The amazing Atlantic Sun Conference (hey, I love it)

21 Oct

Ian Clark leads the way for Belmont, in the final season in the Atlantic Sun. The Bruins have dominated the conference for years. (PHOTO: Belmont University)w

By Justin Young
National Hoops Report

I have an admission. I love the Atlantic Sun conference.

Always have.

There is something about the league that just strikes me as awesome. Maybe it is because I started my hoops career long ago at Kennesaw State. I as the associate Sports Information Director for the Owls when the school was in the Division II ranks.

Maybe it is because when I ran my Georgia Hoops Recruiting Service, this league was dialed into my phone. Perfectly alright with me. The coaches in this league work hard, believe that.

Maybe it is because of the small gyms and passionate fan bases. Maybe because it is a bunch of players playing just to play and coaches just coaching.

I am not exactly sure what it is exactly but I love it. I won’t apologize for writing about teams in the league here at the NHR more than I probably should.

That said, here’s what I think I think about the 2011-2012 season in the Atlantic Sun.

  • Belmont was 19-1 last year in conference. Read that again…19-1! No Division I basketball team had a better year in conference play than Rick Byrd’s team. Having the same kind of success isn’t out the picture this season, either. Ian Clark (pictured above) and Mick Hedgepeth are unanimous choices on the preseason All-Conference team. They are two of the four returning starters for Byrd. This is the last year for Belmont in the Atlantic Sun before leaving for the Ohio Valley Conference. Think the Bruins want to leave with another banner? Of course they do.
  • Jacksonville is the only team that I can see pushing Belmont off the top. Cliff Warren, a dandy coach and a gem of a human being, has this program winning. The Dolphins won 20 games for the second year in a row, a feat that hasn’t been done at JU since 1974. Moreover, his team wins in the NIT and the CIT. There is a value to that. Delwan Graham, a LSU transfer last year, is one of the toughest match-ups in the A-Sun. Ask any coach in the league. Russell Powell anchors a good group of guards.
  • Speaking of JU…the crosstown rivalry with North Florida is growing. Matt Driscoll is turning the UNF program around. The Osprey finished the season with a 5-1 record over the last six games and went to the finals of the A-Sun tournament. Four starters are back from that team. They will need the fire power. Check out this non-conference slate: Alabama, Florida, Miami, Ohio State, Kansas State, Auburn and Virginia Tech. Oh, and guess what? All road games.
  • Speaking of crosstown rivalries…shame to see Belmont leave the league. Who is Lipscomb going to pack the gym against in Nashville now? The Nashville teams have a great inner-city battle royale every year. Nothing better in the league. If you have a chance to catch this match-up, one last time in league play this year, go.
  • Want to know who one of the biggest sleepers is in the low-major ranks in the Southeast? I’m sure you are dying to know. How about Mercer’s Langston Hall. The 6-foot-4 point guard averaged under 10 points and four assists a game as a freshman last year. He’s the go-to guy in every respect this year for Bob Hoffman. Great natural talent, Hall is.
  • With so many new teams in the league, there always seems to be a sleeping giant. Talk to anyone in the Southeast and they will tell you Kennesaw State is because of the recruiting ground in Atlanta, facility, huge enrollment and overall student life. But not many talk about Florida Gulf Coast. Big mistake. HUGE sleeper school. Tucked away in Fort Meyers, Florida, the school has a great venue for hoops and a great coach in Andy Enfield. The former Florida State and NBA assistant is as good of a teacher of the game as you’ll find. Five years from now, FGCU will be in the top three of the league. Bank on it. Heck, maybe sooner.
  • Did you know that Kennesaw State had the best scorer in the league last year in Markeith Cummings (18.3 a game) and best rebounder in the league in Ladaris Green (8.5 a game). Both of these guys are back for first-year coach Lewis Preston. That’s the good news. The bad? Not much else is around the two Savannah prep stars. They have star power, no doubt, but do they have winning power? That’s the first quest for Preston in year one.
  • Not sure if a team lost more than Lipscomb did from last year. Adnan Hodzic, Josh Slater and Brandon Brown are a tough trio to replace.

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