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 January 21st, 2011

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

A Look Back

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

Power Rankings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next week: 1/25 at Stetson

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

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

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

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

Playing the Percentages

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

A Look Ahead

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

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

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 8th, 2011

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

A Look Back

  • The Agony Ends… and Resumes: While no one picked Kennesaw State to win the conference this year, no one thought it would have a ten-game losing streak, either. But that‘s what happened as the Owls played poor defense and were too shot-dependent. KSU broke the spell with a 78-71 home win against USC Upstate Jan. 3, with the Spartans getting 23 points from Kelvin McConnell and 16 rebounds from Aaron Anderson. But it went back to losing two nights later when it allowed East Tennessee State to light it up for 51 percent shooting in an 80-69 decision.
  • Stetson Makes Lipscomb Smell: While no one would dare pick the Hatters over the Bisons in a seven-game series, Stetson did send the conference a message January 3 with a 76-66 upset in DeLand, Florida. Freshman point guard Corey Walden lit it up for 23 points and eight assists as the Hatters erupted for 58 points in the second half. It was another reminder why Lipscomb, as currently constituted, might never win anything that truly matters. It just doesn’t make enough of a commitment to defense.
  • Player of the Week: Adam Sollazzo, East Tennessee State: It‘s safe to say no one saw this coming. Sollazzo lost his job less than a month ago as coach Murray Bartow tried a point guard-less lineup for three games. Now he‘s the king of the A-Sun hill after averaging 16 points and 4.5 assists per game in wins over Mercer and Kennesaw State, canning a game-winning shot against Mercer. Just missing the gold medal is teammate Mike Smith, who averaged 14.3 points and nine rebounds during the Bucs’ trip to Cancun, and North Florida’s Parker Smith, who dropped 20 and 25 points on Maryland and Kansas State, respectively, in the dying days of 2010.

Power Rankings

1. Belmont (12-3, 4-0)
Next Week: 1/8 vs. North Florida, 1/10 vs. Jacksonville, 1/13 vs. Lipscomb

The beat goes on for the Bruins, which followed a solid non-conference win over Miami (OH) with easy conference road wins over Florida Gulf Coast and Stetson. Coach Rick Byrd netted the 500th win of his impressive career at Stetson and figures to tack on about 15 more to that total this year. Byrd unleashed his bench on the Hatters and it made the difference as they outscored Stetson‘s reserves 44-2, led by 14 from freshman J.J. Mann. Belmont‘s dominance has caught the eye of mid-major pollsters that are making it a regular in their top 25s. If this continues, a nation may notice this squad in March.

2. Jacksonville (9-3, 3-0)
Next Week: 1/8 at Lipscomb, 1/10 at Belmont, 1/13 vs. USC Upstate

For just the second time in their A-Sun tenure, the Dolphins have won their first three conference games. To match a 5-0 start in 2007-08, all they have to do is sweep their Nashville road trip against Lipscomb and Belmont. Don’t discount this undersized but super-quick team, which has had seven different players lead the team in scoring during the first 12 games. JU continues to play excellent first-shot defense (40.7 field goal percentage, 29.2 3-point percentage) and force turnovers at a clip of more than 17 per game. One major concern is that it’s making only 62.5 percent of its free throws.

3. East Tennessee State (8-7, 3-1)
Next week: 1/8 vs. Florida Gulf Coast, 1/10 vs. Stetson, 1/13 at North Florida

Looks like a return to A-Sun play was the cure for what ailed the Bucs. In the last four games, they‘ve topped 70 points three times, thanks largely to Sollazzo‘s increased contribution on offense. Mike Smith and Justin Tubbs have found the range more lately, but the biggest news is the team‘s commitment to the “pack line“ defense invented by Dick Bennett and perfected by Tony Bennett during his time at Washington State. With the exception of allowing Kennesaw State to hit 51 percent from the floor, the Buccaneers have taken to the pack approach. The roll should continue against Florida Gulf Coast and Stetson.

