Conference Preview: Atlantic Sun

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Lipscomb captured the automatic bid out of the Atlantic Sun last season, losing by 18 points as a 15 seed to North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.  With all five starters back, the Bisons (who also swept their rivals from Belmont last season) are the pick to return to the Big Dance, though they should get some challenges.  North Florida also returns all five starters, and NJIT has four guys back including big man Abdul Lewis.  The biggest threat, however, may come from one of the league’s two newest members, Liberty, a team that won 22 games in the Big South before basically trading conference spots with South Carolina Upstate in the offseason.  The other new member of the league is North Alabama, as the Lions begin their four year transition to full D1 membership.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Lipscomb – The Bisons won 23 games, including the conference tournament title and advanced to the NCAA Tournament last season. All five starters from that team, led by conference tournament MVP Garrison Matthews, are back.  A regular season conference title should be in the works this year as well.
  2. Liberty – The Flames won 22 games in the Big South conference last season and will look to make an immediate impact in the A-Sun with four starters back, led by forward Scottie James. If not for their unfamiliarity with their new conference foes, this team might have been the pick to win the league.
  3. North Florida – The Ospreys figure to be right in the hunt for the A-Sun title with all five starters plus their top reserve player returning. Five of those six averaged double figures in scoring last year, with the sixth, forward Wajid Aminu, just missing out at 9.9 per game.
  4. NJIT – The Highlanders return four starters from a team that finished 14-16 overall last year, led by potential NBA prospect Abdul Lewis, who actually tested the draft waters before returning to school. Leading scorer Anthony Tarke transferred to UTEP after the season or this team would be picked even higher.
  5. Florida Golf Coast – Michael Fly takes over as head coach after Joe Dooley moved on to East Carolina. With only one starter back, this looks like a rebuilding season, but keep an eye on UNLV transfer Troy Baxter, who could have a huge season.
  6. Jacksonville – The Dolphins return their top two players from last season, forward Jace Hogan and guard/conference Rookie of the Year JD Notae. They need to seriously find a way to shoot free throws better, as they converted under 66% from the charity stripe last year.
  7. Kennesaw State – Al Skinner’s team lost 20 games last season, and only 2 starters return from that squad. The one interesting player to keep an eye on will be freshman Pietro Agostini, a 6-9 forward from Italy.
  8. Stetson – With only one starter back from a 20-loss team, this could be another tough year in DeLand. The Hatters hope to get more production from the conference’s tallest player, 7-2 Adam Webb.
  9. North Alabama* – The Lions enter their first of four transitional years at the Division I level, and only return two starters from last year’s team that was barely above .500 at Division II. Expect the team to take some lumps in year one.

*North Alabama is not eligible for the NCAA tournament as a first year transitional school.

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