2013-14 Mid-Major Conference Preview: Atlantic Sun Conference

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FGCU won the A-Sun postseason and made it to the Sweet Sixteen, but who is nipping at their heels?

FGCU captured a Sweet Sixteen appearance, and America's hearts, but can they pass Mercer and win the A-Sun regular season crown? The Bears are looking to defend the title before they leave for the Southern Conference. ETSU will also be joining Mercer in the SoCon at the end of this season.

1. Florida Gulf Coast Eagles

Last Year: 26-11 (13-5), 2nd In A-Sun, A-Sun Postseason Champs, NCAA Sweet Sixteen

Departures: Sherwood Brown (15.5 ppg), Christophe Varidel (Transfer, 6.2 ppg), Leonard Livingston (TR, 1.6 ppg), Alex Blessig (TR, 0.8 ppg)

Key Returners: Brett Comer (8 ppg), Bernard Thompson (14.3 ppg), Chase Fieler (12.1 ppg)

FGCU will have a target on their back this year. They will no longer by taking anyone by surprise. After stunning America by making it to the Sweet Sixteen, Andy Enfield left for USC but the Eagles brought in Kansas assistant Joe Dooley. He will have four returning starters to work with, including A-Sun Defensive Player of the Year Bernard Thompson. Although FGCU will experience a lack of guard depth, some transfers (Jamail Jones & Nate Hicks) becoming available gives them a very strong front court. Brett Comer is now a veteran point guard with major passing ability. Assuming no one transfers, Chase Fieler will be the only one departing after this season. The Eagles are set up for sustained success.

2. Mercer Bears

Last Year: 24-12 (14-4), 1st in A-Sun, NIT 2nd Round

Departures: Chris Smith (2.3 ppg), Travis Smith (13.9 ppg), Dylan Poston (TR, 1.4 ppg)

Key Returners: Langston Hall (11.3 ppg), Bud Thomas (7.6 ppg), Jakob Gollon (8.6 ppg)

Yes, Mercer lost leading scorer and three point gunner Travis Smith, but the Bears were close to keeping FGCU out of March Madness and the record books. They were disappointed with the A-Sun Championship loss to the Eagles so look for them to be hungry for revenge in their last season in the A-Sun. The Bears will have a strong front court, headed by Jakob Gollon and Bud Thomas. And guard Langston Hall is one of the best passing guards in the league. Bob Hoffman and co aren't taking it this easy this year; they will open the season at Texas and then take on Seton Hall two games later. In December, the Bears will battle the Sooners in Norman.

3. USC Upstate Spartans

Last Year: 16-17 (9-9), 5th in A-Sun, Lost in A-Sun Semifinals

Departures: Adrian Rodgers (TR, 8.7 ppg), Bruce Haynes (TR, 2.3 ppg), Jeremy Ford (TR, 0.5 ppg), Rob Elam (.8 ppg), Dee Washington (TR)

Key Returners: Torrey Craig (17.2 ppg), Ty Greene (12.6 ppg), Ricardo Glenn (10.5 ppg)

The Spartans have arguably the best player in the A-Sun. Torrey Craig has averaged over 14 ppg in all three seasons with USC Upstate. A little bigger than Craig, is forward Jodd Maxey who joins Ricardo Glenn in a strong front court. Junior guard Ty Greene can catch fire as fast as anyone in college basketball. The Spartans have scorers all over the floor. With such a potent offense, all USC Upstate needs in order to rise to the very top of the A-Sun is limited turnovers and a consistent defense. The Spartans open the season at Virginia Tech, and then travel to Knoxville to take on a a Vols team that lost to Mercer in the 1st round of the NIT.

4. Jacksonville Dolphins

Last Year: 14-18 (9-9), 4th in A-Sun, lost in A-Sun quarterfinals

Departures: Dylan Fritsch (TR, 9.9 ppg), Evin Graham (TR, 3.1 ppg), Glen Powell (9.1 ppg)

Key Returners: Keith McDougald (13.1 ppg), Jarvis Haywood (11.5 ppg),

The Dolphins went .500 in conference play last year, led by leading scorer Keith McDougald. In addition, A-Sun All Freshman Jarvis Haywood contributed 11.5 a game, and 4.3 rebounds. They both return for Jacksonville however they do lose, Glen Powell, who started all 32 games for the Dolphins. South Carolina transfer R.J. Slawson can play immediately and help the Dolphins bolster their frontcourt. They will retain a strong backcourt, but they lose a lot in the front court. Look for incoming freshman Joshua Murray and Jarius Holder to have an immediate impact.