4. Lipscomb (8-5, 3-1)
Next Week: 1/8 vs. Jacksonville, 1/10 vs. North Florida, 1/13 at Belmont

Coach Scott Sanderson said it best after the Bisons‘ inexplicable loss to Stetson January 3. “There are no free games in this league. That loss stung. There’s no way around it.” There’s also no way around the fact that this team refuses to make a consistent commitment to defense, which isn’t just something you can do when you feel like it. That Lipscomb continues to permit opponents to score 78.5 ppg and shoot better than 45 percent indicates that either Sanderson’s message isn’t getting through or that there are a bunch of below-average defenders on this roster. Until Adnan Hodzic, Josh Slater and Co. mix in a few possessions of defense with their fun-to-watch offense, they won’t win any championships.

5. North Florida: (5-9, 2-1)
Next Week: 1/8 at Belmont, 1/10 at Lipscomb, 1/13 vs. East Tennessee State

OK, so the Ospreys are 5-9 and Campbell is 7-6. Yet we rank them about the Camels for two reasons — head-to-head result and strength of schedule. Not only did North Florida win straight-up January 5 in Buies Creek, it’s played a brutal schedule, cashing checks in exchange for beatings and lessons. What we’ve learned about coach Matthew Driscoll’s team is that when they play someone their own size (i.e.: the A-Sun), they’re pretty darn competitive. The addition of Parker Smith has given this team a breakout scorer they didn’t have last year. The Ospreys will stay around .500 in the league and beat people they shouldn’t.

6. Campbell: (7-6, 1-3)
Next Week: 1/7 vs. Kennesaw State, 1/10 vs. Mercer

Losing at two-time A-Sun tourney champion ETSU is one thing. Losing at home against a Jacksonville team good enough to win at Florida is another. Losing at home against undermanned North Florida is inexcusable. Yet the Camels did it in spite of shooting 55 percent from the field. The most shocking thing about this defeat was that they committed 26 turnovers against an Ospreys team which isn’t known for its fierce defensive pressure. Even point guard Junard Hartley, who’s normally careful with the ball, hacked up five turnovers. Campbell needs to sweep the Georgia schools because its Nashville trip awaits.

7. Stetson (4-10, 2-2)
Next week: 1/8 at USC Upstate, 1/10 at East Tennessee State

It says something for the Hatters that their 17-point loss to Belmont on Wednesday was the closest any A-Sun team has come to the Bruins so far. Their upset of Lipscomb should tell everyone in the conference not to take it easy when visiting central Florida. The 1-2 punch of Corey Walden and Ridge Graham looks like quite a nucleus for emotional coach Derek Waugh, who appears to have found another good piece in 6‘8, 280-pound freshman center Steve Forbes. He’s taken a spot in the starting lineup and delivered a 12-point outing against Belmont.

8. Mercer (4-11, 1-3)
Next week: 1/10 at Campbell

There may be no hotter player in the league at the moment besides senior forward Brian Mills, who has reached double figures in eight straight games, going off for a career-high 30 points in a January 5 win over USC Upstate. Mills is averaging 19.3 ppg and 8.8 rebounds in conference games. Now for the bad news: Besides the losing, 35 of the team’s 41 double-figure scoring games this year have come from seniors. It sure doesn’t say much for the seven players coach Bob Hoffman recruited. Unless some players suddenly blossom over the next 16 games, Mercer could miss the conference tournament on its home floor.

9. Kennesaw State: (3-11, 1-3)
Next week: 1/7 at Campbell

There are some good individual performances going on this year, such as the rebounding of Aaron Anderson, who hauled in 16 against USC Upstate, and the play of point guard Spencer Dixon, who‘s become one of the league‘s top combo guards. But there is nothing good going on when it comes to defense. Opponents are hitting 47.3 percent of their field goals and averaging more than 76 points per game. Its regression from last year makes this the conference’s biggest disappointment to this point.

