College Basketball Preview: Atlantic Sun

By Jesse Kramer

Thanks to Florida Gulf Coast and “Dunk City”, the Atlantic Sun Conference has gained some extra publicity leading up to the 2013-14 season. Florida Gulf Coast is once again one of the nation’s better mid-major teams, as is Mercer, which the Eagles beat in the conference championship game last season.

A few other teams, such as USC Upstate, could make some noise, but ultimately this season should once again be a battle between FGCU and Mercer at the top.

 

The Favorites

1. Florida Gulf Coast

Fresh off a Sweet 16 appearance in its first-ever NCAA tournament, Florida Gulf Coast will be the team to beat in the Atlantic Sun this season. Despite losing leading scorer Sherwood Brown and their top two bench players in Christophe Varidel and Eddie Murray, the Eagles are still one of the nation’s top mid-majors.

Andy Enfield bolted after the Cinderella run for a better job at USC, but Florida Gulf Coast found an adequate replacement in Joe Dooley. Dooley, who was the head coach at Eastern Carolina from 1995-1999, has experienced loads of success as an assistant under Bill Self at Kansas for the last 10 years.

Rob Carr/Getty Images
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Returning in the backcourt are juniors Brett Comer and Bernard Thompson and sophomore Dajuan Graf. Both Comer and Thompson had phenomenal sophomore seasons. Comer ranked No. 2 nationally in assist rate and Thompson ranked No. 6 in steal percentage. Both are also very capable scorers. Thompson is the team’s top returning scorer with 14.3 points per game, and Comer averaged eight points.

Graf played only 13 minutes per game as a freshman, but he still had solid averages of 2.3 points and 1.4 assists.

The Eagles will also add Marquette transfer Jamail Jones, a 6’6″ guard. Jones appeared in 28 games for the Golden Eagles in 2011-12 and averaged 1.6 points and 1.3 rebounds.

In the frontcourt, Florida Gulf Coast boasts senior Chase Fieler and juniors Eric McKnight (pictured) and Filip Cvjeticanin. Fieler was the Eagles’ most efficient offensive player with 12.1 points per game while shooting 56.3% from the field and 38.2% on three-pointers. He is also the team’s top returning rebounder.

The Eagles also add Georgia Tech Nate Hicks to their frontcourt. A 6’10” center, Hicks averaged 1.1 points and 2.1 rebounds for the Yellow Jackets.

 

2. Mercer

Although the Eagles are the team to beat, Mercer is not far behind. Mercer, which beat out Florida Gulf Coast for the Atlantic Sun regular season title last season, returns four starters.

Langston Hall, who rivals Comer as the best point guard in the league, is the most notable returnee. Last season, he averaged 11.3 points and five dimes while shooting 36.2% from beyond the arc. His assist rate ranked No. 31 nationally. In the final six games of 2012-13, he recorded 14.2 points and 7.7 assists.

Sophomore Jibri Bryan and seniors Anthony White Jr. and Kevin Canevari will be Hall’s main counterparts in the backcourt. Playing through injuries, Bryan averaged 3.1 points per contest and made 15 of his 33 three-pointers.

The Bears’ frontcourt will be very deep and very talented. Jakob Gollon and Bud Thomas are a bit undersized at 6’6″, but they are still effective and versatile. Last season the two forwards combined for five assists and more than two steals per game.

6’11” Monty Brown, 6’10” Daniel Coursey, and 6’9″ T.J. Hallice anchor the post. Coursey was one of the Atlantic Sun’s most effective shot blockers last season with 1.3 swats per game and a block percentage that ranked No. 54 in the nation.

 

The Contenders

3. USC Upstate

USC Upstate struggled down the stretch last season and wound up in fourth place after looking like a title contender in January. However, the Spartans should be improved this year, returning all five starters.

Jeff Blake-US Presswire
Jeff Blake-US Presswire

Torrey Craig (pictured), one of the nation’s best mid-major prospects, is heading into a highly anticipated senior season. An Atlantic Sun Player of the Year frontrunner, Craig averaged 17.2 points and 6.9 rebounds while shooting a career-high 36.4% on three-pointers last season. He also had 10 games with at least 20 points. Ultimately, the Spartans’ level of achievement rests on his shoulders.

