Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Atlantic Sun Conference Preview


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 was a lot of parity within the conference, but the top teams met in the title game. #2 Belmont defeated #1 Lipscomb in overtime to win the automatic bid for the A-Sun. Once in the Big Dance, the Bruins played UCLA tight for some of the first half but got blown out in the second half. This season, expect more of the same at the top but not as much parity.

Favorites: This season's should look very similar to last season's at the top. Belmont and Lipscomb look like the two best teams in the league once again, but the Bruins have the edge going into the season. They were the most efficient shooting team in the conference last season, and also led the A-Sun in assists and blocks. Moreover, Belmont return two of the top players in the conference in wing Justin Hare and center Boomer Herndon. Hare is a high-scoring guard who can fill it up in a hurry, while Herndon is a former Tennessee transfer who can dominate the paint. Josh Goodwin is another potential all-conference pick in the backcourt. He is an excellent three-point shooter. Andy Wicke will likely start on the perimeter, while big men Andrew Preston and Matthew Dotson solidify the frontcourt. Lipscomb was the best defensive team in the conference last season, but are not too shabby on offense either. They utilize mostly a four-out, one-in set, with all-around stud Eddie Ard leading the way. His inside-outside ability make him a match-up nightmare. Guard Brian Fisk is an excellent scorer, while Trey Williams and Michael Lusk are also solid perimeter performers. Newcomer Jason Hopkins could start immediately up front.

Contenders: Outside of the top two, it is fairly wide-open. East Tennessee State loses all-conference guard Tim Smith, but that could be a blessing in disguise. The Buccaneers will now be more balanced and feature more scorers on offense. Sixth man Courtney Pigram will move into the starting lineup and could have a huge season. Travis Strong is another double-figure scorer on the perimeter. Up front, Brad Nuckles leads the way. He is an outstanding rebounder, but needs to improve his point production. Andrew Reed and Eryk Thomas are solid forwards. Kennesaw State, while not eligible for an Atlantic Sun title, could be the biggest threat to Belmont. They started the conference season 9-1 last year but lost 9 of their last 10 to finish .500. The Owls return all five starters from that team, though, and look to improve. Golden Ingle, Ronell Wooten, and Andrew Morgan form possibly the best backcourt in the conference. Ingle is a big-time scorer and an excellent distributor; Wooten can fill it up and rebound very well for his size; and Morgan was the conference Freshman of the Year and is a very good all-around player. Forward Brent Ragsdale is another double-figure scorer, while Ryan Nelson rounds out the starting lineup. Dusty Moore is solid down low. Campbell is a distance from its 0-20 year in 2004-2005 and could make some noise this season. All-conference guard Eric Smith and point guard Ledell Eckles form an excellent backcourt duo. Smith is a very good scorer, while Eckles is one of the best passers in the conference. Ruell Pringle and Reggie Bishop complement those two on the perimeter. Jake Wohfeil was a part-time starter a season ago. Diego Aguiar and shot-blocker extraordinaire Oladapole Fagbenie will see plenty of minutes in the frontcourt, as will freshman Jonathan Rodriguez.

Sleepers: Steston finished the season on a tear last season, and hope to carry some of that momentum over to this season. They lose their outstanding backcourt duo of Anthony Register and E.J. Gordon, who combined for nearly 30 points per game. Gave McMillen is expected to pick up some of the slack in the backcourt. He is an excellent long-range shooter. Garfield Blair and Kris Thomas will step in on the perimeter for the Hatters. Eric Diaz and J.J. Hirst are solid performers in the frontcourt. Gardner-Webb came into last season as one of the favorites to win the league, but now face a rebuilding year after the loss of four starters. Guard Chris Gash is the lone returning starter. He is a decent scorer in the backcourt. Ricky McPhee will get an opportunity to become a go-to-guy on the perimeter. There are several options in the frontcourt, mainly Pepperdine transfer Samba Fall and returnee Jake Didion. North Florida, like Kennesaw State is not eligible for a conference title, but they are definitely going to improve on their paltry 3-17 league record of a season ago. The Ospreys return one of the best inside-outside combos in the league in guard Chris Timberlake and forward Rashad Williams. Williams is poised for a breakout season, while Timberlake is a very good point guard. Forward Ryan Daugherty is a good scorer in the frontcourt and Aaron Caruthers is a solid guard.

Rounding Out the Pack: Jacksonville had an atrocious season a year ago, going 1-26 overall and 1-19 in conference play. Things aren't looking much better this season as the Dolphins lose three starters from that group. Potential all-conference forward Marcus Allen returns, however. He is a very good forward and could have a big year. Joining him up front are big men Ljubisa Vrcelj and Phillip Okonma, who will provide defense and rebounding. In the backcourt, Evan Jefferson leads the way. He will get a starting job this year after coming off the bench last season. Bryan Hipsher and David Fine round out the lineup. Mercer lost several players throughout the course of last season and that contributed to some of their poor play. However, this year, their lack of talent and depth will be their Achilles heel. Sam Dolan is the leading returning scorer and rebounder. He is a solid forward who causes match-up problems with his size. Montavious Waters and Ross Alacqua form a nice backcourt duo, while Shaddean Aaron contributes on the wing. Freshman Bejay Corley and returnee Brian Pfohl will battle for a starting spot in the frontcourt.

Prediction: The Atlantic Sun won't have as much parity as it did last season, but the top part of the conference will be stellar. Belmont and Lipscomb will likely battle it out for the title again, and the Bruins should win their second consecutive conference championship. Justin Hare and Josh Goodwin on the outside and Boomer Herndon in the post form the best trio in the conference, and make Belmont very tough to stop. No team in the league has someone that can match-up with Herndon. Kennesaw State will be a team to watch, though.

Player of the Year: Justin Hare, SG, Belmont

All-Conference Team:
G- Golden Ingle, Kennesaw State
G- Brian Fisk, Lipscomb

G- Justin Hare, Belmont
F- Eddie Ard, Lipscomb
C- Boomer Herndon, Belmont

Second Team:
G- Josh Goodwin, Belmont
G- Eric Smith, Campbell
G- Ronell Wooten, Kennesaw State
F- Marcus Allen, Jacksonville
F- Rashad Williams, North Florida


  1. Good Stuff - I think you've got it about right. A couple things to consider: Lipscomb has had an extra 10 days practice and gotten some exhibition games in by doing their once in 4 year international tour - that may help push them even with or over Belmont.
    Jacksonville coach, Cliff Warren, did pull in one of the better A-Sun recruiting classes - in this conference that can mean a big impact quickly. I see JU moving towards 7th or 8th.
    Finally, while I wasn't surprised you left him off your all-conference teams, I think Pigram could be there by year's end. He's got a boatload of potential who's going to get the chance to show it off this year.

  2. Jefferson will not be starting for the Dolphins. Hipsher is no longer there. They brought in 7 new players! They will definetely be the most improved team in the low major category!