Conference Tourney Primers: Atlantic Sun

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 3rd, 2015

It’s the start of Championship Fortnight, so let’s gear up for the next 13 days of games by breaking down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way – starting with tonight’s action.

Atlantic Sun Tournament

Dates: March 3, 5, 8

Site: Campus sites (higher-seeded teams host)

(cbssports.com)

(cbssports.com)

What to expect: Can the Atlantic Sun create another year of NCAA Tournament magic? After Dunk City’s run in 2013 and Mercer’s upset over Duke last season, North Florida hopes to become the league’s next March darling. The Ospreys, which beat Purdue in December, won the league outright – sweeping preseason favorite Florida Gulf Coast along the way – and earned home court advantage throughout the A-Sun Tournament. They are the team to beat, but don’t discount the Eagles – led by two holdovers from that 2013 Sweet Sixteen team – or USC Upstate, which defeated North Florida twice this season.

Favorite: North Florida. Few teams are as three-point reliant as North Florida, which works out well – the Ospreys shoot 38.5 percent from behind the arc. They also have good size and an excellent point guard, sophomore Dallas Moore (15.4 PPG, 3.9 APG), who hit a clutch three-pointer in that early-season upset over the Boilermakers.

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Atlantic Sun Race Interesting Even Without Cinderella

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 16th, 2015

Dunk City’s Sweet Sixteen run, Mercer’s post-victory Nae Nae dance… I don’t have to explain – you already know the Atlantic Sun’s recent March achievements. The conference has produced arguably the NCAA Tournament’s most iconic moments for each of the past two seasons, enormous upsets featuring even larger personalities. Yet it’s also endured some serious change since the Bears knocked off Duke last spring, and almost none of it has been good. Both Mercer and East Tennessee State, traditionally two of the league’s best programs, bolted for the Southern Conference and no other team has stepped in to fill the void. With just eight teams remaining – one of which (Northern Kentucky) remains NCAA Tournament-ineligible until 2016 – the question now becomes whether the depleted conference has a team even remotely capable of crashing the Dance. The answer to that probably lies somewhere between “unlikely” and “maybe,” although the A-Sun showed moments of promise during non-conference play. As for the race to get there? With Florida Gulf Coast looking vulnerable and a pair of challengers on the rise, the next two months should be better than expected.

The Atlantic Sun race will be better than expected this season. (Naples Daily News)

The Atlantic Sun race will be better than expected this season. (Naples Daily News)

North Florida made something of a statement on Wednesday night. After switching to zone and overcoming an early deficit against Florida Gulf Coast, the Ospreys turned a flurry of threes and several key steals into a 16-2 second half run that put the Eagles away for good – the team’s first victory over its avian foe since 2012. “We talked before the game there would be obstacles and adversity and all those kinds of things, and you’ve just got to fight your way through it,” head coach Matthew Driscoll said afterward. “And they did.” Not only was it a blowout victory over the league’s overwhelming favorite, but the result propelled North Florida ahead of its rival in KenPom for the first time all season. While that may seem insignificant – sure, odd results and blowout wins/losses can skew rankings – it’s important to keep in mind that the Ospreys have climbed almost 100 spots since the season began. Driscoll’s three-point heavy attack, led by reigning Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year, Dallas Moore (27 points on Wednesday), has been reliably explosive through the first couple months and very difficult to beat when shots are falling. In fact, UNF has a chance to become the most efficient offensive unit the conference has seen since Belmont left in 2012. Yet the Ospreys aren’t alone in their emergence as a legitimate challenger to FGCU. USC Upstate – which lost two of its top three scorers and rebounders, including all-conference forward Torrey Craig – has also managed to drastically improve on its preseason metrics. Despite their offensive production taking a dip, the combination of guard-heavy lineups and Eddie Payne’s match-up zone has enabled the Spartans to force turnovers in bunches (12th highest rate in America) and markedly improve their defense from a year ago. That improvement has manifested itself in 13-5 record and the conference’s highest overall ranking (#148) – also nearly 100 spots higher than where it began the year. What does that mean for Dunk City? Even with Brett Comer (11.2 PPG, 7.0 APG) and Bernard Thompson (14.4 PPG) in tow – one of college basketball’s most productive backcourts – the Eagles’ run at the league title will be much more difficult than figured.

