Ryan Dunn in the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun Conference.
Campbell(12-5 A-Sun, 17-9)
Belmont (12-5 A-Sun, 17-10)
Jacksonville (12-5 A-Sun, 16-10)
Lipscomb (11-6 A-Sun, 14-12)
East Tennessee State (10-6 A-Sun, 14-13)
Mercer (10-7 A-Sun, 14-13)
North Florida (7-10 A-Sun, 12-15)
Kennesaw State (7-10 A-Sun, 12-16)
USC Upstate (5-12 A-Sun, 5-21)
Florida Gulf Coast (4-14 A-Sun, 7-20)
Stetson (4-14 A-Sun, 6-21)
Campbellhas now won five straight and is closing a four-game homestand tonight against ETSU. It is the final home game of the season and should be an electrifying atmosphere with it being Jonathan Rodriguez’s final career game in Buies Creek. I expect the Camels to play with intensity and passion to finish out with a huge home win. The Camels close the year at Jacksonville and at North Florida.
Belmontcontinues to play well and they certainly have a scheduling advantage over the other top teams in the league. The Bruins just defeated lowly Stetson last night and they travel to a struggling Florida Gulf Coast team tomorrow. The Bruins close the season at home against Mercer and Kennesaw State.
Jacksonvillehas gotten back on track with three straight victories after losing two straight before that. They earned a nice road victory against Kennesaw State last night. However, they still have games at Mercer, at home against Campbell, and at home against ETSU. That will certainly be a tough test for the Dolphins down the stretch.
Lipscomb fell out of the top spot last week when they were knocked off by USC Upstate on the road. Lipscomb is a tough team to figure out as they are perhaps the most talented team in the league with the best big man (Adnan Hodzic) and in my opinion the best combo guard (Josh Slater). Lipscomb goes to Stetson before hosting Kennesaw State and Mercer to close out the year.
East Tennessee State has a huge game tonight at Campbell with a chance to move right back in the mix at the top of the league. After the trip to Campbell they host USC Upstate before traveling to North Florida and to Jacksonville. They must win out to have a chance at a regular season title.
Mercer is trying to move up in the league standings because they do have an advantage in that they are hosting the A-Sun tournament on their home floor. The talent is certainly there with James Florence and company but the Bears have been a streaky team throughout the year. However, they have an extremely tough three-game stretch to close the year as they host Jacksonville and travel to Belmont and Lipscomb.
North Florida has been a pesky team all season long under new head coach Matthew Driscoll. The Ospreys are still looking to improve their seed for the upcoming tournament. They travel to Kennesaw State before hosting ETSU and Campbell.
Kennesaw State is a young and talented basketball team, but they are a team that looks to be running out of gas. The Owls can still improve their seed against UNF, Belmont and Lipscomb.
USC Upstate has been known to pull some upsets in conference play. The Spartans just defeated Lipscomb last week and will be looking to win a couple more to end the season on a high note. USC Upstate plays ETSU, FGCU, and Stetson to close the season and winning two of three is certainly possible.
FGCU has fallen on hard times as they have dropped their last seven contests. The Eagles will look to at least get a win down the stretch with games against Belmont and USC Upstate.
Stetson has lost three straight and have struggled throughout the season though they have had some injury troubles. The Hatters take on Lipscomb and USC Upstate to close out the season.
Key Upcoming Games
ETSU @ Campbell (2/19) – Senior night for four Campbell seniors including all-everything Jonathan Rodriguez. It should be a very good atmosphere and will be a battle between two good teams.
Mercer @ Belmont (2/25) – If the Bruins win this game they have a great chance to win the A-Sun regular season crown. Belmont controls the tiebreaker with Campbell.
Campbell @ Jacksonville (2/25) – A battle with two teams at the top of the league standings. The game could mean one team winning the league and one falling out of the top three.
ETSU @ Jacksonville (2/27) – Both teams with tough tests to finish the year. It could be a battle for first place by that point.
Ryan Dunn in the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun Conference.