10. USC Upstate: (2-12, 1-3)
Next week: 1/8 vs. Stetson, 1/10 vs. Florida Gulf Coast, 1/13 at Jacksonville

It‘s becoming apparent that as the losses pile up, the Spartans are still giving their fans hope for next year and the year beyond. Freshmen Torrey Craig and Babatunde Olumuyiwa are forming what could be a pretty good 1-2 punch in the frontcourt, while another freshman, Chandler Hash, is beginning to look like a guy who can hit 3-pointers in bunches. Home games against the central Florida schools this week could give Upstate a shot at back-to-back wins.

11. Florida Gulf Coast: (3-10, 0-4)
Next Week: 1/8 at East Tennessee State, 1/10 at USC Upstate

Well, the weather is great in Ft. Myers and the Eagles’ blue/green color scheme is easy on the eyes. And their women‘s basketball team might be headed for an unbeaten regular season, even though it‘s unlikely to make the NCAA Tournament since the school is in its final season of reclassification. As for the men? Suffice it to say that opponents are averaging more than 79 points per game and that the offense can’t shoot from the field (40 percent), the three-point line (30.4 percent) or the foul line (63.8). No matter how much the 1-2 punch of Anthony Banks and Reed Baker do, it’s not enough.

Playing the Percentages

Every week, we‘ll take a look at an intriguing trend around the conference and decide fluke or trend. This week, it’s the recent scoring surge of ETSU junior Adam Sollazzo, who’s averaged  15 points over the last four games after averaging 3.9 PPG in the first 11 games and losing his starting job. We’re going to say fluke, because Sollazzo has never come close to scoring like this for any stretch of time until now. But if Sollazzo keeps averaging double figures, the Bucs become a lot more dangerous in this league.

A Look Ahead

Now things start to get interesting in the league, as the top teams run into each other in a series of matchups that could crystalize the pecking order going forward.

  • Jacksonville takes its yearly Nashville road trip, playing Lipscomb and then Belmont. A sweep seems unlikely, but a split would be a very solid showing for the Dolphins.
  • After they play the Jacksonville schools, Belmont and Lipscomb get together for the first of their meetings at Belmont.
  • Meanwhile, ETSU has a chance to take on more wins against very beatable foes when it hosts Florida Gulf Coast and Stetson, then visits North Florida.
  • Stetson tries to keep one of the weirdest trends in the conference going when it travels to ETSU. It’s won the last two games in Johnson City and some feel it’s because coach Derek Waugh, who played at Furman when the Bucs enjoyed their glory days of a generation ago, gets his team more ready for this game than for others.
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Checking in on… the Atlantic Sun

Posted by rtmsf on December 26th, 2010

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

A Look Back

  • Belmont‘s the Best: There is no team as consistent in this league as the Bruins, who came within a Scotty Hopson layup of scoring an upset win at Tennessee Thursday night. How good is Belmont? It went 8-of-35 from the 3-point line, had a 37-10 disadvantage in free throw chances and still fought a top 20 team — a top 20 team with decisive neutral court wins over Villanova and Pittsburgh — down to the wire. Between ripping his team after the game, Volunteers coach Bruce Pearl couldn’t stop expressing his admiration for the Bruins’ half court offense. If Belmont wins this league, it could win a first round game in the NCAA Tournament with the right draw.
  • Jacksonville‘s Not Far Behind: And what about those Dolphins, going into Florida on December 20 and walking away with an overtime win against a team which two days earlier held Kansas State to 44 points? Right now, Cliff Warren is the favorite for A-Sun Coach of the Year. All he’s done is take a team which lost its top scorers to graduation (Ben Smith and Lehmon Colbert) and usually has no one taller than 6’5 in its lineup and make it a much better defensive outfit. While it helps to have a do-it-all type like Ayron Hardy in your lineup, JU keeps getting meaningful contributions from the likes of Keith McDougald, Glenn Powell and Travis Cohn. Mark down January 10 on your calendar; that’s when the Dolphins visit Belmont.
  • Player of the Week: Scott Saunders, Belmont. Coming off the bench — which should tell you just how deep this team is — Saunders averaged 12.7 PPG and 7.3 RPG in wins over Kennesaw State, Troy and Alabama State. His 19-point, 10-rebound performance December 16 against Kennesaw State represented the first double-double of his career. A year after his arrival, the Rice transfer is having the impact many thought he would. Just missing the gold medal is Jacksonville’s Keith McDougald, a freshman who averaged 15 PPG in road games against Saint Louis and Florida. McDougald canned four free throws in OT to clinch the Dolphins’ 71-68 upset of the No. 20 Gators.

