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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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 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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Checking in on… the Atlantic Sun

Posted by rtmsf on February 19th, 2010

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

Current Standings

  1. Campbell (12-5 A-Sun, 17-9)
  2. Belmont (12-5 A-Sun, 17-10)
  3. Jacksonville (12-5 A-Sun, 16-10)
  4. Lipscomb (11-6 A-Sun, 14-12)
  5. East Tennessee State (10-6 A-Sun, 14-13)
  6. Mercer (10-7 A-Sun, 14-13)
  7. North Florida (7-10 A-Sun, 12-15)
  8. Kennesaw State (7-10 A-Sun, 12-16)
  9. USC Upstate (5-12 A-Sun, 5-21)
  10. Florida Gulf Coast (4-14 A-Sun, 7-20)
  11. Stetson (4-14 A-Sun, 6-21)

Team News 

  • Campbell has now won five straight and is closing a four-game homestand tonight against ETSU.  It is the final home game of the season and should be an electrifying atmosphere with it being Jonathan Rodriguez’s final career game in Buies Creek.  I expect the Camels to play with intensity and passion to finish out with a huge home win.  The Camels close the year at Jacksonville and at North Florida.
  • Belmont continues to play well and they certainly have a scheduling advantage over the other top teams in the league.  The Bruins just defeated lowly Stetson last night and they travel to a struggling Florida Gulf Coast team tomorrow.  The Bruins close the season at home against Mercer and Kennesaw State.
  • Jacksonville has gotten back on track with three straight victories after losing two straight before that.  They earned a nice road victory against Kennesaw State last night.  However, they still have games at Mercer, at home against Campbell, and at home against ETSU.  That will certainly be a tough test for the Dolphins down the stretch.  
  • Lipscomb fell out of the top spot last week when they were knocked off by USC Upstate on the road.  Lipscomb is a tough team to figure out as they are perhaps the most talented team in the league with the best big man (Adnan Hodzic) and in my opinion the best combo guard (Josh Slater).  Lipscomb goes to Stetson before hosting Kennesaw State and Mercer to close out the year.
  • East Tennessee State has a huge game tonight at Campbell with a chance to move right back in the mix at the top of the league.  After the trip to Campbell they host USC Upstate before traveling to North Florida and to Jacksonville.  They must win out to have a chance at a regular season title.
  • Mercer is trying to move up in the league standings because they do have an advantage in that they are hosting the A-Sun tournament on their home floor.  The talent is certainly there with James Florence and company but the Bears have been a streaky team throughout the year.  However, they have an extremely tough three-game stretch to close the year as they host Jacksonville and travel to Belmont and Lipscomb.
  • North Florida has been a pesky team all season long under new head coach Matthew Driscoll.  The Ospreys are still looking to improve their seed for the upcoming tournament.  They travel to Kennesaw State before hosting ETSU and Campbell. 
  • Kennesaw State is a young and talented basketball team, but they are a team that looks to be running out of gas.  The Owls can still improve their seed against UNF, Belmont and Lipscomb.
  • USC Upstate has been known to pull some upsets in conference play.  The Spartans just defeated Lipscomb last week and will be looking to win a couple more to end the season on a high note.  USC Upstate plays ETSU, FGCU, and Stetson to close the season and winning two of three is certainly possible.
  • FGCU has fallen on hard times as they have dropped their last seven contests.  The Eagles will look to at least get a win down the stretch with games against Belmont and USC Upstate.
  • Stetson has lost three straight and have struggled throughout the season though they have had some injury troubles.  The Hatters take on Lipscomb and USC Upstate to close out the season.