Jacksonville(9-3 A-Sun, 13-8)
Lipscomb (9-4 A-Sun, 10-12)
Belmont (8-5 A-Sun, 13-10)
Campbell (8-5 A-Sun, 13-9)
East Tennessee State (8-5 A-Sun, 12-12)
Kennesaw State (7-6 A-Sun, 12-12)
Mercer (7-6 A-Sun, 11-12)
North Florida (5-7 A-Sun, 10-12)
Florida Gulf Coast (4-10 A-Sun, 7-16)
USC Upstate (3-9 A-Sun, 3-18)
Stetson (3-11 A-Sun, 5-17)
News and Notes
Each team in the Atlantic Sun plays each other twice and so far each team has at least played everyone in the league once. So with more than half of the conference season out of the way we have named our all-conference team through the first half.
G – Ben Smith (Jacksonville) – Smith was the preseason player of the year by many publications and although he started a little slow this season, he has really turned it on in conference play and is second in the A-Sun in scoring at 20 points per game. If the Dolphins can win the regular season I wouldn’t be surprised to see him named as the conference player of the year.
G – Josh Slater (Lipscomb) – This guy continues to amaze me with his play and if the season ended today he would no doubt be my selection for A-Sun player of the year. The lefty can do it all, especially in the big games. Just ask Campbell and ETSU. Slater is the reigning player of the week in the league and could win the award again this week after his incredible performance at Campbell (scored 21 pts and hit the game winning three).
G – James Florence (Mercer) – Florence got off to a sizzling start to the season but has cooled off as of late. However, he is still averaging over 19 pts per game on the season and is quite possibly the most prolific scorer in the league. Florence, just like Jonathan Rodriguez, will go down as one of the most productive players in school history.
F – Adnan Hodzic (Lipscomb) – The big man was my pick for preseason player of the year and he has certainly not disappointed as he leads the league in scoring at just under 22 pts per game. Hodzic also ranks fourth in the league in rebounding.
F – Jonathan Rodriguez (Campbell) – The senior has shattered tons of team and conference records this season. He now has over 2,000 points and over 1,000 career rebounds. He will go down as quite possibly the most successful player in school history and he is currently leading Campbell to its best mark since 1992.
Jacksonvillehas now won ten straight and could possibly be one of the hottest mid-major teams in the country. They are pressing on defense and that has been the key to their success as of late. The Dolphins take the brutal trip to Nashville to play Belmont and Lipscomb next. If they can come away successful on that trip, the Dolphins may pull away in the A-Sun race.
Lipscomb has won a couple games in a row but both games could have easily gone the other way. They defeated ETSU in OT last weekend before knocking off Campbell on the road with a last second three-pointer by Josh Slater.
Belmontis no doubt the hottest team in the league other than Jacksonville. They are playing extremely well on the defensive end and are starting to make some shots from the perimeter, which is scary for the rest of the league. Coach Rick Byrd always seems to get the most out of his teams and has done quite possibly his best job this season.
Campbellwas off to a sizzling 6-1 start to conference play and held a one game lead, but the Camels lost three straight and four of five before finally getting a win last night at Stetson. After the game Saturday at Florida Gulf Coast, the schedule becomes more favorable with four very winnable home games in a row.
East Tennessee State, just like Campbell, was in the middle of a skid before coming away with a victory over Florida Gulf Coast last night. The Bucs are incredibly athletic but can be streaky from the perimeter and when they are hitting shots they have a tough time earning victories.
Kennesaw Statehas a very young team but could have the most talented young roster in the A-Sun. Freshmen Markeith Cummings and LaDaris Green have been crucial to the success of the Owls as of late. Kennesaw continues to inch up the A-Sun standings and could be a scary team to play in the tourney.
Mercer climbed to the upper half of the league before losing three straight and looks to be running out of gas. The Bears fell to Kennesaw State last night in a road contest that dropped them into seventh in the league. Mercer hosts the conference tournament so they desperately want to earn a top seed.
North Florida continues to hang tough and will no doubt be a scary team to play down the stretch for any of the leaders in the league. The Ospreys don’t have the most talented roster but they play extremely hard and have already pulled some upsets in league play.
Florida Gulf Coast has a very talented group but they have struggled a bit lately. However, they did earn a nice victory over Mercer last week and already earned a victory over Belmont earlier in the year.
USC Upstate has lost three straight but they are also one of those teams you can’t sleep on as they have knocked off some the league’s best already this season.
Stetson has struggled for much of the season, but have earned some key wins against ETSU and Mercer. The Hatters have some work to do in order to make the A-Sun tourney, but as of now they are on the outside looking in.
