Atlantic Sun Tournament Preview

Posted by EMoyer on February 29th, 2012

Eric Moyer is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun Conference and Southern Conference and a contributor to the RTC SEC Microsite. You can find him on Twitter @EricDMoyer.

Tournament Preview

Tournament Tidbits

  • Belmont returns as the top seed for the third time in five years. As the top seed, the Bruins won the title in both 2008 and 2011.
  • Belmont’s two wins as the top seed account for the only two times in the last 10 A-Sun Tournaments that the top seed has emerged as the victor.

    Belmont Can Break A Tie With UCF For The Most A-Sun Tournament Titles (AP)

  • Belmont can break a tie with UCF for the most A-Sun Tournament titles. The Bruins and Golden Knights each own four titles. The Golden Knights won their fourth title in 2005, their last year in the A-Sun. This year is Belmont’s last in the conference.
  • Belmont can join Louisiana-Monroe (1982), Georgia Southern (1992), College of Charleston (1998) and UCF (2005) as schools to win the A-Sun title in their last year in the league.
  • For the third year in a row, Mercer and the University Center will serve as the tournament host. The Bears will look to end an 11-year drought for the host winning on its home floor. Georgia State (2001) was the last host to win the title. From 1979 to 2001, 11 of the 22 A-Sun Championships went to the host school.
  • Mercer will hope the trend of #2 seeds winning the A-Sun Championship continues. Five of the last eight A-Sun Championships have been won by the #2 seed.
  • Mercer’s Langston Hall paces the Bears in scoring at 11.3 points per game. No A-Sun champion since 1997 has featured a leading scorer averaging fewer than 12.2 points per game.
  • In Belmont (24 wins), Mercer (21 wins) and USC Upstate (20 wins), this year’s A-Sun Championship is the first to feature three 20-win teams since 2003-04.

    Langston Hall and Mercer Will Hope The Trend Of #2 Seeds Winning The A-Sun Championship Continues (Mercer Athletics)

  • USC Upstate’s breakthrough season resulted in Torrey Craig earning the league’s Player of the Year award. He will have to buck the trend of  Players of the Year leading his team to the title. Only one A-Sun Player of the Year has led his team to A-Sun Tournament title since 2000 – Georgia State’s Shernard Long (2001).
  • Both USC Upstate and FGCU will be making their first appearance in the A-Sun Tournament. None of the current A-Sun school won the tournament in its first appearance and only three (Kennesaw State, Mercer and Stetson) even won a game in its first appearance.
  • ETSU owns the longest active streak of semifinal appearances (five). The Buccaneers last failed to make the A-Sun’s final four in 2006. Mercer (2010-2011) is the only other school with a streak greater than one.
  • Buoyed by his 46-point effort on Feb. 20, North Florida’s Parker Smith finished the conference’s top scorer in February. He averaged 21.3 points and 4.9 3’s in seven games.
  • Since the dismissal of Jordan Burgason in early February, new players have emerged for Lipscomb. Junior Deonte Alexander upped his scoring from 7.6 per game to 12.5 per game. Freshman Malcolm Smith increased his scoring from 9.3 points per game to 12.2 in his final six games.
  • After five straight years as a top-3 seed, Jacksonville was able to secure its sixth-straight appearance only after Stetson lost on the final day of the regular season. The Dolphins have never beaten a higher seed in 12 prior appearances.

Reader’s Take

 

Team Tournament Capsules

  • #1 Belmont: Championship Appearances: 11; Record 15-6; Best Finish: Champion – 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011; Last Season: Champion
  • #2 Mercer: Championship Appearances: 28; Record 23-25; Best Finish: Champion – 1981, 1985; Last Season: L, Semifinals
  • #3 USC Upstate: First Appearance
  • #4 ETSU: Championship Appearances: 7; Record 10-4; Best Finish: Champion – 2009, 2010; Last Season: L, Semifinals
  • #5 North Florida: Championship Appearances: 3; Record 2-2; Best Finish: Runner-up – 2011; Last Season: L, Final
  • #6 FGCU: First Appearance
  • #7 Lipscomb: Championship Appearances: 8; Record 4-7; Best Finish: Runner-up – 2006; Last Season: L, Quarterfinals
  • #8 Jacksonville: Championship Appearances: 13; Record 5-12; Best Finish: Runner-up – 2008, 2009; Last Season: L, Quarterfinals

What Is The Best Matchup Of The Opening Round? It Could Very Well Be Torrey Craig and USC Upstate Against FGCU

Tournament Schedule (All games played at University Center, Macon, GA)

