Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Atlantic Sun Conference Preview


The Atlantic Sun Conference featured a great race for the conference title a season ago, as Gardner-Webb and Central Florida tied for the championship, and seven other teams were within three games of the aforementioned two. Central Florida won the conference tournament title, and defeated #1 seed Gardner-Webb in the championship game. The Golden Knights gave Connecticut a valiant effort in the NCAA Tournament, but fell short by six in the first round. This season's should be equally as exciting and tight as last year's.

Favorites: Gardner-Webb, co-regular season champions from a year ago, return all five starters. Player of the year candidate Tim Jennings and all-conference forward Brian Bender form the best inside-outside combo in the league. Simon Conn is one of the top low post players in the conference. Any one of the Jennings, Bender, and Conn trio could conceivably win the Atlantic Sun Player of the Year. Chris Gash and T.J. McCullough are very good players in the backcourt. East Tennessee State, formerly of the Southern Conference, return possibly the league's best player in Tim Smith. He and Ben Rhoda are a great backcourt tandem. The Bucs are also home to the conference's best rebounder in Dillon Sneed, who is a threat to get a double double every night. Brad Nuckles is back from injury to help him on the inside. Belmont returns four starters, the league's top sixth man, and possible the league's best newcomer in 6-10 Tennessee transfer Boomer Herndon. Brian Collins, Josh Goodwin, and Justin Hare form a solid perimeter trio, with all three averaging at least ten points per game. Dan Oliver and Will Peeples are solid forwards.

Sleepers: Lipscomb returns all five starters from a balanced team. The backcourt of Brian Fisk and James Poindexter may be the best in the conference. Shawn Durant and Cameron Robinson are the low-post guys, while Eddie Ard could develop into an excellent third scorer. Mercer is carried by an outstanding trio. Will Emerson is one of the top post players in the conference, while Damitrius Coleman was the nation's leading assist man a year ago. Swingman Jacob Skogen is a very dangerous scorer, going for almost 15 points per game. Stetson needs all their talent to come together. If it does, look out. E.J. Gordon and Anthony Register comprise an outstanding backcourt that combined for almost 31 points and 11 rebounds last season. Karl Hollingsworth is a decent forward, while Will Holloman is another solid backcourt player.

Rounding Out the Pack: Jacksonville could have been a contender for the crown had Haminn Quaintance not left the team recently. He is a huge loss. They have a deep stable of guards, including starters Antonio Cool and Jesse Kimbrough. If they can find an inside presence, the Dolphins can make some noise. Florida Atlantic has a solid duo in guard Quinton Young and forward Rodney Webb. Kahleaf Watson is a good point guard and distributor. Campbell didn't win a conference game a season ago, but they should this season. All five starters return, including Ruell Pringle and Maurice Latham, as well as Comerlee Poole, a very good rebounder. North Florida and Kennesaw State are making the jump from Division II. Neither team will make any sort of impact on the conference, although North Florida has some decent players in NAIA Player of the Year Alain LaRoche and guards Derrick Scott and Chris Timberlake.

Prediction: Gardner-Webb was the best team during the regular season a year ago, and should be again this season. However, this time around, they will win the conference tournament and the league's automatic bid. Their trio of Tim Jennings, Simon Conn, and Brian Bender is too much for everyone else. East Tennessee State should be right on their heels the entire season, while there is up to four other teams that have a chance to make a run at the league title. Expect an oustanding season in the Atlantic Sun.

Player of the Year: Tim Smith, PG, East Tennesee State

All-Conference Team:
G- Tim Smith, East Tennessee State
G- E.J. Gordon, Stetson
G- Tim Jennings, Gardner-Webb
F- Will Emerson, Mercer
C- Simon Conn, Gardner-Webb

Second Team:
G- Damitrius Coleman, Mercer
G- Brian Collins, Belmont
G- Anthony Register, Stetson
F- Dillon Sneed, East Tennessee State
F- Brian Bender, Gardner-Webb

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