Key Upcoming Games
Jacksonville @ Belmont (2/5) – A battle between two of the hottest teams in the A-Sun that could be big for the upper half of the conference standings.
Jacksonville @ Lipscomb (2/7) – Battle between the two top teams in the league at this point.
Mercer @ Campbell (2/12) – Mercer knocked off Campbell at home so the Camels will try to return the favor.
Mercer @ ETSU (2/14) – A Valentine’s Day matchup between two teams that are currently struggling. This game could be key in determining seeds in the A-Sun tourney.
Ryan Dunn in the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun Conference.
Campbell(11-6, 6-2 A-Sun)
East Tennessee State(10-9, 6-2 A-Sun)
Mercer (9-8, 5-2 A-Sun)
Jacksonville(9-8, 6-3 A-Sun)
Lipscomb (9-9, 6-3 A-Sun)
Belmont(10-9, 5-4 A-Sun)
North Florida(9-11, 4-6 A-Sun)
USC Upstate (3-15, 3-6 A-Sun)
Florida Gulf Coast(5-12, 2-6 A-Sun)
Stetson (4-12, 2-6 A-Sun)
Kennesaw State(6-12, 1-6 A-Sun)
News and Notes
This could end up being one of the tightest races of any conference in America at the end of the year. Six out of eleven teams are within two games of the league leaders. Teams in the A-Sun play each other twice and we are just about one full time around. Campbell’s Jonathan Rodriguez has now become the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,948 career points and still plenty of games left to separate himself. He has also set the school record for career rebounding and is the current NCAA leader in career free throws made.
Remember, only six teams make it to the year end Atlantic Sun tournament. USC Upstate and Florida Gulf Coast are still not eligible for post season play after completing their transition from Division II. So that leaves nine eligible teams for post season play and means Stetson and Kennesaw State have some real work to do in order to make up ground and earn a berth.
Campbellwas off to a sizzling 6-1 start to conference play and held a one game lead. However, the Camels are in the middle of a brutal road swing with trips to traditional powers Belmont, Lipscomb, and East Tennessee State. The Camels are already 0-1 on the trip with a loss to a struggling Belmont team. Campbell is traditionally a struggling road team and they MUST win at least a game on this trip.
East Tennessee State always seems to be at the top of the league standings even with a slow start. This year is no different as head coach Murray Bartow had to reload with newcomers and needed some guys to play a much bigger role than they have in the previous year. Well, the Bucs are right there at the top and are fresh off a huge victory at Lipscomb just last night. ETSU struggles at time from the perimeter but they are quick and athletic.
Mercer keeps on winning basketball games as they have now reeled off five straight W’s in conference play. They have many weapons including two all-conference performers in James Florence and Daniel Emerson. The Bears do play a handful of players over 30 minutes a game so lets see if that could have an effect on them at the end of the year. But for now, the Bears look to be a top contender.
Jacksonvillehas now won six straight games after opening conference play 0-3. The Dolphins were picked by most to win the league and they are very much in it. The Dolphins are finally getting healthy and they are a scary team heading into the second half of conference play. JU is fresh off a victory against cross town rival North Florida.
Lipscomb has been playing better of late — especially defensively — but lost a little momentum after falling at home to ETSU just last night. The Bisons must be careful because they have a quick turnaround with league-leading Campbell coming in on Saturday. If Lipscomb were to lose that one, it could really set them back in the conference race.
Belmontis a team that plays extremely hard and they play a very sound style of basketball. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for head coach Rick Byrd but his team looks to be one that could be in the race at year’s end. They have a very young backcourt, and, if they can continue to grow, they truly have a chance. The Bruins have also gained some momentum after upsetting Campbell at home last night.
North Florida is a fun team to follow and it should be interesting to see if the Ospreys can continue to win games and perhaps sneak into the conference tournament. They have not played their best in the last week or so but they are still more than capable of sneaking up on a league heavyweight. UNF is a team that plays extremely hard for new head coach Matthew Driscoll.
Key Upcoming Games
Campbell @ Lipscomb (1/23) – Two teams that are amongst the league leaders and could really shake up the conference standings.
ETSU @ Belmont (1/23) – Huge game for both teams as ETSU is looking to stay at the top, while Belmont is just trying to stay in the mix.
Lipscomb @ Belmont (1/26) – Round two of the “Battle of the Boulevard” as Lipscomb took round one, now Belmont gets a turn at home.