Power Rankings

1. Belmont (9-3, 2-0)

Next Week: 12/30 vs. Miami (OH)

Want to know two more reasons why the Bruins win? Rebounding and depth. They are outrebounding foes by nearly four per game, including an impressive 47-40 wiping of the boards at Tennessee, and play 10 players at least 10 minutes per game. In that respect, they play the game exactly like a BCS school, which is why they are this league’s favorite until further notice. One troubling trend, though, is that sophomore Ian Clark’s scoring average is down to 11.9 ppg. He had just six points and fouled out late in the loss at Tennessee. Belmont becomes a bit more vulnerable if Clark keeps slumping.

2. Jacksonville (7-3, 2-0)

Next Week: 12/30 vs. Bethune-Cookman

The Dolphins‘ win at Florida made them the first A-Sun team to beat a top 25 foe since Mercer walloped USC and O.J. Mayo in the 2007 season opener. They don’t win with a lot of style points, given their low shooting percentages across the board, but JU is better equipped to win games in March this year thanks to its emphasis on defense. It is in some ways harder to guard because of the absence of a go-to player like it had last year in Ben Smith. If Belmont has some slippage, this looks like the team best suited to jump into the breach.

3. Lipscomb (7-3, 2-0)

Next week: 12/30 at Memphis

Predictably, Jordan Burgason has found his lost 3-point shooting touch, canning 16-of-32 in the team‘s last three games and averaging 20 points in that span. Center Adnan Hodzic continued his run to 2,000 career points, climbing to 1,670 for his career after a rare off-game netted him just 12 at Alabama. That was about the only thing worth mentioning from a 71-51 loss which was highly disappointing to coach Scott Sanderson, who said his team competed for five minutes of the second half. Losing at a BCS school is expected, but losing by 20 against a .500 BCS school when you expect to contend for a league title just doesn’t sit well with Wimp’s son. Nor should it.

4. Campbell (7-3, 1-0)

Next Week: 12/30 at East Tennessee State

No team in the league won in more dramatic fashion last week than the Camels, who trailed UNC Wilmington almost all night until Junard Hartley unloaded a game-winning 3-pointer with 1.4 seconds left for a 57-56 decision Dec. 22. Campbell is winning with defense, limiting its last four opponents to less than 40 percent marksmanship from the field. We’ll start finding more out about the Camels next Thursday night when they visit two-time conference tourney champ East Tennessee State.

5. East Tennessee State: (5-7, 0-1)

Next Week: 12/30 vs. Campbell

The Buccaneers‘ inconsistent point guard play is a nightly concern, but so are their slow starts. Until a 79-51 win on Christmas Eve against Appalachian State, they fell behind by double figures before the second media timeout in three straight games — all losses. It appears more and more likely that senior forward Tommy Hubbard is headed for a redshirt year, shifting more of the load to Mike Smith, Micah Williams, Justin Tubbs and Isiah Brown. So far, none of those four has consistently been able to be the No. 1 offensive option for more than a game or two at a time. Someone has to at some point or a once-promising season could end in a sea of mediocrity.