  • Wednesday, February 29, 2:30 ET: #1 Belmont vs #8 Jacksonville (ESPN3); Season Results: Jan. 4 (Belmont 75, at Jacksonville 63), Jan. 28 (at Belmont 85, Jacksonville 71); Series Record: Belmont, 15-6; Tournament Series Belmont, 1-0; #1 vs #8: 20-5
  • Wednesday, February 29, 8:30 ET: #2 Mercer vs #7 Lipscomb (ESPN3); Season Results: Dec. 1 (Mercer 79, at Lipscomb 72), Feb. 23 (at Mercer 63, Lipscomb 54); Series Record: Lipscomb, 12-8; Tournament Series Lipscomb, 2-1; #2 vs #7: 24-4
  • Thursday, March 1, 2:30 ET: #4 ETSU vs #5 North Florida (ESPN3); Season Results: Jan. 16 (ETSU 64, at North Florida 63), Feb. 11(at ETSU 65, North Florida 50); Series Record: Lipscomb, 12-8; Tournament Series Lipscomb, 2-1; #5 vs #4: 16-14
  • Thursday, March 1, 8:30 ET: #3 USC Upstate vs #6 FGCU (ESPN3); Season Results: Dec. 19 (USC Upstate 80, at FGCU 75), Feb. 23 (at USC Upstate 87, FGCU 74); Series Record: ETSU, 13-1; Tournament Series: North Florida 1-0; #3 vs #6: 19-11
  • Friday, March 2, 6:00 ET: #1/#8 Winner vs #4/#5 Winner (ESPN3)
  • Friday, March 2, 8:30 ET: #2/#7 Winner vs #3/#6 Winner (ESPN3)
  • Saturday, March 3, 7:00 ET: Semifinal Winners (ESPN2)
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Checking In On… the Atlantic Sun Conference

Posted by EMoyer on February 18th, 2012

Eric Moyer is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun Conference and Southern Conference and a contributor to the RTC SEC Microsite. You can find him on Twitter @EricDMoyer.

Reader’s Take

 

Looking Back

  • Tickets Punched: The conference’s two newest programs, USC Upstate and FGCU, secured the first General Shale Brick A-Sun Championships berths recently. Eight of the 10 schools will earn spots for the event, set to begin on Wednesday, February 29. For the third straight year, Mercer will serve as host.
  • High Scoring Defeats: Stetson’s grasp on the eighth and final qualifying position became more tenuous as the Hatters dropped a pair of high-scoring affairs to Lipscomb (99-91) and Belmont (106-93). The Hatters have lost six games this season when scoring at least 80 points. Only one other school in the country has suffered even five such defeats (VMI).

The Talented Torrey Craig Of USC Upstate Was More Than Deserving Of The RTC Atlantic Sun Player of the Year Honor

End-of-Year Awards

Since this edition is the last “Checking In On” for the A-Sun before the end of the season, no time seemed more appropriate than now to dole out some hardware (hardware not included).

  • Coach of the Year: Bob Hoffman, Mercer – In the preseason, Belmont dominated the top of the polls, garnering a combined 36 of the 39 first-place votes between the coaches and media. Hoffman’s Bears reached 20 wins for just the seventh time in 106 years and did it without the star power of someone like past standouts such as James Florence, Danny Emerson or Brian Mills. Six players average between 8.1 and 11.0 points per game this season.
  • Defensive Player of the Year: Isiah Brown, ETSU – Brown moved into the top 10 in A-Sun history in blocks and top 20 in rebounds. He also surpassed the 100-steal mark for his career.
  • Game of the Year: While Mercer scored the only win against a BCS school (at Georgia Tech) and ETSU’s Jarvis Jones buried a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer at Charlotte, the winner goes to USC Upstate taking down Belmont for the first time in program history. The Spartans rallied from 16 points down in the first half and only took the lead on a game-winning bucket by Torrey Craig with two seconds left. That win started a three-game win streak for USC Upstate against Belmont, Lipscomb and ETSU, a streak not seen in the league in six years.
  • Freshman of the Year: Brett Comer, FGCU – After teaming with Austin Rivers in high school, Comer fit right in at FGCU by averaging 9.1 points and a league-leading 5.5 assists. He is on pace to be one the few freshmen in the country to record both 100 rebounds and 100 assists.
  • All-Conference Team: Torrey Craig, USC Upstate (17.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.3 SPG); Jake Gollon, Mercer (10.6 PPG, 5.7 APG, 83.3 FG Pct) Kerron Johnson, Belmont (13.9 PPG, 5.4 APG, 52.5 FG Pct); Adam Pegg, Stetson (14.7 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 50.4 FG Pct); Adam Sollazzo, ETSU (15.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 4.5 APG)
  • Player of the Year – Torrey Craig, USC Upstate. Craig reaps the benefits of the balance attacks featured at Mercer and Belmont to earn the league’s top individual honor. Of course pacing the league in scoring and ranking second in rebounding didn’t hurt his candidacy.

Bob Hoffman (coach), Isiah Brown (defensive), and Brett Comer (freshman) also earned RTC honors for their impressive regular season campaigns