Campbell @ ETSU (1/27) – The two top teams in the league will do battle in Johnson City to complete the first rotation of conference play.
Ryan Dunn is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun Conference.
East Tennessee State(8-7, 4-0)
Lipscomb (6-7, 3-1)
Mercer (7-8, 3-2)
Florida Gulf Coast (5-8, 2-2)
North Florida(6-8, 1-3)
Stetson (3-9, 1-3)
Kennesaw State(5-10, 1-4)
USC Upstate (1-14, 1-4)
News and Notes
As 2009 has come to a close and 2010 has gotten underway things are still not clear in the conference race. However, there are a few teams that we expect to be in the mix until the very end. There has been more parity in the league this year than we have seen in some time and I expect a very tight race as conference play continues. Even the bottom feeders of the league are bound to pull an upset or two. We have already seen it with North Florida, Florida Gulf Coast, and Kennesaw State picking up upsets early on.
East Tennessee State has been a constant at the top of the A-Sun over the last several years and right now it is clear that the Bucs will again be in the mix again for the league title. They are off to a quick 4-0 start and have looked impressive particularly in the last few weeks. Tommy Hubbard has been a nice surprise for the Bucs and should certainly be considered a candidate for player of the year at this point of the year.
Belmontis a tough team to gauge at this point even though they are off to a solid start to league play. They started league play by knocking off Mercer and Kennesaw State in overtime before losing a head scratcher to Florida Gulf Coast and defeating Stetson. We will see how real this team is once they cycle through league play one time.
Campbellwas off to a roaring start to begin non-conference play and that carried over to conference play as well. The Camels got off to a 3-0 start to league play but fell last night at Mercer. Campbell has struggled on the road in conference play the last several years and absolutely must find a way to steal some away from home in league play. Jonathan Rodriguez has continued to carry his team as he is averaging over 18 PPG and over 9 RPG.
Lipscomb was off to a slow start to begin the year but have slowly started to play like the team that I predicted to be league champs. The Bisons are right in the middle of things in the league and I certainly expect them to be near the top at the end. Adnan Hodzic looks to be the player of the year at this point as he is averaging 22 PPG while pulling down 8 RPG.
Mercer is an interesting team because we knew that they would be a scary team with their athleticism and experience. After starting out league play losing two straight, I wasn’t sure what to make of this team but they have since reeled off three straight victories. I expect the Bears to compete near the top but I am not completely sold on them just yet. They have been inconsistent throughout this season so far to give them accolades just yet.
Key Upcoming Games
ETSU @ Mercer (1/9) – Both teams have been hot lately and should have an immediate impact at the top of the league standings.
Campbell @ Kennesaw State (1/9) – Campbell really needs to win this tough road contest if they want to make noise at the top, but they have continued to struggle away from home.
Belmont @ Lipscomb (1/11) – They call this one the “Battle of the Boulevards” as it is always a fight between these bitter rivals from Nashville. As it usually does this game will have a big impact on the conference standings.
FGCU @ ETSU (1/16) – Florida Gulf Coast has already proven that they can pull an upset so ETSU needs to be extremely careful at home against the pesky Eagles.
Ryan Dunn is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun Conference.
Belmont (7-4, 2-0 A-Sun)
Campbell (6-4, 2-0 A-Sun)
East Tennessee State (6-7, 2-0 A-Sun)
Florida Gulf Coast (4-6, 1-0 A-Sun)
Kennesaw State (4-7, 1-1 A-Sun)
Lipscomb (4-7, 1-1 A-Sun)
USC Upstate (1-10, 1-1 A-Sun)
Stetson (2-7, 0-1 A-Sun)
Mercer (4-7, 0-2 A-Sun)
North Florida (4-7. 0-2 A-Sun)
Jacksonville (1-7, 0-2 A-Sun)
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.
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.
Ryan Dunn is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun Conference.
Belmont (7-2, 2-0)
Campbell (5-2, 1-0)
East Tennessee State (5-5, 1-0)
USC Upstate (1-6, 1-0)
Kennesaw State (4-4, 1-1)
Lipscomb (3-5, 1-1)
Jacksonville (0-5, 0-0)
Florida Gulf Coast (0-6, 0-0)
Stetson (2-5, 0-1)
Mercer (4-5, 0-2)
North Florida (1-5, 0-2)
Conference play is underway in the Atlantic Sun and so far the pre-conference trends have continued through the first weeks of the conference season. Lipscomb and Mercer still cannot defend anyone. Campbell continues to win games but still has the toughest part of their schedule upcoming. Jonathan Rodriguez has broken even more records since our last Atlantic Sun look in. He now has the most career double-doubles in league history with 43 and has also moved into second place on the school’s all-time scoring list. Speaking of records, Mercer’s James Florence continues to shatter league and school records as well.