6. North Florida: (4-7, 1-1)

Next Week: 12/29 at Maryland

Now we get to the A-Sun‘s second division, where there presently seems to be little difference from sixth place to the cellar. On the premise that the Ospreys have played the toughest schedule in the league, we’ll go with them at No. 6. It’s not a good sign that they continue to have trouble scoring the ball. It’s an even worse sign that they have failed to earn more trips to the foul line than their opponents in 11 straight games. For a team which struggles to score consistently, it needs to find more ways to draw fouls and get easy points.

7. Mercer (3-8, 0-2)

Next week: 12/30 vs. Charlotte

You had to feel bad for Brian Mills, who fumbled a potential game-winning layup against Georgia Dec. 23 through his hands and out of bounds. Talk about the Grinch rappelling down your chimney at rocket speed. It was a lost opportunity for a team which continues to struggle to score points. And it was a rotten ending to a great game for Mills, who had 21 points and 12 boards. The Bears are still getting almost nothing out of underclassmen, a bad sign long-term.

8. Florida Gulf Coast (3-7, 0-2)

Next week: 12/27 vs. IUPUI

Reed Baker is going out with a bang, firing in a game-high 25 points in a Dec. 21 win over North Carolina Central. The senior guard is averaging nearly 18 points per game, although his usage rate suggests he needs to score more to justify his low shooting percentage. Other than sophomore forward Anthony Banks, who might be the league’s top offensive rebounder, there’s still little to like about this team across the board. Ole Miss transfer Kevin Cantinol hasn’t contributed much, suggesting there’s considerable rust to chip off his game.

9. USC Upstate: (2-9, 1-1)

Next week: 12/30 at Virginia Tech

Unlike Mercer, which recruited a bunch of freshmen and isn‘t getting much production from them, the Spartans can boast of freshmen who lead the team in scoring (Torrey Craig), rebounding (Craig) and blocked shots (Babatunde Olomuyiwa). In fact, Olomuyiwa’s 35 blocked shots are more than six teams in the conference. So while Upstate is probably headed for another 20-loss season, it at least is bringing along young players who appear capable of leading this program to brighter days in 2-3 years.

10. Stetson: (3-9, 1-1)

Next week: No games scheduled

One could say the Hatters crapped out in Las Vegas, where they lost on consecutive days to Rice, Akron and Arkansas-Little Rock to stretch their losing streak to five games. Defense was an issue in the final two games as the Zips and Trojans combined to hit a total of 25 3-pointers. The one consistent scorer individually continues to be sophomore Ridge Graham, who’s eighth in the league at 15 points per game and third in rebounding at 7.3. With the Nashville schools coming to town after the New Year, followed by a road trip to Upstate and ETSU, Stetson needs to improve first-shot defense soon or their five-game losing streak might not end for a while.

11. Kennesaw State: (2-9, 0-2)

Next Week: Dec. 28 at Wyoming

What‘s happened here? Since an 80-63 blowout of Georgia Tech Nov. 15, the Owls have lost nine in a row and are getting blown out more often than worn tires on a pothole-strewn expressway. Not even a lineup shakeup in a Dec. 22 loss at Fordham could change this team‘s slumping ways. This team shouldn’t be losing nine in a row, but will lose more than that unless it starts hitting more shots and making more of a commitment to playing tough defense like it did in last year’s A-Sun tourney.

Playing the Percentages

Every week, we’ll look at an intriguing individual or team stat and determine fluke or trend.  This week, we eyeball Belmont‘s first half dominance. Until it trailed 35-23 at halftime of a December 23 game at Tennessee, the Bruins had outscored their first 11 opponents by a combined 156 points, or an average of 41-27.  We’re going to say fluke, even though we think this is the conference’s top team. With conference opponents — the guys who see you twice a year — on the docket for most of the season’s remainder, Belmont might not display this type of dominance immediately.

A Look Ahead

After opening Santa‘s presents, A-Sun teams will mostly practice and get ready for the bulk of conference play in the last week of 2010, although there are some intriguing games.