Key Upcoming Games

  • ETSU @ Campbell (2/19) – Senior night for four Campbell seniors including all-everything Jonathan Rodriguez.  It should be a very good atmosphere and will be a battle between two good teams.
  • Mercer @ Belmont (2/25) – If the Bruins win this game they have a great chance to win the A-Sun regular season crown.  Belmont controls the tiebreaker with Campbell.
  • Campbell @ Jacksonville (2/25) – A battle with two teams at the top of the league standings.  The game could mean one team winning the league and one falling out of the top three.
  • ETSU @ Jacksonville (2/27) – Both teams with tough tests to finish the year.  It could be a battle for first place by that point.
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Checking in on… the Atlantic Sun

Posted by jstevrtc on January 23rd, 2010

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

Current Standings

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

News and Notes

This could end up being one of the tightest races of any conference in America at the end of the year.  Six out of eleven teams are within two games of the league leaders.  Teams in the A-Sun play each other twice and we are just about one full time around.  Campbell’s Jonathan Rodriguez has now become the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,948 career points and still plenty of games left to separate himself.  He has also set the school record for career rebounding and is the current NCAA leader in career free throws made.

Remember, only six teams make it to the year end Atlantic Sun tournament.  USC Upstate and Florida Gulf Coast are still not eligible for post season play after completing their transition from Division II.  So that leaves nine eligible teams for post season play and means Stetson and Kennesaw State have some real work to do in order to make up ground and earn a berth.

  • Campbell was off to a sizzling 6-1 start to conference play and held a one game lead.  However, the Camels are in the middle of a brutal road swing with trips to traditional powers Belmont, Lipscomb, and East Tennessee State.  The Camels are already 0-1 on the trip with a loss to a struggling Belmont team.  Campbell is traditionally a struggling road team and they MUST win at least a game on this trip.
  • East Tennessee State always seems to be at the top of the league standings even with a slow start.  This year is no different as head coach Murray Bartow had to reload with newcomers and needed some guys to play a much bigger role than they have in the previous year.  Well, the Bucs are right there at the top and are fresh off a huge victory at Lipscomb just last night.  ETSU struggles at time from the perimeter but they are quick and athletic.
  • Mercer keeps on winning basketball games as they have now reeled off five straight W’s in conference play.  They have many weapons including two all-conference performers in James Florence and Daniel Emerson.  The Bears do play a handful of players over 30 minutes a game so lets see if that could have an effect on them at the end of the year.  But for now, the Bears look to be a top contender.
  • Jacksonville has now won six straight games after opening conference play 0-3.  The Dolphins were picked by most to win the league and they are very much in it.  The Dolphins are finally getting healthy and they are a scary team heading into the second half of conference play.  JU is fresh off a victory against cross town rival North Florida.
  • Lipscomb has been playing better of late — especially defensively –  but lost a little momentum after falling at home to ETSU just last night.  The Bisons must be careful because they have a quick turnaround with league-leading Campbell coming in on Saturday.  If Lipscomb were to lose that one, it could really set them back in the conference race.
  • Belmont is a team that plays extremely hard and they play a very sound style of basketball.  This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for head coach Rick Byrd but his team looks to be one that could be in the race at year’s end.  They have a very young backcourt, and, if they can continue to grow, they truly have a chance.  The Bruins have also gained some momentum after upsetting Campbell at home last night.
  • North Florida is a fun team to follow and it should be interesting to see if the Ospreys can continue to win games and perhaps sneak into the conference tournament.  They have not played their best in the last week or so but they are still more than capable of sneaking up on a league heavyweight.  UNF is a team that plays extremely hard for new head coach Matthew Driscoll.

Key Upcoming Games

  • Campbell @ Lipscomb (1/23) – Two teams that are amongst the league leaders and could really shake up the conference standings.
  • ETSU @ Belmont (1/23) – Huge game for both teams as ETSU is looking to stay at the top, while Belmont is just trying to stay in the mix.
  • Lipscomb @ Belmont (1/26) – Round two of the “Battle of the Boulevard” as Lipscomb took round one, now Belmont gets a turn at home.
  • Campbell @ ETSU (1/27) – The two top teams in the league will do battle in Johnson City to complete the first rotation of conference play.
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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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Checking in on… the Atlantic Sun

Posted by jstevrtc on December 11th, 2009

checkinginon

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

Current Standings:

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

League Nuggets:

Conference play is underway in the Atlantic Sun and so far the pre-conference trends have continued through the first weeks of the conference season.  Lipscomb and Mercer still cannot defend anyone.  Campbell continues to win games but still has the toughest part of their schedule upcoming.  Jonathan Rodriguez has broken even more records since our last Atlantic Sun look in.  He now has the most career double-doubles in league history with 43 and has also moved into second place on the school’s all-time scoring list.  Speaking of records, Mercer’s James Florence continues to shatter league and school records as well.