This week’s selection for RTC Team of the Week was not as easy as last week’s as you will see when you look at our honorable mentions, which we didn’t even bother to do last week when we selected Syracuse as our inaugural team of the week. We had several potential choices, but when it was time to pick a team there was one school that stood above the rest — the #1 team in the country and the defending national champions (in football), the Florida Gators.
Coming into the season, we were not that high on Billy Donovan‘s crew, who had failed to make the NCAA tournament in consecutive years after winning back-to-back titles. To further compound matters, they had lost heralded recruit Jai Lucas and their best player last year, Nick Calathes, decided to forgo his senior year to go play in Greece, which is a decision that still has us scratching our heads. After opening the season with three wins against Stetson, Georgia Southern, and Troy that could only be described as big in margin if not significance, the Gators had a significantly more difficult schedule with their annual rivalry game against Florida State and then headed to Atlantic City for the Legends Classic where they would open against #2 Michigan State.
We’re as surprised as you are Billy
The Gators traded baskets early with the Seminoles and were tied at 10 with 12:30 left in the 1st half before going on a 31-9 run that stretched into the 2nd half giving them a 41-19 lead. The Seminoles, who are still trying to find their identity without Toney Douglas, cut the lead to 5 at 43-38 with 12 minutes left. The Gators managed to stretch out the final margin to 16 behind a balanced scoring attack with 13 points apiece from Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker, and Alex Tyus. That win certainly boosted our respect for the Gators, but it was against a FSU team that didn’t have Douglas and it certainly wasn’t Tom Izzo‘s Spartans that they would be facing in Atlantic City.
Ryan Dunn is RTC’s correspondent for the Atlantic Sun Conference.
Campbell (3-1) – Off to a nice start with only loss to Virginia Tech.
Mercer (3-2) – Earned a couple wins at the World Vision Invitational in Providence.
Belmont (2-2) – Went 1-2 at the Athletes in Action Classic in Seattle.
Kennesaw State (2-2) – Earned two victories over two non-Division I opponents.
East Tennessee State (2-3) – Knocked off two pretty good SoCon opponents.
Stetson (2-3) – Two victories both came over non-Division I opponents.
North Florida (1-2) – Knocked off Savannah State for their only victory.
Jacksonville (0-2) – Were not competitive at all against FSU and Cal.
Florida Gulf Coast (0-3) – Opened season with three straight road games.
Lipscomb (0-4) – Has allowed its opponents to shoot close to 60 percent.
USC Upstate (0-4) – Played its first three games away from home.
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.
6th Man. Daniel Emerson, Mercer. Yes I know Emerson will not come off the bench but since he is such a good player and he wasn’t mentioned on my all-conference team I wanted to give him some recognition. Emerson was the only player in the league last year to average a double-double.
Impact Newcomer. Justin Tubbs, ETSU. Transfer from Alabama, very athletic and should provide immediate help in the ETSU backcourt.
What You Need To Know.
While the A-Sun has 11 teams in the league, only nine teams are eligible for postseason play as Florida Gulf Coast and USC-Upstate are still completing their transition from Division 2to Division 1. This upcoming season marks the first year that North Florida and Kennesaw State will be eligible for postseason play as they have now completed their transition to Division I. Only eight spots are reserved for the conference tournament meaning that only one eligible team will miss out. This year’s tournament will be played at Mercer’s University Center in Macon, Georgia.
Some headlines that made news this offseason included a coaching change at North Florida as they named former Baylor assistant Matthew Driscoll head coach. Driscoll has put together quite the coaching staff that features former Campbell assistant Bobby Kennan, former Head Coach at Lander College Bruce Evans, and Jeremy Shyatt, former Director of Basketball Operations at VCU and son of former Clemson head coach and current Florida top assistant Larry Shyatt. Driscoll and his staff brought in nine newcomers to go along with six returning players. Five of the newcomers earned all-state honors in the state of Florida.