  • Campbell tries to improve to 2-0 in conference play when it makes its final trip to Johnson City for a date with two-time A-Sun tourney champ East Tennessee State.
  • Belmont plays Miami (Ohio) in what should be a fascinating battle for tempo control. The Bruins love to play fast but Miami coach Charlie Coles gets almost everyone to play at a waltz pace.
  • North Florida goes back to the road (and the bank) when it fleshes out a brutal non-conference schedule with a Maryland-Kansas State swing.
  • Lipscomb takes its last swing at a significant non-conference road win when it makes a 200-mile bus trip to Memphis. The more experienced Bisons will have had nine days to stew over a rotten performance in a loss at Alabama.
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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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Checking in on… the Atlantic Sun

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 27th, 2010

Bucky Dent is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun Conference.  [ed note: this post was written prior to the Nov. 26-28 games]

A Look Back

  • Tommy Hubbard Injured: East Tennessee State forward Tommy Hubbard is battling knee problems which have kept him out of two games and hampered him in the only game he played, a Nov. 15 loss at Murray State. While the Buccaneers have enough depth to still field a solid lineup, they don’t want to think about life without Hubbard, their best defensive player and top scorer last year when they won the A-Sun tourney as a five seed. This puts more pressure on Mike Smith, Micah Williams and Justin Tubbs to score the ball without Hubbard‘s presence.
  • TV league Upsets: In the first two weeks of the season, A-Sun teams have already scored three attention-grabbing upsets over Power Six foes. Stetson outran and outscored Wake Forest 89-79 Nov. 12, followed by Kennesaw State’s 80-63 whacking of Georgia Tech Nov. 15 (think the Yellow Jackets will ever play in Kennesaw again?). Campbell followed with a 61-54 win at Auburn Nov. 20. One thing all three A-Sun teams have in common: they also lost their next game after those big victories.
  • Player of the Week: Lorne Merthie, Campbell - A streaky shooter, Merthie was on during the Camels’ 2-1 showing in a tournament at Auburn, averaging 15.7 points per game. Merthie also picked up four steals against the Tigers, while tallying 22 points and drilling 4-4 three-pointers in a narrow loss to Samford. Just missing the gold medal were Spencer Dixon and Ridge Graham. Dixon‘s 27-point outburst spearheaded Kennesaw State‘s epic drilling of Georgia Tech, while the ultra-athletic Graham went for a 21-point, 12-rebound double-double in the Hatters‘ victory at Wake Forest.

Power Rankings

1. Belmont (3-1)
Next Week: 11/29 at Tennessee State, 12/2 vs. Mercer

This has a chance to be the best team of coach Rick Byrd‘s 25 seasons in Nashville. The Bruins have excellent length and play fundamentally sound defense, forcing teams to take one well-contested shot, then finish the possession with a rebound. The offense is averaging 85.5 ppg in the first four games behind sophomore guard Ian Clark, who would have Dick Vitale screaming his name if he played in a bigger league. Inside, Belmont can count on Mick Hedgepeth and Scott Saunders, who are very productive as long as they can stay out of foul trouble, which isn‘t a given. Point guard Drew Hanlen provides an outrageous 22-to-1 assist-turnover ratio and is a knockdown shooter from the three-point line. Eleven different players are averaging double-figure minutes, making this the league’s deepest and best team as we gird for conference openers next week.

2. East Tennessee State (1-2)
Next Week: 11/27 vs. Milligan, 12/1 at Dayton

When rating teams in this conference, one has to keep the big picture in mind. While the Buccaneers’ record isn’t impressive, consider their losses are at Kentucky and Murray State. Not too many teams anywhere would avoid a sweep in Lexington or Murray. Coach Murry Bartow just wants to weather the December storm (i.e. eight straight road games) and come out of it with his team healthy. The key will be getting Tommy Hubbard back from his knee woes. Mike Smith appears to be 100% after last year‘s injury nightmare, torching Tennessee Tech for an easy 26 points in a 73-60 win Nov. 20. ETSU remains one of the league‘s top defensive teams, doing it with a variety of zones devised by assistant coach Scott Wagers, who basically runs the defense. If it can get reasonable point guard play and get Hubbard healthy, it will challenge for a third straight NCAA Tourney bid.