Power Rankings

  1. Mercer (20-7, Previous Ranking: 2): The Bears won the highly-anticipated showdown with USC Upstate on Feb. 4, then survived a tight road contest an in-state rival Kennesaw State to reach 20 victories for the seventh time in school history and for the first time since 2002-03. The regular-season title, top seed in the A-Sun Championship and the league’s automatic NIT bid could be at stake when the Bears welcome Belmont in the regular-season finale.
  2. Belmont (20-7, Previous Ranking: 3): In improving to 12-2 in A-Sun play, the Bruins extended their streak of seasons with at least 12 league victories to nine-in-a-row. No other school can boast such an active streak, however, Kansas needs to win just one of its final five Big 12 contests to join the Bruins at eight.
  3. USC Upstate (17-10, Previous Ranking: 1): The Feb. 4 loss to Mercer likely ended the Spartans’ dreams of an A-Sun regular-season crown. However, they are in a strong position to post the biggest turnaround in the nation. The Spartans have 12 more victories than a season ago, matching Manhattan for the biggest win improvement from 2010-11.
  4. FGCU (13-13, Previous Ranking: 4): The Eagles held steady in the #4 position thanks to scoring their largest victory against a league foe not named USC Upstate, a 21-point win against Lipscomb on Monday.
  5. ETSU (13-12, Previous Ranking: 6): The Bucs’ offensive woes in losses reared their ugly heads again in recent losses at Mercer an at home against Jacksonville. In the two losses, the Bucs shot only 31.8 percent from floor (22.2 percent from 3-point arc). ETSU needs only one win or a Jacksonville loss to clinch its spot in the A-Sun Championship.
  6. North Florida (13-15, Previous Ranking: 7): After winning four of five to return to the .500 level, the offensive fire power left the Ospreys on their road trip to ETSU and USC Upstate. They were outscored by 20.0 points per game. The sputter came after shooting nearly 56 percent in wins against Stetson and FGCU. Like the Bucs, the Ospreys need only a win or a Dolphin loss to return to the A-Sun Championship.

    Lipscomb Released Jordan Burgason Due To A Violation Of Team Rules (AP)

  7. Lipscomb (12-14, Previous Ranking: 5): The Bisons suffered a major setback last week when the school kicked out Player of the Year contender and the nation’s top 3-point shooter, Jordan Burgason, citing a violation of team rules. In the team’s first game without him, the Bisons came within one point of matching the all-time NCAA Division I record for points in an overtime session when they scored 24 in besting Stetson on Saturday.
  8. Jacksonville (6-20, Previous Ranking: 9): One considered dead in the water, the Dolphins have re-entered the picture for making an sixth straight appearance in the A-Sun Championship. They have closed to within one game of Stetson by scoring big recent victories against the Hatters and at ETSU. The Dolphins close with three home games and could use their recent stingy defense (60.8 PPG) to claim that eighth spot.
  9. Stetson (8-18, Previous Ranking: 8): Despite increasing their scoring in league games by more than 10 points per game on last season, the Hatters, once a sure bet to return to the A-Sun Championship now hold only a one-game lead on Jacksonville and face road games at FGCU, USC Upstate and ETSU to close out the regular season. As an add on to the Hatters’ bad luck when scoring at least 80 points, the rest of the country is 1407-197 when scoring at least 80 points (87.7 win percentage); the Hatters are 0-6.
  10. Kennesaw State (3-24, Previous Ranking: 10): The Owls’ modest streak of qualifying for the A-Sun Championship in consecutive years officially ended as the Owls fell to 0-14 in league play. No A-Sun school has gone winless in league games since Campbell in 2004-05.

Looking Ahead

Here are a couple of games in the coming days for fans to keep an eye out for:

  • Monday, February 20: USC Upstate at Belmont: The only A-Sun school to beat Belmont besides Lipscomb since the start of last season came on Jan. 21 at USC Upstate. The Spartans rallied from 16 down at the half to score their first-ever victory against the perennial heavyweight. Torrey Craig hit the game-winning shot with two seconds left, part of a 22-point effort. The Spartans will attempt to become just the fifth team to sweep the Bruins in the last seven years.

    Justin Cecil and Mercer Have A Huge Game Looming Against Belmont (mercer athletics)

  • Friday, February 24: North Florida at Jacksonville: With Belmont leaving for the OVC next season, the “SunTrust River City Rumble” becomes the conference’s lone crosstown rival. The Dolphins have controlled the series until very recently. Beginning at last year’s A-Sun Championship where the Ospreys broke an 11-game losing streak to the Dolphins, UNF has won the last two meetings. Jacksonville will need to keep winning to pass Stetson for the eighth spot in the upcoming A-Sun Championship.
  • Saturday, February 25: Belmont at Mercer: This game could loom monumental of both teams postseason aspirations. With two weeks to play, the Bears and Bruins own identical 12-2 marks in league play with Belmont owning the head-to-head tiebreaker thanks to a 82-78 home victory on Dec. 3. Despite all the advantages that come to the top seeds, the loser can take solace in the fact that the top seed has won only two of the last 10 A-Sun Tournament titles.
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Checking In On… the Atlantic Sun Conference

Posted by EMoyer on February 3rd, 2012

Eric Moyer is the RTC correspondent for the Southern Conference and Atlantic Sun Conference and a contributor to the RTC SEC Microsite. You can find him on Twitter @EricDMoyer.

Reader’s Take

 

Looking Back

  • Spartan Conquest: USC Upstate continued its season-long upswing, beating Belmont, Lipscomb and ETSU in succession. Granted the scheduling gods rarely have one school face the three Tennessee schools in order, but regardless, no A-Sun team had beaten the Bruins, Bison and Buccaneers in order since Gardner-Webb in February 2006.
  • Top Byrd: The Nashville Sports Council named Belmont head coach Rick Byrd as one of five finalists for the Nashville Sports Person of the Year award on Wednesday. Byrd, who received the 2011 Hugh Durham National Coach of the Year award, joined a pair of Vanderbilt head coaches – James Franklin (football) and Tim Corbin (baseball) – IndyCar driver Dario Franchitti and Nashville Predator goaltender Pekka Rinne as finalists.
  • January’s Best: Although the league does not have an official monthly award, RTC recognizes Lipscomb’s Jordan Burgason as the A-Sun Player of the Month. He led all A-Sun players in scoring for the first month of 2012, averaging an even 19.0 points per game and surpassed the 1,000-point plateau during January. Over the nine games, he connected on 35 3-pointers (fourth-best in the country for the month) and shot 54.7 percent from the 3-point arc (seventh-best in the NCAA among those who made at least 20 3’s in January).

