Checking in on… the Atlantic Sun

Posted by rtmsf on December 25th, 2009

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

Current Standings

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

Hottest Team

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

Biggest Disappointment

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

Best of the Rest

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

Key Upcoming Games

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

Posted by jstevrtc on December 11th, 2009

checkinginon

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

Current Standings:

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

League Nuggets:

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

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RTC Team of the Week: Florida

Posted by nvr1983 on November 30th, 2009

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
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.

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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.

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2009-10 Conference Primers: #25 – Atlantic Sun

Posted by rtmsf on October 13th, 2009

seasonpreview

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

Predicted Order of Finish:

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

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

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

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

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

a sun

What You Need To Know.

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

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2008-09 Conference Primers: #29 – Atlantic Sun

Posted by rtmsf on October 10th, 2008

Andrew Baker is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun and Southern conferences.

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Belmont Bruins  (23-6) (17-3)
  2. ETSU Buccaneers  (20-10) (15-5)
  3. Jacksonville Dolphins  (18-11) (14-6)
  4. Stetson Hatters  (16-13) (12-8)
  5. Lipscomb Bisons  (15-14) (11-9)
  6. Mercer Bears  (14-17) (9-11)
  7. Kennesaw State Fighting Owls  (13-16) (7-13)
  8. Florida Gulf Coast Eagles  (11-20) (6-14)
  9. Campbell Fighting Camels  (10-18) (6-14)
  10. USC-Upstate Spartans  (9-21) (5-15)
  11. 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)

Neat-O Stats.

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. 

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