Checking In On… the Atlantic Sun Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 18th, 2011

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

Reader’s Take

The Week That Was

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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.
Share this story

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.
Share this story

Checking In On… the Atlantic Sun

Posted by jstevrtc on November 27th, 2009

checkinginon

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

Current Standings

  1. Campbell (3-1) – Off to a nice start with only loss to Virginia Tech.
  2. Mercer (3-2) – Earned a couple wins at the World Vision Invitational in Providence.
  3. Belmont (2-2) – Went 1-2 at the Athletes in Action Classic in Seattle.
  4. Kennesaw State (2-2) – Earned two victories over two non-Division I opponents.
  5. East Tennessee State (2-3) – Knocked off two pretty good SoCon opponents.
  6. Stetson (2-3) – Two victories both came over non-Division I opponents.
  7. North Florida (1-2) – Knocked off Savannah State for their only victory.
  8. Jacksonville (0-2) – Were not competitive at all against FSU and Cal.
  9. Florida Gulf Coast (0-3) – Opened season with three straight road games.
  10. Lipscomb (0-4) – Has allowed its opponents to shoot close to 60 percent.
  11. USC Upstate (0-4) – Played its first three games away from home.

League Nuggets

Well, since most of these teams have played an extremely tough opening non-conference schedule, the records are less than stellar.  The combined records of the 11 teams in the league is a shaky 15-28 through the first month.  The A-Sun has been a league that has a history of early season upsets but so far no team in the league has that marquee win against a high major.  There are still plenty of opportunities out there for upsets in the next couple of weeks.   Mercer’s James Florence (21 PPG) earned the league’s first player of the week award after receiving All-Tournament honors at the World Vision Invitational.  Even with Lipscomb’s early season struggles, our preseason player of the year in the league, Adnan Hodzic, has not disappointed.  He is averaging close to 23 PPG to go along with close to eight boards after four games.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story