Lipscomb's Jordan Burgason is threatening to set the A-Sun single-season record for 3-point percentage

Power Rankings

  1. USC Upstate (14-9, Previous Ranking: 5): Despite trailing both the Bears and Bruins by a game in the loss column in the A-Sun standings, the Spartans ascended to the top spot thanks to the historic “Tennessee Trifecta.” Torrey Craig, an A-Sun Player of the Year candidate, became the first Spartan to reach double-figure scoring in every game of a single month in the Division I era (since 2007-08).
  2. Mercer (17-7, Previous Ranking: 2): The Bears extended their win streak to six and moved into a first-place tie after Belmont stumbled at USC Upstate. Ay 17-7, the Bears have not posted a better 24-game record since 2002-03 when they started 19-5 en route to sharing the A-Sun regular-season South Division title. Read the rest of this entry »
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RTC Conference Primers: #21 – Atlantic Sun Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 16th, 2011

Will Rothschild is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun. You can find him on Twitter at @warothschild.

Reader’s Take I

Top Storylines

  • Belmont’s Last Dance In The A-Sun: In May, realignment hit the conference when it was announced that Belmont will join the Ohio Valley Conference starting in the 2012-13 season, meaning this campaign will mark the Bruins’ A-Sun swan song. The repeal of a stipulation requiring every OVC program to field a football team (which Belmont doesn’t have) appeared to be the final hurdle. Belmont’s new home is a step up in terms of competition and is more favorable for its travel schedule.  As the Bruins have represented the Atlantic Sun in the NCAA Tournament four of the last six seasons, a new leader will have to rise.

Mick Hedgepeth Leads Belmont In Its Final Season As A Member Of The Atlantic Sun. (Getty Images)

  • New Coaches To Watch: On paper, the A-Sun’s three first-year coaches look to be as good a collective group as has ever entered the conference. How they deliver – and how quickly – both on the court and in recruiting will be worth watching. All three – Casey Alexander at Stetson, Andy Enfield at Florida Gulf Coast, and Lewis Preston at Kennesaw State – inherit programs that lost 20 or more games last season. All three also are first-time head coaches who were highly-regarded assistants at successful programs: Alexander at Belmont, Enfield at Florida State, and Preston at Notre Dame, Florida (where he was on the staff of the repeat title teams in ’06 and ’07) and Penn State.
  • ETSU Hopes To Stay Afloat: In eight seasons in Johnson City, coach Murray Bartow has taken the Bucs to three NCAA Tournaments while averaging just under 20 wins per season and finishing third or better in the standings five times. Most recently, the Bucs enjoyed a 24-win campaign in 2010-11, earning a spot in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament and advancing to the semifinals of that event, marking the first time in school history the team had captured two postseason victories in the same season. During the regular season, the Bucs enjoyed their highest RPI ranking since 2004, and won road games against quality opponents such as Mississippi State and Dayton. But to keep ETSU near the top of the A-Sun this year will require Bartow to do one of his best jobs. Gone are POY Mike Smith and two other standouts who combined to average more than 42 points per game, a whopping 60 percent of ETSU’s offensive production. Bartow welcomes in another highly-regarded recruiting class and welcomes back 6’4″ forward Tommy Hubbard, a major talent who missed all but four games last season with an injury. How well Hubbard regains his old form and meshes with the talented newcomers will determine whether this proud program maintains its traditional perch among the top three or gets overtaken by one of several improving programs.
  • Bruins Poised For A Cinderella Run: For what has become one of the best mid-major programs in the country, the only thing missing on Belmont’s“To Do” list is a run in the NCAA Tournament. After nearly knocking off Duke in 2008, the 13th-seeded Bruins lost to four-seed Wisconsin last March and are seeking their fifth NCAA tournament trip in the past seven seasons. So Belmont is well past any “We’re just glad to be here” feelings about making it to the Dance. With four starters and all but two of its 11-player rotation back from a 30-5 (19-1 A-Sun) team, the Bruins have the look of a team that could become a national darling in March.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking in on… the Atlantic Sun

