Friday, October 26, 2007

Atlantic Sun preview

Atlantic Sun

  1. Belmont – The Bruins have won the conference tournament back-to-back years and this season could be three in a row. Rick Byrd returns the conference's most accomplished player in Ryan Hare and a program that knows what it takes to get to the Big Dance.
  2. Jacksonville – Now in his third year of the program, skipper Cliff Warren might just have his most complete and deepest team since taking over the Dolphins. Three starters return, including the best pure point guard in the conference in Ben Smith. Don't be surprised to see the Dolphins make a run for the tournament.
  3. Mercer – Four starters return for Mark Slonaker and the conference's most deadly scoring duos in James Florence, a freshman from Marietta's Wheeler High School who led the league in scoring, and senior Shaddean Aaron, who averaged a hair under 16 points a game.
  4. Lipscomb – The Buffaloes lost senior leadership and nearly 25 points a game from the backcourt but return one of the best overall players in the league in Eddie Ard. Finding the next go-to guy is the key.
  5. East Tennessee State – It is a new look team but the pieces of the puzzle are still there, especially with Courtney Pigram, a junior guard from Memphis, returning. Defensively, the Bucs will scrap and use its speed in the backcourt.
  6. Campbell – The Camels play at a frantic pace on both ends of the floor and have super sophomore Jonathan Rodriguez back for what should be a great sequel. He was first in the league in rebounding and third overall in scoring as a rookie.
  7. Kennesaw State – Tony Ingle have as good of a 1-2 punch in the league as anyone in Ronell Wooten and Shaun Stegall. Finding depth and an improved shooting touch will help the Owls fly deeper into the post-season this year.
  8. Gardner-Webb – The Bulldogs are hoping to look up after a disappointing nine win season last year. The look of the team has changed quite a bit and the roster is filled with shooters and wings.
  9. Stetson – Nearly the entire team returns this season for Derek Waugh and that is something to hang their hat (every pun intended) on. Garfield Blair, a 6-5 junior, is the top returning player for the Hatters.
  10. USC Upstate – Joining the conference and Division I for the first time, the Spartans have a good foundation to build on in Luke Payne, son of head coach Eddie Payne, and Daniel Quinlan, one of the best shooters in the league.
  11. North Florida – After a three win season last year, there is only one way to go and that is up. Four starters return to the Osprey and a deep recruiting class.
  12. Florida Gulf Coast – Coming off a 27-win season at the Division II independent last year, the Eagles come into the first year of Division I play. Who really knows what to expect in the rookie year.

Player of the Year

Justin Hare, Belmont

The 6-2 senior guard has been one of the most consistent scorers in the conference for the last three years. He and his Belmont team have a bullseye on their back and like so many times before, the Tennessee native has no problem stepping up to the challenge.

Preseason All-Conference:

James Florence, Mercer, Soph., Guard

Ronell Wooten, Kennesaw State, Sr., Forward

Jonathan Rodriguez, Campbell, Soph., Forward

Justin Hare, Belmont, Sr., Guard

Courtney Pigram, East Tennessee State, Jr., Guard

Florence, the top scorer from the Atlantic Sun last year, is back for more. He could post equally impressive numbers again as a sophomore. Florence averaged 19.3 points a contest. Wooten, one of the most explosive players in the conference, is also one of the most underrated players in the Southeast. Rodriguez is an absolute stat-stuffer and the most difficult player to defend. Hare, our pick for Player of the Year, is one of the more recognizable players from the conference nationally thanks to his great post-season play. Pigram, another Player of the Year candidate, is quick and score in a hurry.

Preseason All-Freshmen Team

Ayron Hardy, Jacksonville

Brandon Brown, Lipscomb

Jose Cami, Campbell

Isiah Brown, East Tennessee State

Justin Cecil, North Florida

NCAA tournament team


Top NBA prospect

Jonathan Rodriguez, Campbell

After a tremendous freshman year where he averaged 17.2 points (third in the conference), 9.4 rebounds (tops in the conference), three assists (top 15 in the conference) and nearly a block a game (top 15 in the conference), Rodriguez is coming into the season as the most complete player in the league. The 6-foot-5 forward is the toughest player to guard in the Atlantic Sun.

Georgia connection

Michael Lusk, Lipscomb (North Cobb)

Mike Dejworek, Belmont (Mount Pisgah)

Junard Hartley, Campbell (Whitefield Academy)

Jesse Wheeler, Gardner-Webb (Duluth)

Dillion Boggs, Gardner-Webb (Pope)

Rory Spencer, USC-Upstate (Douglass/Maine Central)

Ben Smith, Jacksonville (Dublin)

Lehmon Colbert, Jacksonville (Crawford County)

Alex Cornett, Kennesaw State (North Atlanta)

Jeff Croft, Kennesaw State (Woodland)

Ryan Daugherty, Kennesaw State (Marietta)

Keonte Keith, Kennesaw State (Jefferson)

Reggie King, Kennesaw State (Jones County)

Kelvin McConnell, Kennesaw State (Whitefield Academy)

J.D. Pollock, Kennesaw State (Lassister)

Shuan Stegall, Kennesaw State (Redan)

Jonathan Whipple, Kennesaw State (Wilkinson County)

Ronell Wooten, Kennesaw State (Statesboro)

James Florence, Mercer (Wheeler)

BeJay Corley, Mercer (Wheeler)

Brian Mills, Mercer (Chapel Hill)

Brian Pfohl, Mercer (Pace Academy)

Daniel Emerson, Mercer (Norcross)

Kris Thomas, Stetson (Dunwoody)

Germaine Sparks, North Florida (Liberty County)