But the Spartans’ quest for the school’s first-ever NCAA tournament bid will not be a one-man show. USC Upstate returns starting point guard Ty Greene and his counterpart Mario Blessing, who combined 143 assists last season.

In the frontcourt, the Spartans bring back bruising, 6’8″ forward Ricardo Glenn, Jodd Maxey, and Babatunde Olumuyiwa. Glenn posted five double-doubles and led the team in field-goal percentage while Maxey was the defensive MVP with 1.1 steals and 1.6 blocks per game.

 

4. Jacksonville

It’s tough to know what to make of Jacksonville this season. The Dolphins graduated starting point guard Russell Powell and starting forward Glenn Powell. Then, third-leading scorer Dylan Fritsch and backup point guard Evin Graham, who appeared to be Russell’s future replacement, left the program. All of this makes it seem like Jacksonville should be heading for the bottom tier of the league, but it has the pieces to remain competitive.

The Dolphins return their two leading scorers, guards Keith McDougald and Jarvis Haywood. The two guards produced a combined 24.6 points per game, and McDougald was the team’s best three-point shooter at 36.3%. They also add junior college transfer Vince Martin, who averaged 16.9 points and 7.3 assists at Young Harris College in Georgia.

Returning forwards Kordario Fleming and Javon Dawson are talented enough to fill the void left by Glenn Powell, but the addition of South Carolina transfer RJ Slawson will give them a big boost. As a graduate student, he is eligible immediately.

Over the past two seasons as a Gamecock, Slawson logged 16.9 minutes per game and tallied 4.3 points and 3.6 rebounds per contest. His multiple years of SEC experience will be prized in the Atlantic Sun.

 

The Sleepers

5. Stetson

It will be tough for Stetson to repeat last year’s success, when the Hatters finished third in the conference. The Hatters graduated a pair of starters in Adam Pegg and Joel Naburgs, and they lost a third when Chris Perez transferred to Canisius. They also have to deal with a coaching change, as Casey Alexander took the Lipscomb head coaching position. Stetson Athletic Director Jeff Altier hired former Florida State assistant Corey Williams as his replacement.

Fortunately, Stetson still has a veteran group that will be capable of winning. The two returning starters, both seniors, are guard Aaron Graham and forward Willie Green. Graham is the team’s leading returning scorer with 11.2 points per game, and Green led them with 6.6 boards and 1.3 blocks per game while chipping in 8.3 points.

Senior Hunter Miller is the likely replacement for Naburgs at point guard, and he should be ready after starting 23 times last year and averaging 2.8 dimes per game.

The Hatters also add Louisiana-Lafayette transfer Raymone Andrews to their backcourt. Andrews was not an efficient scorer with 36.9% field-goal shooting, but he still averaged 6.3 points and 2.2 assists and will be a veteran presence.

7-foot Kyle Sikora, an Oakland transfer, will add some much-needed size down low.

 

6. Kennesaw State

Kennesaw State was one of the nation’s worst squads last season, winning only three games. The Owls’ only nonconference win came in overtime against South Carolina State (which finished the year 6-24). Somehow, in league play, they defeated Mercer and Jacksonville, two of the league’s better teams.

But I see some hope for the Owls in the 2013-14 season. Although two starters, and arguably their two most talented players, exhausted their eligibility, a big group of transfers along with a few, key returnees could launch them into the top half of the conference.

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Willy Kouassi (pictured) and Bernard Morena, a pair of Auburn transfers, are eligible in the frontcourt after redshirting last season, as is Miami-Ohio transfer Drew McGhee. In 25 games with the Tigers, Kouassi averaged 1.6 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 0.6 blocks. McGhee averaged 5.2 points and 2.3 boards each of the last two seasons at Miami, and as a sophomore he shot nearly 60% from the field.

Junior college transfer Orlando Coleman, who averaged 18.7 points and 11.6 rebounds at Alabama Southern Community College, could also make an immediate impact in the Owls’ frontcourt.

Chemistry could be an issue with eight new players on the team, but if they start gelling by January, they could pull some surprises in conference play.

