they can come away successful on that trip, the Dolphins may pull away in the A-Sun race.
  • Lipscomb has won a couple games in a row but both games could have easily gone the other way.  They defeated ETSU in OT last weekend before knocking off Campbell on the road with a last second three-pointer by Josh Slater.
  • Belmont is no doubt the hottest team in the league other than Jacksonville.  They are playing extremely well on the defensive end and are starting to make some shots from the perimeter, which is scary for the rest of the league.  Coach Rick Byrd always seems to get the most out of his teams and has done quite possibly his best job this season.
  • Campbell was off to a sizzling 6-1 start to conference play and held a one game lead, but the Camels lost three straight and four of five before finally getting a win last night at Stetson.  After the game Saturday at Florida Gulf Coast, the schedule becomes more favorable with four very winnable home games in a row.
  • East Tennessee State, just like Campbell, was in the middle of a skid before coming away with a victory over Florida Gulf Coast last night.  The Bucs are incredibly athletic but can be streaky from the perimeter and when they are hitting shots they have a tough time earning victories.
  • Kennesaw State has a very young team but could have the most talented young roster in the A-Sun.  Freshmen Markeith Cummings and LaDaris Green have been crucial to the success of the Owls as of late.  Kennesaw continues to inch up the A-Sun standings and could be a scary team to play in the tourney.
  • Mercer climbed to the upper half of the league before losing three straight and looks to be running out of gas. The Bears fell to Kennesaw State last night in a road contest that dropped them into seventh in the league. Mercer hosts the conference tournament so they desperately want to earn a top seed.
  • North Florida continues to hang tough and will no doubt be a scary team to play down the stretch for any of the leaders in the league.  The Ospreys don’t have the most talented roster but they play extremely hard and have already pulled some upsets in league play.
  • Florida Gulf Coast has a very talented group but they have struggled a bit lately.  However, they did earn a nice victory over Mercer last week and already earned a victory over Belmont earlier in the year.
  • USC Upstate has lost three straight but they are also one of those teams you can’t sleep on as they have knocked off some the league’s best already this season.
  • Stetson has struggled for much of the season, but have earned some key wins against ETSU and Mercer.  The Hatters have some work to do in order to make the A-Sun tourney, but as of now they are on the outside looking in.

Key Upcoming Games

  • Jacksonville @ Belmont (2/5) – A battle between two of the hottest teams in the A-Sun that could be big for the upper half of the conference standings.
  • Jacksonville @ Lipscomb (2/7) – Battle between the two top teams in the league at this point.
  • Mercer @ Campbell (2/12) – Mercer knocked off Campbell at home so the Camels will  try to return the favor.
  • Mercer @ ETSU (2/14) – A Valentine’s Day matchup between two teams that are currently struggling.  This game could be key in determining seeds in the A-Sun tourney.
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Checking in on… the Atlantic Sun

Posted by rtmsf on December 25th, 2009

Ryan Dunn is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun Conference.

Current Standings

  1. Belmont                              (7-4, 2-0 A-Sun)
  2. Campbell                            (6-4, 2-0 A-Sun)
  3. East Tennessee State        (6-7, 2-0 A-Sun)
  4. Florida Gulf Coast             (4-6, 1-0 A-Sun)
  5. Kennesaw State                 (4-7, 1-1 A-Sun)
  6. Lipscomb                            (4-7, 1-1 A-Sun)
  7. USC Upstate                      (1-10, 1-1 A-Sun)
  8. Stetson                                (2-7, 0-1 A-Sun)
  9. Mercer                               (4-7, 0-2 A-Sun)
  10. North Florida                    (4-7. 0-2 A-Sun)
  11. Jacksonville                     (1-7, 0-2 A-Sun)

Hottest Team

The Florida Gulf Coast Eagles have not had much success since their transition to the Division I level to this point.  However, this current stretch might be their most successful that includes one of their best wins in program history.  Just the other night the Eagles knocked off Big East member DePaul in front of their home crowd.  The win was the first for the Eagles against a Big East opponent.  FGCU has now won four games in a row which is their longest streak since becoming a Division I member.  Sophomore point guard Reggie Chambers has been stellar during the winning streak.  He has won back-to-back A-Sun player of the week honors, the first player this season to do so.  He along with Reed Baker and Anthony Banks can make this team a legitimate threat in the A-Sun race.

