Thursday, March 1, 2007

Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament Preview

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The Atlantic Sun was expected to be a two-team race between Lipscomb and Belmont. However, East Tennessee State put a damper in those plans with their 16-2 record, winning the conference by two games over Belmont. The regular season was never in doubt over the last few weeks. Jacksonville and Lipscomb finished 11-7, but no other teams finished above. 500. Kennesaw State and North Florida aren’t eligible for the conference tournament, as they are transitional teams.

Favorite: East Tennessee State went only 4-6 in non-conference play, but they won fourteen of their last fifteen Atlantic Sun games to handily win the league. The Buccaneers have one of the best shooting team in the league, and have arguably the most offense-defense balance in the A-Sun. Courtney Pigram is a terrific all-around guard, and is capable of carrying the Bucs. He had 29 points, 18 assists, and 8 rebounds, and 4 steals in the season finale. ETSU has a deep and talented frontcourt led by Brad Nuckles, a strong rebounder, and forwards Mike Smith and Andrew Reed.

has won seven of eight. They are the best shooting team in the league, both inside and outside the arc, and they also have the best defense in the Atlantic Sun. Justin Hare is a very good all-around performer, and was excellent in last year’s conference tournament. Boomer Herndon, a former Tennessee transfer, is one of the best post players in the conference. The Bruins are extremely deep and have lots of size. Lipscomb lost their final two games, but had won nine of twelve prior to that. They take care of the ball, and rebound well. The Bisons have the best perimeter group in the conference, with wing Eddie Ard leading the way. Brian Fisk and Trey Williams are both good all-around guards. They can distribute well, and also grab their share of rebounds.

Sleeper: Campbell lost six of their final nine, and has won only one game away from home all season. However, they have won two in a row and own a win over Belmont, and lost to Lipscomb by only four combined points. They also have one of the best players in the league in freshman Jonathan Rodriguez. He does everything well, and had 25 points and 17 rebounds in the season finale. Eric Smith is a good scoring guard. Also, look out for Mercer and their high-scoring backcourt of James Florence and Shaddean Aaron. They combine for over 35 points and 10 rebounds per game.

Prediction: While East Tennessee State won 16 of their 18 league games, they aren’t going to walk away with the automatic bid. They will have to get past either Lipscomb or Mercer in the semi-finals, and then they will likely have to face off against Belmont in the championship. The Bison might have the guards to knock off ETSU. However, the conference tourney is at East Tennessee State, meaning that the Bucs will have a big edge over any team they face. That will be the most important thing in ETSU getting to the NCAA Tournament.

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