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Revisiting the Wildly Upsetting Weekend: Yale, Green Bay, NJIT, USC Upstate & North Florida

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 8th, 2014

It looked like the upset of the weekend on Friday night: 3.5 seconds on the clock, Yale down two to Connecticut; junior guard Jack Montague slipped to the far corner in front of his own bench, caught the baseline inbounds-pass and drilled a game-winning three-pointer to knock off the defending champions in their own building. The loss was the Huskies’ first in 68 games against intrastate opponents, and the shot – complete with frenzied, ecstatic hugging and hands-on-head dejection – was something of an iconic early season moment: six-foot-nothing Ivy League guard with a Shakespearean last name hits clutch shot to upend a dynastic blue-blood program.

Yale beat UConn on Friday night, but that was only the beginning. (Fred Beckham / AP)

Yale beat UConn on Friday night, but that was only the beginning. (Fred Beckham / AP)

Little did we know, the best was yet to come. From noon ET to a little after 4:00 PM ET on Saturday, four more substantial, O26-over-Power-Five upsets would take place, including one truly for the ages. Let’s revisit and lends some perspective to each of them.

Yale over Connecticut, 45-44 – KenPom win probability: 81.1% UConn; Spread: UConn (-8.5). Yale coach James Jones said afterwards: “I told the guys in the locker room, no matter how old they get, if they get Alzheimer’s or dementia, they’ll remember this for the rest of their lives.” However hilarious and slightly morbid a thought, the 16th-year head man is right – the finish was spectacular, and the outcome awfully impressive considering that Connecticut’s Ryan Boatright played nearly the entire game. There had been a growing consensus that Yale could beat the Huskies if Boatright didn’t play – he injured his ankle against Texas and his status was questionable on Friday night – but when the point guard suited up (and was throwing down pre-game dunks beforehand), expectations for the Bulldogs were diminished. Still, Yale had already established itself as the second-best team in the Ivy League; a tough, well-balanced, top-100 KenPom unit capable of hanging with Tournament-caliber opponents. And it showed as much in taking it to the Huskies from opening tip, exploiting defensive lapses, outmuscling Connecticut on the glass (Yale collected an incredible 95.8 percent of its defensive rebound opportunities) and making smart decisions in the game’s waning moments. Big man Justin Sears led the charge with 12 points and 15 rebounds (eight offensive) and Montague sealed the deal in the memorable final seconds.

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O26 Weekly Awards: Saint Joseph’s, Tyler Haws, Eddie Payne and CCSU

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 5th, 2014

Last week was incredibly entertaining all across the spectrum of college hoops, featuring numerous upsets and several finishes that made our jaws drop. Let’s pass out a few accolades to those O26 teams, players and coaches who got the job done amid all the craziness.

Langston Galloway's big shot helped spark a big week for Saint Joseph's. (SJU Athletic Communications)

Langston Galloway’s big shot helped spark a big week for Saint Joseph’s. (SJU Athletic Communications)

O26 Team of the Week

Saint Joseph’s. This current week might actually have larger implications for Saint Joseph’s, what with home games against Saint Louis and VCU, but the Hawks’ effort last week — winning on the road at Dayton and handling UMass in Hagan Area — still deserves significant recognition. Phil Martelli’s club seemed destined for a second straight loss last Wednesday against the Flyers, trailing at halftime and completely unable to get things going offensively (perhaps a carry-over from the previous game at Richmond). It would have made for devastating, potentially demoralizing, defeat, considering the upcoming slate. Then the second half began, and everything changed. The Hawks charged out of the locker room with a 27-7 run to go up 15 points with around 10 minutes to play, leaving the Dayton crowd stunned and silenced. The home team did eventually make a comeback, forcing a slew of turnovers and tying the game with 11 seconds on the clock, but Saint Joseph’s guard Langston Galloway would not allow this opportunity to slip by, not with a season potentially in the balance: The senior used a ball screen at the top of the key, found just enough space on the right wing and banked in a three-pointer with 1.8 seconds left, finishing off the Flyers and improving his club’s record to 4-2 in Atlantic 10 play.

Saturday’s game against UMass featured similar drama, but was far more redemptive for the Hawks. A month earlier, they had played well but blew a late lead against the Minutemen in Amherst, prompting the terrific Martelli line, “It’s a big-boy game, and we weren’t big enough.” His team was more than big enough this time aroun — at least for the first 38 minutes — as it outworked Derek Kellogg’s group on both ends of the floor and opened up a 16-point margin early in the second half. But just like three days before, Saint Joseph’s let a game seemingly well in hand nearly get away, as UMass point guard Chaz Williams spearheaded a late, furious charge to tie things up with 30 seconds remaining. The Hawks stepped up once again, draining five key free throws and forcing one huge turnover to put away the Minutemen and salvage hopes for an NCAA Tournament at-large berth. It was the perfect culmination to a pivotal week for the Hawks, both a testament to their fortitude and proof of their staying power in the Atlantic 10.