Biggest Disappointment

The Jacksonville Dolphins were predicted by many to win the conference this season.  I had them picked second but nonetheless the Dolphins are playing bad basketball right now.  They have started out league play at 0-2, losing by a combined 39 points in their first two A-Sun games to Campbell and ETSU.  I thought that perhaps their brutal non-conference schedule would better prepare them for league play but that has not been the case at all.  The Dolphins are only averaging 63 points per contest while giving up 78 points per game and allowing teams to shoot close to 52 percent from the floor.  Their field goal percentage defense is last in the league.  The Dolphins are also last in the league in assist to turnover ratio.  Most thought this season could be the one for the Dolphins to finally win the league as they return four starters from last season’s runner-up team.  JU still has plenty of time left to get it back together but they need to get back on track sooner rather than later.

Best of the Rest

  • Belmont - After being the league’s hottest team two weeks ago, the Bruins have dropped two straight.  However, the most important thing is that they are still perfect in league play as the holidays are here.  Coach Rick Byrd always seems to get the very most out of his teams so I expect the Bruins to be in contention in league play.
  • Campbell - The Camels came out flat against UNC-Wilmington as they fell by 20 to the Seahawks and it looked to be the start of a losing streak.  However, Campbell got it back together by knocking off conference foe Jacksonville by 16 at home.  The Camels are off to a nice 2-0 start to league play and that is the most important thing, but coach Robbie Laing has to be disappointed with his team’s effort against Longwood.  The Lancers built a 20-point lead and held off a late Campbell run to win by eight.  Campbell is still in good shape and looks to be a major contender in the A-Sun.
  • ETSU – The Bucs pounded Jacksonville by 23 just a few nights ago to improve to 2-0 in the league.  I wasn’t sure how the team would come out this season after losing their top two scorers from a year ago, but coach Murray Bartow has reloaded with more athleticism and speed, and has his team playing with a lot of energy.  The Bucs will certainly compete at the top of the league and will be looking for their second straight A-Sun title and NCAA berth.
  • Kennesaw State - The Owls have dropped three straight but all have come against formidable opponents and all have been on the road.  Freshman Markeith Cummings continues to impress as he is the league’s third leading scorer at over 17 per game.  With more athleticism than in years past I expect this team to make a little noise as conference play continues after the holidays.
  • Lipscomb – The Bisons continue to struggle as they stumble into the holidays losers of two straight.  However, those two games were against Cincinnati and Arizona.  They were blown out by the Bearcats but went to overtime with ‘Zona, falling by just a point on a controversial buzzer-beater by Nic Wise.  The Bisons are still dead last in the league in scoring defense (83.4 ppg) and are tenth in the conference in field goal percentage (50.6%).  The defense must get better quick if Lipscomb wants to compete at the top of the league.
  • Mercer – The Bears continue to struggle as they have lost two straight games.  However, both losses have come to SEC heavyweights Vanderbilt and Alabama.  The most disappointing part is that the Bears have not been competitive at all in those games.  Mercer needs to get things rolling in a hurry as conference play is creeping up very quickly in the coming weeks.
  • North Florida – The Ospreys have continued to play hard under new head coach Matthew Driscoll and have won three straight contests by knocking off Canisius and New Orleans in the Southern Miss Christmas Classic before defeating Southern Miss in the championship game.  It could very well be the most successful stretch of games for UNF as a Division I member.  This team plays extremely hard and teams in this league cannot sleep on them when conference play gets into full force.
  • Stetson – There is really no way around but the Hatters just might be the worst team in the league at this point.  Their only two wins have come against non-Division I opponents but I don’t expect too many victories from this team.  Guard A.J. Smith (13.4 ppg) is the only legitimate scoring threat for the Hatters.  Stetson is near the bottom of the league in just about every offensive category and I don’t expect it to get much better as conference play approaches.
  • USC Upstate – The Spartans got off to a nice start at Arizona State just yesterday and only fell to the Sun Devils by nine.  The Spartans have a nice starting five but are not particularly deep and that will continue to hurt them.  Still, Upstate is well coached and should cause some problems in league play.

Key Upcoming Games

  • Mercer @ UNC Charlotte (12/29) – Mercer has the talent to compete against high major opponents.  Charlotte has gotten off to a blistering start with their only losses coming at the hands off Duke and ODU.
  • Belmont @ Kansas (12/29) – An extremely tough post-Christmas, pre-New Year’s battle against the number one team in the land in Allen Fieldhouse.  Belmont plays hard but they will be physically outmanned and I don’t expect it to be close.
  • FGCU @ Stetson (12/29) – FGCU can join the top of the league if they can knock off the Hatters on the road.  The Eagles must win games like this in order to finish in the upper tier of the league.
  • Mercer @ Jacksonville (1/2) – Big conference showdown between two struggling teams.  The winner can perhaps build some momentum as league play gets going.  The loser may have a rough ride in the A-Sun.
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