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 20th, 2011

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

A Look Back

  • Belmont Clinches: By knocking off East Tennessee State, 68-58, Thursday night in Nashville, the Bruins clinched the regular season title and the top seed for next month‘s conference tournament in Macon, Georgia. Belmont also gained no worse than an automatic bid to the NIT should it somehow stumble in Macon, which looks doubtful. Easily the deepest, most physical and most talented team in the A-Sun, the Bruins could face tough semifinal and championship challenges in Macon but also appear well-equipped to handle them. Of course, weird things happen in March.
  • Bear Essentials: Back on January 31, Mercer senior forward Brandon Moore went down for the season with a torn ACL, joining teammate Jeff Smith on the sidelines. Instead of going back to their Georgia cave and whimpering in pain for the season’s remainder, though, the Bears fought back. Granted, a schedule larded with home games against A-Sun slugs didn’t hurt, but give Mercer credit for ripping off four straight wins and improving to 9-7 in the league, clinching a spot in the conference tournament. Bob Hoffman probably deserves a few Coach of the Year votes for this little surge.
  • Player of the Week: Mike Smith, East Tennessee State: Smith won the award for the fourth time, the most in recent A-Sun history, by averaging 25 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists in homecourt wins over Jacksonville and North Florida. The clear favorite for A-Sun Player of the Year, Smith is in the league’s top five in scoring and rebounding. Just missing the gold medal were Campbell’s Eric Griffin, who scored 22.5 points per contest against Lipscomb and Belmont last week, and Markeith Cummings of Kennesaw State, who rattled off three 30-point games in a four-game span to fuel the Owls’ first extended burst of competence this year.

Power Rankings

1. Belmont (24-4, 16-1)
Next Week: 2/19 vs. USC Upstate, 2/24 at Mercer
These guys are good. How good? Consider that they can fall behind North Florida by 11 with six an a half minutes left, as they did earlier this month in arguably their worst game of the season, and still rip off a 20-2 run to steal a 69-67 win. The Bruins have gotten everyone’s best shot for most of the conference season and have only slipped up once — in the second half of a January 25 loss at Lipscomb. Stat geek alert: Guard Kerron Johnson ranks sixth in Division-I in steal percentage (percentage of possessions that a player notches a steal while in the game) according to Ken Pomeroy’s metrics. On most teams, Johnson would start. Here, he’s backing up ultra-steady Drew Hanlen.

2. East Tennessee State (19-10, 14-4)
Next Week: 2/19 at Florida Gulf Coast, 2/24 at Campbell
Remember two weeks ago when we warned that the Buccaneers could slip up on their road trip to Florida Gulf Coast and Stetson and you probably guffawed? That was before they somehow didn’t score in the last 5 minutes, 38 seconds and blew an 11-point lead in a brutal 55-54 loss at Stetson. While coach Murry Bartow was correct in nothing that the game affected nothing as far as the team’s NCAA hopes, since this league will only get one bid, it might keep this team from beating out the Big East’s 13th place team for a spot in the CBI or collegeinsiders.com tourney. That’s why ETSU couldn’t afford to take that loss.

3. Jacksonville (17-8, 11-5)
Next week: 2/18 vs. Kennesaw State, 2/20 vs. Mercer, 2/24 at Florida Gulf Coast
A third-place team might normally rate some consideration for the conference tournament. Not so with the Dolphins, who are 0-4 against the league’s big boys — Belmont and ETSU — with an average defeat margin of nearly 16 points. What that says is that this team beats the people it should and simply doesn’t have enough height or offensive punch to overcome the superior foes. Jacksonville’s only chance of winning the A-Sun tourney is to have one of the big boys lose along the way and hope that when they have to play the other that it either has a hot-shooting game or the other team can’t find the bucket.

4. Lipscomb (16-10, 11-6)
Next Week: 2/19 vs. East Tennessee State, 2/24 at Kennesaw State
Senior guard Josh Slater had one of the season‘s unique triple-doubles in a Thursday night win over USC Upstate, finishing with ten points, 12 assists and ten steals. It was the first triple-double in the Bisons’ Division-I era and the first time any A-Sun player notched 10 steals in a game against a Division-I foe since 1997. Lipscomb’s task is to build momentum for the conference tournament, when it might earn a third crack at Belmont in the semifinals. One gets the feeling that might be the only way the Bruins don’t win the A-Sun tourney.

5. Mercer: (12-15, 9-7)
Next Week: 2/18 at North Florida, 2/20 at Jacksonville, 2/24 vs. Belmont
Ball control has been the Bears‘ strength during their unexpected run into the league‘s middle of the back. In their last seven games, they are averaging just nine turnovers per game and have had four games with fewer than ten, including a six-turnover performance in Tuesday night‘s 57-55 win over Kennesaw State. It’s helped that senior guard Mark Hall, who’s not been known as a scorer in his Mercer career, has suddenly started draining three-pointers as though he were former Bear great James Florence. Hall drilled five in a Feb. 10 OT win over Stetson and added three against Kennesaw State.

6. North Florida: (10-17, 7-9)
Next Week: 2/18 vs. Mercer, 2/20 vs. Kennesaw State, 2/24 at Stetson
Guard Parker Smith is the nation‘s top scorer among players who haven‘t started a game, but he‘s been locked in a deep, dark forest lately. Since dropping 30 points on Belmont February 5, he’s not been able to ignite this team off the bench, going 2-for-13 in a Sunday loss at East Tennessee State. Coach Matthew Driscoll has been more concerned with Smith’s performance in other areas, feeling that the sophomore isn’t doing enough on the defensive end. As presently constructed, the Ospreys aren’t good enough to win many games unless all their key players are contributing.