The league features two of the more premier mid-major players in Campbell’s Jonathan Rodriguez and Mercer’s James Florence. Both have a chance to rewrite their school and conference record books. Florence is the active leader for career scoring in the league with Rodriguez following in second. Rodriguez stands second on the Atlantic Sun’s career double-double list with 39, and is just three off the record. Florence currently sits in fifth on the Mercer all-time scoring list. Both players should indeed break numerous records and if you haven’t seen them play it would definitely be worth your money to see them in action this season.
Andrew Baker is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun and Southern conferences.
Predicted Order of Finish:
Belmont Bruins (23-6) (17-3)
ETSU Buccaneers (20-10) (15-5)
Jacksonville Dolphins (18-11) (14-6)
Stetson Hatters (16-13) (12-8)
Lipscomb Bisons (15-14) (11-9)
Mercer Bears (14-17) (9-11)
Kennesaw State Fighting Owls (13-16) (7-13)
Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (11-20) (6-14)
Campbell Fighting Camels (10-18) (6-14)
USC-Upstate Spartans (9-21) (5-15)
UNF Ospreys (4-25) (1-19)
What You Need to Know (WYN2K).
Non-Conference. I know how far of a stretch this may seem, but all signs point to an improving Atlantic Sun Conference. Some of you will ask, ‘How can a conference that has been mired in the bottom three of the conference RPI be improving?’ Well it can’t get much worse than 29th in the conference RPI ratings, but there is proof of improvement just over the last two seasons. During the 2006-07 campaign the conference went 1-38 against the power conferences (including Mountain West and CUSA). During 2007-08 the conference went 8-41 with three wins coming over SEC teams (Gardner-Webb over Kentucky, Belmont over Alabama, and ETSU over Georgia). Look for the Atlantic Sun’s top five to play tougher against the power conference teams as all those teams are returning a great deal of talent and scoring. The conference also improved upon their overall non-conference record at 46-108 (.299) last year, with 17 more OOC wins than the previous year (excluding non-D-I games). Look for the Atlantic Sun to pull a few more upsets this fall.
Conference. There are two teams in the Atlantic Sun who are thinking about the three time defending champion Belmont Bruins with an incredible amount of rage. The East Tennessee Bucs and Jacksonville Dolphins are both coming into this season with huge chips on their shoulders after losing to Belmont in last season’s Atlantic Sun Championship semifinals and finals respectively. ETSU hates to be reminded of the circumstances, but for those that don’t know it’s worth watching the below video to see why they can’t wait for their games with Belmont. Jacksonville was never competitive in the final and got completely dismantled by Belmont’s signature three-point attack. Only seven teams are eligible for the A-Sun tournament this year out of the eleven in the conference, so expect a dogfight at the top to secure that first round bye into the semifinals.
Champion. Belmont Bruins (#15 NCAA) – Many will think this pick is made because the Bruins are the three time champions. This is partially correct. The real reason is that the Bruins are 30-2 against conference opposition in February and March over the last three years including the conference tournament. They simply find ways to win late in the season. While Jacksonville and ETSU may have more talented squads, the Bruins make up the difference with superb coaching. Belmont has the longest tenured coaching staff in the conference. Rick Byrd has brought his program along from NAIA in 1996 and found a successful formula for winning in this league that has helped them become the first back to back to back champions the A-Sun has ever seen. It also helps that the Bruins will return four starters (Dansby, Wicke, Renfroe, and Dotson) that have 42.1 PPG between them. Wicke and Dotson have not had a season where they haven’t come out as A-Sun Champions. However, it won’t be easy, as ETSU and Jacksonville won’t be far behind the defending champs.
Others Considered. With the departure of Gardner-Webb, the Atlantic Sun will be one big happy family again without the north and south divisions. What does this mean? Well it means teams like Jacksonville and Stetson will have to play more games against Belmont, Lispcomb, and East Tennessee, which for these teams usually ends in an L. This is not to say that Jacksonville won’t be good. They will be excellent, but they will have to play six games against these teams whereas they only played four against them last year, including the A-Sun Final against Belmont. Jacksonville did not come up with a single W against those three squads. Stetson didn’t fare much better, going 1-2 and losing to Garnder-Webb (North) in the A-Sun Quarters. Both teams will have to expect to run at least 4-2 against these teams to even have a shot at the title. Of the two, Jacksonville has the better shot. The Dolphins return fours starters and most of their production. If Stetson is to win then they will do it with defense. Stetson ranked first in the conference last season limiting conference opponents to only 67.4 PPG and only 27.8% from beyond the arc.