3. Lipscomb (2-2)
Next week: 11/27 at UT-Martin

Mixed returns so far for the Bisons, which were competitive in losses at major powers North Carolina and Baylor but still aren’t playing good enough defense, allowing opponents to shoot 46.9 percent from the floor and average 82.8 points per game. The good news is Lipscomb’s offense isn’t running at full efficiency yet but is still scoring 83.2 points per game. The 1-2 senior punch of Adnan Hodzic and Josh Slater is performing as one would expect, combining to score nearly 38 PPG. Hodzic has become a better passer out of double-teams early this year and is also hitting 80 percent at the foul line, his career best. Freshman guard Robert Boyd is providing a spark off the bench, averaging 10.5 points and 2.5 steals per game.

4. Jacksonville (3-1)
Next Week: 11/27 at Auburn, 12/2 vs. Stetson

Last year at this time, the Dolphins had overscheduled and were getting blown out on a regular basis, although they bounced back to tie for the regular season title and win a first round NIT game at Arizona State. This year, with a less experienced team and a more reasonable schedule, they‘ve started 3-1. The star player is definitely Ayron Hardy, who, if you were playing A-Sun fantasy basketball (and if you are, you’ve got too much time on your hands), would be your No. 1 overall pick. All he’s done in four games is average 14.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 3.8 steals and 1.8 blocked shots. Besides Hardy’s all-around excellence, Jacksonville is getting much-improved production from sophomore forward Glenn Powell, who’s averaging 12.8 points and hitting 64.5 percent from the field. The defense is allowing just 66.8 ppg and forcing nearly 21 turnovers per game. Don’t sleep on these guys in this league.

5. North Florida: (3-3)
Next Week: 12/2 vs. Florida Gulf Coast

It is a good sign for this program that it‘s 3-3 after a brutal six-game road trip to start the year. Tossing out blowout losses against top-flight programs in Florida State, Pittsburgh and Missouri isn‘t easy, but the Ospreys were impressive on the defensive end in a 59-52 win Nov. 24 against MEAC kingpin Morgan State in Cancun. Sophomore forward Andres Diaz has become more of a scoring threat inside at 11.8 points per game, although he remains a brutal foul shooter at 47.8%. Tennessee State transfer Parker Smith has given this offense-starved squad scoring punch off the bench (11.5 ppg, 38.1 percent 3-pointers). Second-year coach Matt Driscoll, who helped Scott Drew rebuild the Baylor program, has quietly built a nice foundation in his own program.

6. Campbell: (2-3)
Next Week: 11/27 vs. Longwood, 11/29 vs. Johnson C. Smith

With a bunch of new players trying to find roles alongside a veteran backcourt, it might be until January before we know who the Camels are. Guards Lorne Merthie and Junard Hartley supply perimeter scoring punch and excellent defense, in that order. Junior college transfer Eric Griffin is the team‘s leading scorer and rebounded through five games, although he‘s making less than 43% of his shots. The roster‘s remainder is a bunch of decent role players who rarely go above or beyond what they can do. Tune in about six weeks from now and you‘ll know about the Camels.

7. Kennesaw State (2-4)
Next week: 11/26 at Creighton

When their shots are dropping, the Owls can beat anyone, like the ACC‘s Georgia Tech. When they aren’t, they can lose to anyone, like Alabama State, and lose by 40 at mediocre Iowa State. If nothing else, the current four-game losing streak is a reminder that coach Tony Ingle still has a bunch of sophomores who have growing to do at this level. The biggest things Kennesaw State must fix are defense and rebounding. It’s allowing opponents to hit nearly 46 percent from the floor, including 41.2% on 3-pointers, and is being outboarded by nearly four per game. Improvement in those areas might mean not being so shot-dependant.