7. Kennesaw State (8-18, 6-10)
Next week: 2/18 at Jacksonville, 2/20 at North Florida, 2/24 vs. Lipscomb
Welcome to the season, Owls. What took you so long? Finally, this team has decided to play hard on defense and share the ball on offense, much as folks expected they could in preseason. While it might not be enough to get them a decent seed in the A-Sun tourney, they could be a tough out for somebody in the first round. Sophomore Markeith Cummings has been arguably the league’s hottest player besides Smith, scoring 30 points in three of his last four games. Forward LaDaris Green has channeled his inner Kenneth Faried with five straight double-doubles.

8. Campbell (12-15, 6-11)
Next week: 2/19 at Florida Gulf Coast, 2/24 vs. East Tennessee State
Indulging in a farewell swipe at the A-Sun, Camels coach Robbie Laing said one reason his team is struggling is because they don‘t have a travel partner and therefore always catch fresh teams, such as when they lost 78-57 to Belmont February 12 by allowing the last 16 points. Another reason Campbell is struggling is its inability to consistently score the ball as it’s been held under 70 points in 12 of its 17 conference games. While the recent absence of guard Lorne Merthie (knee) hasn’t helped, the simple truth is this team hasn’t played very well since the middle of December.

9. Stetson: (7-21, 5-12)
Next week: 2/21 at Florida Gulf Coast, 2/24 vs. North Florida
Thursday night‘s 64-61 home loss to Campbell was a gut punch for the Hatters, which are in ninth place in the league and would miss the conference tournament if it started tomorrow. Officially a game behind the Camels, Stetson was swept in the season series, so it would lose any tiebreaker. Turnovers and poor foul shooting have hampered it in many of the close losses they’ve had lately. Those are things young teams traditionally struggle with and they have bitten the Hatters hard.

10. Florida Gulf Coast: (6-19, 3-12)
Next week: 2/19 vs. Campbell, 2/21 vs. Stetson
The Eagles‘ season is down to five games as they‘re ineligible for the conference tournament. All they can do is serve as spoiler for the likes of the Camels and Hatters, who visit Ft. Myers in the league’s riveting battle for eighth place and the last spot in the A-Sun tourney. One piece of good news for FGCU is that underclassmen such as Anthony Banks, Christophe Varidel and Chase Fieler have led the team in scoring in 14 of the last 15 games. The January departure of Reed Baker might have been the best thing to happen to this team because Varidel wouldn’t have gotten enough playing time to average 16.7 points per game in the last 13 games had Baker stuck around.

11. USC Upstate: (4-23, 3-14)
Next Week: 2/19 at Belmont
Coach Eddie Payne finally blew his stack after a listless loss to North Florida February 11, saying his team lacked leadership and didn‘t know how to win. If that remark was designed to light a fire under his young squad, it didn‘t work, as it promptly lost to Jacksonville and Lipscomb by an average of 14.5 points. The one ray of sunshine in Spartanburg has been the recent play of Ricardo Glenn, who had 16 points and nine rebounds in a 16-minute burst of excellence against Jacksonville. Glenn, Torrey Craig and Babatunde Olumuyiwa will comprise one of the league’s top frontcourts in 2012-13.

Playing the Percentages

Every week, we‘ll take a look at an intriguing stat around the conference and decide fluke or trend. This week, we zero in on Kennesaw State sophomore LaDaris Green, who has recorded five consecutive double-doubles, including a 14-point, 13-rebound effort at Mercer Tuesday night. The verdict is trend. The 6’9 Green is active enough and is playing the most consistent basketball of a career which still has two-plus years left. As he matures and gets stronger, he should only improve.

A Look Ahead

Belmont has won the league and ETSU will likely finish second, but there‘s still much at stake in terms of momentum and positioning as A-Sun teams head down the homestretch.

  • Mercer could still catch Lipscomb for fourth place if it wins out, including a home game next week with the Bisons. As long as they don’t slip out of fifth, though, the Bears will likely host Lipscomb in the A-Sun quarterfinals March 3.
  • Campbell has a chance to seal a spot in the conference tournament despite its recent struggles. Its schedule (at Florida Gulf Coast, ETSU, USC Upstate) looks favorable and it has a tiebreaker on ninth place Stetson.
  • Kennesaw State has a brutal ending to its regular season (at Jacksonville, at North Florida, Lipscomb, Belmont). The Owls could play decently and lose all four, and if they do, it could open the door for Stetson to beat them out for the last spot.
  • Belmont tries to keep its momentum going for the A-Sun tourney as it hosts USC Upstate Saturday night before a regular season-ending road trip to Georgia, where it plays Mercer and Kennesaw State.
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Checking in on… the Atlantic Sun