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2009-10 Conference Primers: #25 – Atlantic Sun

Posted by rtmsf on October 13th, 2009

seasonpreview

Ryan Dunn is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun Conference. Click here for all of our 2009-10 Season Preview materials.

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Lipscomb Bisons                             (20-9, 15-5)
  2. Jacksonville Dolphins                     (19-11, 14-6)
  3. Mercer Bears                                   (17-15, 12-8)
  4. Campbell Camels                            (17-13, 11-9)
  5. East Tennessee State Bucs              (15-15, 11-9)
  6. Belmont Bruins                               (13-17, 10-10)
  7. Florida Gulf Coast Eagles              (14-15, 9-11)              
  8. Stetson Hatters                               (13-16, 8-12)
  9. North Florida Ospreys                    (11-19, 7-13)
  10. Kennesaw State Owls                   (9-23, 5-15)
  11. USC-Upstate Spartans                  (4-25, 4-16)

Preseason All-Conference Team (all stats 2008-09 season):

  • James Florence (G), Mercer                  20.8 points, 3.7 assists
  • Ben Smith (G), Jacksonville                   16.9 points, 4.0 assists
  • Jonathan Rodriguez  (F), Campbell        15.6 points, 8.3 rebounds
  • Mike Smith (F), ETSU                               15.3 points, 7.7 rebounds
  • Adnan Hodzic (C), Lipscomb                17.1 points, 7.1 rebounds

6th Man.  Daniel Emerson, Mercer.  Yes I know Emerson will not come off the bench but since he is such a good player and he wasn’t mentioned on my all-conference team I wanted to give him some recognition.  Emerson was the only player in the league last year to average a double-double.  

Impact Newcomer.  Justin Tubbs, ETSU.  Transfer from Alabama, very athletic and should provide immediate help in the ETSU backcourt.

a sun

What You Need To Know.

  • While the A-Sun has 11 teams in the league, only nine teams are eligible for postseason play as Florida Gulf Coast and USC-Upstate are still completing their transition from Division 2to Division 1.  This upcoming season marks the first year that North Florida and Kennesaw State will be eligible for postseason play as they have now completed their transition to Division I.  Only eight spots are reserved for the conference tournament meaning that only one eligible team will miss out.  This year’s tournament will be played at Mercer’s University Center in Macon, Georgia.
  • Some headlines that made news this offseason included a coaching change at North Florida as they named former Baylor assistant Matthew Driscoll head coach.  Driscoll has put together quite the coaching staff that features former Campbell assistant Bobby Kennan, former Head Coach at Lander College Bruce Evans, and Jeremy Shyatt, former Director of Basketball Operations at VCU and son of former Clemson head coach and current Florida top assistant Larry Shyatt.  Driscoll and his staff brought in nine newcomers to go along with six returning players.  Five of the newcomers earned all-state honors in the state of Florida. 
  • The league features two of the more premier mid-major players in Campbell’s Jonathan Rodriguez and Mercer’s James Florence.  Both have a chance to rewrite their school and conference record books.  Florence is the active leader for career scoring in the league with Rodriguez following in second.  Rodriguez stands second on the Atlantic Sun’s career double-double list with 39, and is just three off the record.  Florence currently sits in fifth on the Mercer all-time scoring list.  Both players should indeed break numerous records and if you haven’t seen them play it would definitely be worth your money to see them in action this season.

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