8. Stetson (1-2)
Next week: 11/26 vs. Palm Beach Atlantic, 11/30 vs. Savannah State, 12/2 at Jacksonville

The win over Wake Forest resonated throughout the conference, but losses to Bethune-Cookman and Central Florida were a reminder that rebuilding remains for the Hatters. With sophomore forward Ridge Graham providing a double-double threat on a nightly basis, this team has a go-to option on the offensive end. Two other sophomores —  Tyshawn Patterson and Joel Naburgs — are also scoring in double figures. The down side is the team’s defense, which is allowing opponents to shoot 45% from the field and score nearly 81 points per game. But there is a future for Stetson, as this league will find out a year or two from now.

9. Mercer: (1-3)
Next week: 11/26 vs. Western Carolina (Williamsburg, Va.), 11/27 at William & Mary, 11/28 vs. Gardner-Webb (Williamsburg, Va.), 12/2 at Belmont

Where have you gone, James Florence, Daniel Emerson and E.J. Kusnyer? Without three players which combined for more than 44 points per game last year, the Bears are off to a sub-.500 start which doesn’t look like it will get a lot better. There are a couple of decent weapons in Brandon Moore and Jeff Smith, who are averaging a combined 28.5 ppg. But as a whole, Mercer doesn’t shoot well, especially from three-point range (21-of-90), and isn’t playing well enough on the defensive end (45 percent shooting, 71.2 ppg allowed). The Bears will have to fight just to make the conference tournament on their home floor.

10. Florida Gulf Coast: (2-2)
Next week: 11/27 vs. Miami (Fla.), 12/2 at North Florida

The record looks OK, but the two losses — 88-60 at Indiana and 90-47 at Arkansas — reveal that this team is still second-division material in the A-Sun. Good news is that guard Reed Baker has found his missing shot of a year ago, as he‘s averaging 19.5 ppg and went for 33 in a win at Grambling. But this is still a below-average team offensively (39.6 percent from the floor, 10-of-56 on 3s) and a poor team on defense (49.4 opponents’ field goal percentage, 81.5 ppg). While Ole Miss transfer Kevin Cantinol will help this team get tougher inside when he becomes eligible next month, he probably won’t make the difference between mediocrity and respectability.

11. USC Upstate: (0-6)
Next Week: Nov. 29 vs. UNC Asheville

There have been bright spots, such as the development of freshman forward Torrey Craig, as well as a nine-block shot performance from freshman Babatunde Olumyiwa in a Nov. 23 loss at South Carolina. But the Spartans are easily the conference‘s worst team, one which won‘t be favored in any game it plays this year. Not to pile on too much, but they might be the worst offensive team in America as they are scoring just 51.3 ppg and shooting just 31 percent from the field. Like a minor league baseball team, Upstate should concentrate more on player development and less on the record, although it would love to get that zero out of the win column sometime.

Playing the Percentages

Every week, we’ll look at an intriguing individual or team stat and determine fluke or trend. This week, it’s the three-point accuracy of USC Upstate guard Josh Chavis. A 37.9 percent shooter last year, when he canned ten threes in a game against Florida Gulf Coast, Chavis is colder than Siberia. The 5’9 senior is sinking just 5-of-30 from the arc and is a hideous 5-of-40 overall. We’re saying fluke for now because his career numbers aren’t close to being this bad. Keep on shooting, kid.

A Look Ahead

  • Conference play opens up on a limited basis next week. Belmont starts A-Sun play at home with struggling Mercer, which doesn‘t look like a fair fight. Jacksonville welcomes Stetson to town for each team‘s first A-Sun game. Can the Hatters keep their turnovers down against the very athletic Dolphins?
  • North Florida finally plays its home opener after six straight away from Jacksonville as it takes on A-Sun rival Florida Gulf Coast.
  • East Tennessee State begins a brutal eight-game road trip against a Dayton team which needs every win it can get as it tries to reach the NCAA Tournament. This would be a nice “statement“ game for the Buccaneers.
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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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