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 4th, 2011

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

A Look Back

  • Bruins Beaten: Just when Ken Pomeroy‘s metrics rated Belmont with a 53 percent chance of running through the Atlantic Sun Conference with a 20-0 record, the Bruins were beaten January 25 at Lipscomb. And not just any loss, either. A come-from-way-ahead loss in which they led by 18 in the first half before the Bison reeled them in down the stretch and won 73-64. Not that it seems to have bothered the Bruins too much, however, as they’ve won three straight, including a 76-70 decision at Jacksonville Thursday night in their last difficult road assignment of the regular season.
  • Bucs Draw Closer: Unable to beat Belmont head-to-head last month, East Tennessee State stayed within striking distance by winning the last three games of its season-long five-game homestand. It did so without injured senior Justin Tubbs, cutting its rotation down to eight players and no reserve guards. Then again, it had Mike Smith and Micah Williams and that was more than enough, especially against the league‘s Murdered Row — USC Upstate, Kennesaw State and Mercer. Smith and Williams combined to average more than 46 points per game in those three victories.
  • Player of the Week: Mike Smith, East Tennessee State: Smith is making this little ceremony his private show, winning the award for the second time in a month and just missing out on it the third time to Belmont‘s Ian Clark. All Smith did was score 25.7 points per game, grab 7.0 rebounds and notch career highs in points during consecutive wins over Kennesaw State and Mercer. Just missing the gold medal was Florida Gulf Coast freshman Christophe Varidel, who bombed in a career-high 29 points during an epic triple-OT win at Stetson (more on that later) and averaged 20.7 ppg last week, and Micah Williams, who was good for 22 ppg in three victories.

Power Rankings

1. Belmont (21-4, 13-1)

Next Week: 2/5 at North Florida

Here‘s to Rick Byrd, the classy coach of the Bruins who reached the 600-win mark January 30 at home against Stetson. The son of legendary Knoxville sportswriter Ben Byrd, Rick has built a program which will be around for the long run. Ten of the 11 guys who play regularly for this team will be back next year. Belmont’s bench is so good and deep that it leads the nation in assists per game, steals per game and three-pointers per game. Most teams in this league go to the bench and just hope to survive. The Bruins go to the bench and expect to increase the lead — and often do.

2. East Tennessee State (16-8, 11-2)

Next Week: 2/4 at Florida Gulf Coast, 2/6 at Stetson

No Super Bowl parties for the Buccaneers, unless they hold one on the trip back home from DeLand, Fla., where they play Stetson in a game that will end about an hour and a half before the Packers and Steelers kick off SB XLV. But they are looking like the one team in this league which could keep Belmont from hosting a Selection Sunday party next month — especially the way Smith is playing. The senior is making a good case for A-Sun Player of the Year, doing whatever it takes to win games. As Mercer coach Bob Hoffman said after watching Smith torch the Bears for 28 points on 14 shot attempts Monday night, “Un-stinking-believable.”

3. Jacksonville (14-7, 8-4)

Next week: 2/5 vs. Lipscomb, 2/8 vs. North Florida

The Dolphins pulled out all the stops for Belmont‘s visit Thursday night, throwing open the gates to Veterans Memorial Arena for their yearly free admission night courtesy of a seafood restaurant. The season’s largest crowd — 5,240 — couldn’t quite do enough to keep Jacksonville from confirming again that it’s just a notch below the Bruins and ETSU in the A-Sun pecking order this year. Foul shooting again hurt the Dolphins as they were 14-23, which looks positively Rick Barry-esque compared to the January 26 numbers at North Florida — 11-26. Talk about your fishy smells.

4. Lipscomb (15-9, 9-5)

Next Week: 2/5 at Jacksonville, 2/10 at Campbell

So much for the Bisons having finally figured things out. After beating Belmont and then scoring a pair of easy wins, they laid a mutant of an egg at North Florida, trailing 35-19 at halftime and losing 72-62 to cement their reputation as the league’s most mercurial side. Adnan Hodzic had what may be the worst game of his career, going 1-8 from the floor and scoring just two points in 24 minutes. Lipscomb appears headed for a fourth place finish, which could mean a conference tournament semifinal against crosstown rival Belmont.

5. North Florida: (9-14, 6-6)

Next Week: 2/5 vs. Belmont, 2/8 at Jacksonville

While Lipscomb is harder to figure out than calculus, the Ospreys are easier to read than Ryan Leaf‘s eyes on 3rd-and-11. On the nights they shoot the ball well and at least battle to a stalemate on the boards, they win, like Thursday night against Lipscomb. The overall record doesn’t suggest it but they have taken another step forward in coach Matthew Driscoll’s second year. On the nights when Parker Smith is hitting from three-point range and they‘re getting a little inside scoring, this team can beat anyone in the league besides Belmont and ETSU.

6. Campbell: (11-11, 5-7)

Next Week: 2/5 at Mercer, 2/7 at Kennesaw State, 2/10 vs. Lipscomb

Eric Griffin has become this team‘s top offensive option these days, averaging 17 points over his last six games and making better than 63 percent of his field goal attempts. Griffin was slowed by injuries early in the season but is having the impact coach Robbie Laing hoped he would. On the other hand, junior guard Lorne Merthie couldn‘t hit water if he fell out of a boat, making one bucket in a two-game trip to North Florida and Jacksonville. It’s that type of inconsistency which keeps this team mired in the conference’s middle and makes it unlikely they can do much of anything in the A-Sun tourney.

7. Mercer (8-15, 5-7)

Next week: 2/5 vs. Campbell, 2/10 vs. Stetson

One day, someone needs to match the Bears against Virginia Tech and get it on TV so the nation could see which coach has the most creative facial expressions — Bob Hoffman or Seth Greenberg. Watching Hoffman Face rule the sidelines on a recent Monday night at ETSU made for two hours of great theater. Watching Hoffman’s team persevere in the face of serious adversity — senior forward Brandon Moore and senior guard Jeff Smith have suffered year-ending knee injuries in an 11-day span — and still play hard is a tribute to his ability to get a team to believe no matter how steep the odds.

