Thursday, March 2, 2006

Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament Preview

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The Atlantic Sun Conference featured one of the most exciting conference races in the country. Belmont and Lipscomb tied for the regular-season title at 15-5; the Bruins won 9 of their last 10 to forge a tie. They finished one game ahead of Florida Atlantic. There were three other teams within four games of first place. There is a lot of parity in the conferencee, which makes for an exciting conference tournament.

Favorite: Belmont is one of the hottest teams in the Atlantic Sun, plus they finished tied for first; therefore, they have to be considered the favorite to win the championship. They have one of the best inside-outside combos in the league in center Boomer Herndon, who has the ability to take over a game, and guard Justin Hare, who is an excellent scorer on the perimeter. Josh Goodwin and Brett Collins are two more solid contributors in the backcourt. The Bruins are the most efficient shooting team in the conference, and also lead league in blocks and assists.

Contenders: Lipscomb has won 5 of their last 6, and 13 of 16 overall. They use mostly a four-guard set, with all-around stud Eddie Ard leading the way. Brian Fisk is an excellent scorer, while James Poindexter also contributes on the perimeter. Shaun Durant is the go-to-guy inside. The Bisons are the best defensive team in the conference. Florida Atlantic is coming into the tournament on a four-game winning streak. DeAndre Rice leads the on the perimeter, while Rodney Webb and Carlos Monroe form a very good forward tandem in the frontcourt. They are the best three-point shooting team in the league, and could ride that to a title.

Sleepers: Stetson finished sixth in the conference, but they have won 8 in a row and 11 of their last 12. The only contender they have not defeated is Belmont. Their backcourt combo of E.J. Gordon and Anthony Register is one of the best in the league. Their top six scorers are perimeter-oriented players, giving the Hatters great depth and balance on the wings. One thing to remember is that East Tennessee State is hosting the Tournament. After winning 14 of 16, the Buccaneers have lost four in a row entering the conference tourney. Four guys average double-figures, including Tim Smith, possibly the best player in the conference.

Prediction: This is a wide-open conference. Any team out of the top six has a legit shot at the championship. I'm going to go with Belmont, the #2 seed. They have great momentum entering the tournament, and the Bruins have the best inside-outside duo in the conference in Hare and Herndon. Moreover, they have several options to go to with the game on the line. Their half of the bracket may have the other two top candidates to win the automatic bid in Florida Atlantic and Stetson. If the Bruins can get past their semi-final game, I expect them to win the title.

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