Honorable Mentions: Lehigh (2-0: vs. Bucknell; @Boston University); Davidson (2-0: vs. Chattanooga; vs. The Citadel); Ohio (2-0: vs. Central Michigan; vs. Toledo)

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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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Checking In On… the Atlantic Sun Conference

Posted by rtmsf on January 21st, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

Looking Back

  • 1,200 Wins. ETSU needed a second-half rally to earn the 1200th win in program history. Sitting on 1,199 wins, the Bucs faced UNF for the first time since being eliminated by the Ospreys in the semifinals of the 2011 A-Sun Championship. UNF jumped out to a 15-point first-half advantage and held ETSU to 31% shooting. Adam Sollazzo scored 19 of his 21 points in the second half and hit the game-winning free throw with 2.4 seconds remaining
  • Dramatic Finishes. Monday featured three dramatic finishes. In addition to ETSU’s second-half comeback at UNF, a pair of A-Sun contests needed overtime to determine a winner. Jacksonville scored its first win of the conference season after withstanding a tying by USC Upstate at the end of regulation and beat the Spartans in the extra session. The second overtime thriller featured a game-winning three-pointer by Lipscomb’s Damarius Smith in the waning seconds lifting the Bison past Stetson and into a fourth-place tie in the A-Sun race.
  • Coaching Battle. After 16 years seated next to each other on the Belmont bench, Rick Byrd and Casey Alexander met as opponents when Byrd’s Belmont welcomed Alexander’s Stetson Hatters to the Curb Event Center. The Hatters showed they have quickly picked up the trademark Belmont offense hitting 15 3-pointers, the most ever by an opponent in Curb Event Center history. The Bruins, who trailed 31-29 at halftime, dispatched the Hatters with a 55-point second half, winning 84-71.

Kerron Johnson (ball) Leads A Talented Belmont Attack

Power Rankings

  1. Belmont (13-6, Previous Ranking: 1): Despite a surprising home stumble against rival Lipscomb, the Bruins remain atop the Power Rankings after handling FGCU and Stetson. In the 95-53 win against FGCU, the Bruins hit 14 3-pointers and recorded 27 assists on 35 baskets. In wins against the Hatters and Eagles, the Bruins shot a combined 54.5 percent from the floor. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Atlantic Sun Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 18th, 2011

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

Reader’s Take

The Week That Was

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

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

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

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

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Schools Honoring Military Personnel on Veterans Day

Posted by nvr1983 on November 10th, 2011

While most of the college basketball world will be focused on the game between North Carolina and Michigan State on the USS Carl Vinson on Veterans Day there are plenty of other schools that are doing their part to honor military personnel. The UNC-Michigan State game will be attended almost entirely by military personnel, who have already been pre-selected, but if you are a veteran and were not selected to be on the ship to watch the game there are other opportunities.

Veterans Can Attend A Handful Of Games For Free On Veterans Day (Credit: AP Photo/U.S. Navy - Seaman Amanda Huntoon)

We have compiled a list of those opportunities based on what the host schools for Fridays games had on their websites as of late on Wednesday night (yes, we sifted through about 120 school web sites with some easier to navigate than others). If you know of any others, let us know so we can add them to the list. Our current list (all start times are local):

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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.

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Atlantic Sun Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 2nd, 2011

Bucky Dent is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun. The A-Sun is among the first of the conference tournaments to tip off, with action set to begin Wednesday.

Tournament Preview and Prediction

The top two seeds play Wednesday, giving them a day off before playing in semifinal matchups Friday night. While weird stuff happens in March, there’s nothing to suggest that Belmont or ETSU should lose against Kennesaw State or Campbell, respectively.

On the other hand, a North Florida upset of Jacksonville or a Mercer victory over Lipscomb wouldn’t come as a surprise. The Ospreys’ season would be made by beating their crosstown rivals and the Bears are as hot as anyone not named Belmont in this league.

Regardless of who wins those games, though, it would be a real surprise if Belmont and ETSU didn’t play for the championship as they were clearly the league’s best teams. Strangely enough, the one fly in the ointment might be if Lipscomb survives Mercer on the Bears’ floor and gets a third crack at its Nashville rivals in the semifinals. All bets might be off at that point, but there’s a reason Belmont was 19-1 in the league this year. It had the best team and could win any type of game – fast, slow or moderately-paced. Look for the Bruins to win the A-Sun tourney and perhaps win an NCAA Tournament game with the right draw.

A Look Back

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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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