8. Florida Gulf Coast (5-15, 2-9)

Next week: 2/4 vs. East Tennessee State, 2/6 vs. USC Upstate, 2/10 at Kennesaw State

On the same night that Lipscomb ended Belmont‘s hopes for a 20-0 run through the conference, the Eagles and Stetson played one of the season‘s most remarkable games. FGCU won 111-103 in triple overtime as it marched to the foul line 60 times, fouling out five Hatters in the process, and survived buzzer-beating threes to end regulation and the first OT. Forward Anthony Banks took just nine shots from the field but still scored 24 points, going 14-24 at the foul line. Varidel, who’s more than filled in adequately for the departed Reed Baker, is averaging 16.9 points over his last eight games.

9. Stetson: (6-17, 4-8)

Next week: 2/4 vs. USC Upstate, 2/6 vs. East Tennessee State, 2/10 at Mercer

Young teams will have rough patches, but coach Derek Waugh is probably agonizing pretty hard about this one. The Hatters have lost six straight, including that crazy triple OT contest against FGCU in which they were eight seconds from a double OT win before Varidel drilled a 3-pointer. Stetson’s first-shot defense has waned lately as opponents are back to 46 percent from the field. It will have to start paying better attention to the little things or it might sit out the conference tournament for a second straight year.

10. Kennesaw State: (5-17, 3-9)

Next week: 2/7 vs. Campbell, 2/10 vs. Florida Gulf Coast

The Owls were embarrassing in a 93-62 loss at ETSU Jan. 29, regularly refusing to stop the ball in transition, help out a beaten teammate or close out on open jump-shooters. It‘s hard to believe this was a team which not only started with high expectations, but also hammered Georgia Tech back in mid-November. Right now, if the conference tournament were beginning, this team would miss it. With talented players such as Markeith Cummings, Spencer Dixon and LaDaris Green around, that just doesn‘t add up.

11. USC Upstate: (3-19, 2-10)

Next Week: 2/4 at Stetson, 2/6 at Florida Gulf Coast

The Spartans finally ended their 13-game losing streak Monday night with a 12-2 run in the last four minutes that beat Kennesaw State. Freshman forward Torrey Craig’s 27 points against Kennesaw marked his 13th straight game in double figures. He’s just about the only consistent source of offense for this team, which continues to shoot less than 40 percent from the field and score less than 60 points per game. Upstate announced that its January 10 snow-out with Florida Gulf Coast — as we expected — would be rescheduled for February 28. With neither team eligible for the conference tournament, that was an easy call.

Playing the Percentages

Every week, we‘ll take a look at an intriguing stat around the conference and decide between fluke or trend. This week, we eyeball the up-and-down work of ETSU‘s Isiah Brown, who in three straight games:

  • Didn‘t take a shot in 32 minutes against USC Upstate and scored just one point, but had 10 rebounds.
  • Went for 17 points and 12 boards against Kennesaw State.
  • Scored just four points in 18 minutes against Mercer before fouling out on a technical less than three minutes into the second half.

The word is trend. Brown has been inconsistent throughout his career and this three-game set is emblematic of it.

A Look Ahead

  • While Belmont and ETSU try to maintain their position, others try to improve their seeding for next month‘s tournament.
  • Lipscomb looks for revenge and tries to get back on its feet when it plays Jacksonville Saturday in the Dolphins‘ cozy campus hideout, 1,500-seat Swisher Gym. The winner figures to finish no worse than third in the league and the loser will probably wind up in the same half of the draw with Belmont.
  • North Florida tries its luck with Belmont Saturday night and then rematches with Jacksonville Tuesday night. The Ospreys and Dolphins put on one of the worst free-throwing displays ever in their first meeting, combining to miss 29 of 54.
  • Mercer tries to pick up the pieces without Brandon Moore when it hosts Campbell Saturday. The good news for the Bears is that they‘re starting a four-game homestand, all against beatable teams, so they should be able to piece together enough wins to clinch a conference tourney berth.
  • ETSU tries not to screw up its road trip to central Florida. There‘s no real reason for it to lose against either Florida Gulf Coast or Stetson, but the Bucs tend to mix in a clunker when it least makes sense. So stay tuned Friday night or Super Bowl Sunday just in case.
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Checking in on… the Atlantic Sun

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 8th, 2011

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

A Look Back

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

Power Rankings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Playing the Percentages

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

A Look Ahead

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

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

Posted by rtmsf on December 26th, 2010

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

A Look Back

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

Power Rankings

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

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

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

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

Next Week: 12/30 vs. Bethune-Cookman

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

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

Next week: 12/30 at Memphis

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

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

Next Week: 12/30 at East Tennessee State

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

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

Next Week: 12/30 vs. Campbell

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

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

Next Week: 12/29 at Maryland

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

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

Next week: 12/30 vs. Charlotte

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

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

Next week: 12/27 vs. IUPUI

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

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

Next week: 12/30 at Virginia Tech

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

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

Next week: No games scheduled

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

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

Next Week: Dec. 28 at Wyoming

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

Playing the Percentages

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

A Look Ahead

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

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

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 27th, 2010

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

A Look Back

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

Power Rankings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Playing the Percentages

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

A Look Ahead

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