What can you say about East Tennessee State? They had the semifinal game in their grasp to move on to the finals, but one technical and a subsequent missed front end of a 1 & 1 doomed their season (see video above). Does ETSU have the talent? Of course they do. Kevin Tiggs (14.6 ppg & 5.6 rpg) and Courtney Pigram (15.8 ppg & 3.2 rpg) are two of the best players in the conference. ETSU’s supporting cast will be bolstered by the arrival of 6’11” Seth Coy and 6’6” PG Adam Sollazzo, whom ETSU considers one of their finest prospects ever. The presence of a big man should add some depth to the ETSU attack and make them a dangerous team come conference time. The Bucs offense is a potent one, but where they struggled was in assists/turnovers (.802 A/TO Ratio). Turning the ball over 20% of the time is just not going to cut it for any team that has aspirations of a trip to the Dance. Can the Bucs break their duck against Belmont? Maybe, but Coach Murray Bartow is going to have to find a way to get a W against the Bruins to get back to the promised land.
Important Games/Games to Watch: Make sure you jot down any game between that involves Belmont and the following teams: ETSU, Jacksonville, and Lipscomb. Belmont has an intense rivalry with Lipscomb being as that they are only two miles away on Belmont Boulevard and have always fought for attention in the saturated sports world of Nashville. The Battle of the Boulevard has gone into overtime five times since Lipscomb’s move into the Atlantic Sun in 2003-04 including the 2005-06 Atlantic Sun Championship Game. The ETSU v. Jacksonville games should be great as well. The most important game of the year of course is the A-Sun Tournament Championship Game in March as only one team in the Atlantic Sun is going to get to Dance.
Atlantic Sun Championship Game (03/07/09)
RPI Boosters. The Atlantic Sun will be looking to improve on the eight wins they had over power conference opponents last year. ETSU is also going to be involved in the Charleston Classic which should add some quality competition, so keep an eye out on their schedule as well. Here are some dates to keep in mind for the top five:
Stetson @ Texas (11/14/08)
Jacksonville @ Florida State (11/15/08)
Jacksonville @ Georgetown (11/17/08)
Stetson @ Florida State (11/20/08)
Jacksonville @ Baylor (11/24/08)
Belmont @ Pittsburgh (11/25/08)
Jacksonville @ Georgia Tech (11/28/08)
Belmont @ Tennessee (12/20/08)
Stetson @ Miami (FL) (11/29/08)
Jacksonville @ Ohio State (12/17/08)
Lipscomb @ NC State (12/20/08)
Stetson @ Missouri (12/20/08)
Lipscomb @ Indiana (12/28/08)
Stetson @ Florida (12/30/08)
The Curse of Two. The Atlantic Sun has sent two teams to the dance only once. In 1993-94, the College of Charleston and Central Florida broke through as 12 and 16 seeds respectively. They both lost in the first round. The only teams that were in the league when that happened were the Mercer Bears and the Stetson Hatters. Both the Bears and the Hatters have seen only two winning seasons since.
University of Northern Fail. The UNF Ospreys have had a tough life since joining Division I. The Ospreys have only scrounged five Atlantic Sun wins in their first three seasons. New members Florida Gulf Coast and USC-Upstate both equaled and in FGCU’s case surpassed them with six wins in their maiden seasons. Coach Matt Kilcullen will most likely be feeling the heat this season if they don’t start seeing better results.
65-Team Era. The A-Sun is 3-24 during the modern era, and despite Belmont’s ridiculously close 71-70 loss to Duke last year, they have simply not been able to get over the hump in the NCAA Tournament during their otherwise impressive run.
Final Thoughts. The Atlantic Sun should be more fun to watch than it has been in recent years. Expect games between the top five schools to be knock-down, drag-outs. A massive amount of talent returns for these schools and it should be fascinating to watch. Don’t expect to see two bids out of this league unless someone wins a majority of their power OOC games and sweeps through the conference schedule only to lose in the final. Is the Atlantic Sun Conference one on the rise? Only if the Atlantic Sun can muster more OOC wins and their champion can again come close or win a NCAA Tournament game when March rolls around.