 

The Rest

7. East Tennessee State

East Tennessee State is an enigma. Leading scorer Jarvis Jones graduated, and three other players left the program: John Walton, who started 17 of 32 games, and role players Mario Stamaglia and Yunio Barrueta. But the Buccaneers still have a good core to build on this season.

Lester Wilson, who averaged 13 points and 5.3 rebounds as a freshman last year, should now be one of the Atlantic Sun’s top scorers. He will be supported by forwards Hunter Harris and Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard and guards Petey McCalin and Rashawn Rembert.

The Buccaneers also add Providence transfer Ron Giplaye.

 

8. Northern Kentucky

Northern Kentucky’s introduction to Division I last season was better than expected. The Norse finished 9-9 in conference play, tying USC Upstate and Jacksonville for fourth place, but things will get tougher after they graduated three starters.

The Norse will remain competitive with Chad Jackson, Tyler White, and Todd Johnson leading the frontcourt, and the return of center Jalen Billups, who played only seven games due to a medical condition, will be huge.

 

9. Lipscomb

Life will not be easy in Casey Alexander’s first year with Lipscomb. The Bisons lost their two leading scorers, Deonte Alexander and Stephen Hurt, from last year’s team that finished 12-18, although they do return their other three starters.

Martin Smith, Malcolm Smith, and Khion Sankey produced well on paper last season, but now we’ll see if they have what it takes to produce wins.

Two players to keep an eye on are sophomore J.J. Butler and redshirt freshman J.C. Hampton. Butler shot an atrocious 22.9% from the field but led bench players with 1.7 assists per game. Hampton wound up redshirting after playing in four games, but in those four games he averaged 6.3 points and shot 38.5% from beyond the arc.

 

10. North Florida

North Florida is not in great shape for the coming season. For starters, the Ospreys graduated their two best players, Parker Smith and Will Wilson. Starting forward David Jeune and sixth man Andy Diaz also graduated.

Although the Ospreys return a potential Atlantic Sun first teamer in Travis Wallace, they do not have much else to offer. They do not have a clear-cut point guard, and that job could fall to freshmen Dallas Moore and Sean Brennan or junior college transfer Devin Wilson.

 

Atlantic Sun Player of the Year

Torrey Craig, USC Upstate

Atlantic Sun Defensive Player of the Year

Bernard Thompson, Florida Gulf Coast

Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year

Bernard Morena, Kennesaw State

Atlantic Sun All-Conference Team

Brett Comer, Florida Gulf Coast

Langston Hall, Mercer

Torrey Craig, USC Upstate

Chase Fieler, Florida Gulf Coast

Ricardo Glenn, USC Upstate

Author: Jesse Kramer

Jesse Kramer is the founder of The Catch and Shoot. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He has had work featured on SI.com, College Insider, The Comeback/Awful Announcing, and 247Sports.

2 Replies to “College Basketball Preview: Atlantic Sun”

  1. The rankings seem fair to me for the most part. I just don’t see how Stetson is so high and how North Florida is so low. UNF brought in one of the most highly recruited freshmen in the A-Sun, a couple JUCOs and return some talented sophomores to go along with an A-Sun first team caliber performer in Travis Wallace.

    A few notes and thoughts…Ron Giplaye will not be playing for ETSU due to heart surgery. USC Upstate isn’t returning Adrian Rodgers. R.J. Slawson has not proven he can produce consistently even against non-SEC competition.

    Nate Rucker could be in the newcomer of the year race and wasn’t mentioned.

  2. I agree with Jon’s opinion of your rankings. Your listing matches up pretty well with the conference’s preseason media and coaches rankins; except for with UNF and Kennesaw State. It’s obvious that both schools are in rebuilding periods, but there is no way Kennesaw State goes from being one of the worst schools in the country to jumping over programs like ETSU and UNF (who both still have players that have been to an A-Sun championship game still on their roster) in one season. Plus, UNF may have lost some good players, but in terms of potential their roster may be stronger. Check out my opinion of how their team shapes up this season http://swoophoops.com/2013/09/27/predicting-unfs-2013-2014-lineup/

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