ATLANTIC SUN NOTES AND RAMBLINGS
-Four of the twelve teams in the Atlantic Sun arent eligible to play in the conference tournament. South Carolina Upstate, Florida Gulf Coast, North Florida and Kennesaw State are still in the four year probationary period that comes with making the jump to div1.
-None of the teams currently in the Atlantic Sun have every won an NCAA Tournament game.
-Several teams in this league love to play a fast paced type of game. Supporters of the league have given it the nickname the Atlantic Fun. ATLANTIC SUN TEAMS
-BELMONT has won the last two Atlantic Sun Championships, but didnt finish first in the standings either year. They tied crosstown rival Lipscomb in the 2006 standings, but finished three games behind East Tennessee State last season. Belmont still managed to get to the NCAA Tournament by winning the conference tournament, which included a blowout win at East Tennessee State in the championship game. The Bruins did lose some of their best rebounders, but with three starters coming back, including two year starting guard Justin Hare, they appear to be among the best in the conference once again.
-EAST TENNESSEE STATE was 16-2 in conference play during the regular season, but was blown out in surprising fashion in the championship game by Belmont on their own home floor. There was some restructuring during the offseason as three players were released from their scholarships and only two starters are returning. One of them, however, is guard Courtney Pigram, who averaged over 18ppg last season and is probably the best player in the conference. Several junior college transfers fill out the roster, so ETSU could pick up about where they left off and once again end up toward the top of the standings.
-JACKSONVILLE was just 1-26 two seasons ago, so their 15-14 record last year was a tremendous improvement. In fact, it was the biggest improvement in all of div1 in terms of wins and losses. They also managed to go 11-7 in league play, which tied them for third place. They were stunned in the conference tournament with a loss to Campbell, but all and all it was a tremendous year. Head coach Cliff Warren has done a tremendous job in terms of recruiting. Five freshmen saw significant minutes last season and contributed big time to the teams big turnaround. Five more freshmen join the team this year, and all are expected to contribute. This is a team that is clearly going in the right direction and we should once again expect to see them at the top of the standings.
-LIPSCOMB was sort of a disappointment last season. They did manage to tie for third place in the conference standings, but they went just 11-7 in league play after being favored by many to win the title. They are a very good defensive team, but struggled on the offensive side of things last year. They have a really good forward in Eddie Ard
, but the rest of the team will have to step up if they want to finish near the top this year.
-CAMPBELL got a big time contribution out of freshman Jonathan Rodriguez
last season, who averaged 17.1ppg and 8.8rpg. They ended up going 14-17 last year and are looking to build on that this year. For a team that won just two games against div1 teams in the 2004-2005 season, they have been improving bit by bit each season and moving in the right direction. Like a lot of teams in the league, they love to push the pace and are exciting to watch.
-This will be GARDNER WEBBs last season in the Atlantic Sun. Theyre moving to the Big South, which is the conference the schools football team is in. They won just nine games last season and really werent a major factor in the league. They arent likely to be all that competitive this year either.
-MERCER lost seven of their last nine games and really looked sluggish down the stretch last year. They are very strong at the guard position with James Florence (19.3ppg) and Shaddean Aaron (15.9 ppg) both returning. Two other starters return as well. Defensively is where the team struggled last season. With the experience they have coming back they could really be a strong team if they can step it up defensively.
-STETSON hasnt had a winning season since 2000-2001. With four starters coming back they should be an improved team, but they really struggled on the glass last year and are likely to do so again this year.
-KENNESAW STATE has two very good forwards in Ronell Wooten and Shaun Stegall, both of whom average over 14ppg. They have two more seasons to go before theyre eligible for postseason play, but have not been the doormat of the league by any stretch. They were 13-18 overall last year, and 9-9 in the league. They should be able to improve on that this year.
-FLORIDA GULF COAST is new to the league this year. In a way, theyre new to academia as well. The university was founded in 1991 and didnt open its doors to students until 1997. They were a successful div2 program that went 27-6 last season (0-3 against div1), but were not invited to the div2 NCAA Tournament. They will not be eligible for the div1 NCAA Tournament for another four years, but its good for their program that they are already affiliated with a conference. Despite not being eligible, they can still compete with a lot of teams in this league.
-NORTH FLORIDA is just 5-48 against div1 teams since making the jump to div1 themselves two years ago. Nevertheless, this looks to be their strongest team since joining div1. I know thats not saying a lot, but four starters are back from last season and they have some junior college transfers that should contribute this year as well.
-SOUTH CAROLINA UPSTATE is another team that is new to the div1 ranks. They were 17-11 as a div2 team last year, which isnt bad by div2 standard, but its not outstanding either. One would have to think theyre really going to struggle this year.