5. North Florida Ospreys

Last Year: 13-19 (8-10) 8th in A-Sun

Departures: Parker Smith (16.3 ppg), Jerron Granberry (TR, 9.2 ppg), Fred Landers (TR), Cameron Naylor (TR, 1.5 ppg), Ray Rodriguez (TR, 2.4 ppg), Andy Diaz (6.9 ppg), David Jeune (3.7 ppg), Will Wilson (3.7 ppg)

Key Returners: Travis Wallace (14.2 ppg), Beau Beech (7.9 ppg), Charles McRoy (6.1 ppg)

The Ospreys lost a lot this offseason, whether it be seniors leaving or players transferring. They return two starters, Travis Wallace and Beau Beech. The latter of whom was an A-Sun All Freshman last year and contributed all around for UNF; Beach ranked 2nd on the team in three pointers and was third in rebounding. He also snagged 16 blocks and 39 assists on the season. Wallace was a preseason A-Sun all team selection. Otherwise, the Ospreys will see a whole new back court this season, with freshman, and two time all state player Dallas Moore possibly having a big role.

6. East Tennessee State Buccaneers

Last Year: 10-22 (8-10) 7th in A-Sun

Departures: Jarvis Jones (16.0 ppg), Marcus Dubose (15.5 ppg), Sheldon Cooley (9.5 ppg), Mario Stramaglia (TR, 3.7 ppg), Yunio Barrueta (TR, 2.4 ppg), John Walton (5.7 ppg)

Key Returners: Lester Wilson (13.0 ppg), Hunter Harris (8.1 ppg), Rashawn Rembert (8.9 ppg), Lukas Poderis

Sheldon Cooley and Marcus Dubose were dismissed from the team early last season, and Lester Wilson became the centerpiece for the Bucs. The A-Sun all freshman has the handling ability of a guard, and the inside skills of a forward, making him a scary opponent. With Hunter Harris returning, East Tennessee maintains strength on the glass and  veteran influence. Thankfully junior Ron Giplaye had successful cardiac surgery and is expected to make a full recovery. With four starters returning, the Bucs can improve on their sub .500 conference mark. Lukas Poderis, who was injured early last year, will return and is one of the ASun's most intimidating presences in the post.

7. Stetson Hatters

Last Year: 15-16 (11-7), 3rd in A-Sun, Loss in A-Sun semi finals

Departures: Joel Naburgs (10.1 ppg), Liam McInerny (2.5 ppg), J.R Weston (.2 ppg), Adam Pegg (15.7 ppg), Chris Perez (TR,15.1 ppg), Dennis Diaz (TR, 1.6 ppg), Logan Irwin (TR, 5.9 ppg)

Key Returners: Aaron Graham (11.2 ppg), Willie Green (8.3 ppg), Brian Pegg (2.5 ppg)

Led by Adam Pegg, the Hatters finished 3rd in the A-Sun with an 11-7 conference record. Both Pegg and Joel Naburgs graduated while Chris Perez transferred. Stetson clearly lost a lot of talent but new under the helm is Corey Williams, a former Florida State assistant. While with the Seminoles, they captured their first ACC basketball title and were in the NCAA Tournament four straight years. While he is certainly a great hire, Williams is headed to a tough situation. Pegg was a huge presence inside and Perez had great shot selection. Now, it will be up to Aaron Graham and Willie Green. Brian Pegg's return from injury/red shirt will also play a huge role in the Hatters success. Louisiana transfer Raymone Andrews will also play a key roll in Williams' first year.

8. Lipscomb Bison

Last Year: 12-18 (7-11) 9th in A-Sun

Departures: Deonte Alexander (13.7 ppg), Stephen Hurt (TR, 11.5 ppg), Oscar Garcia (TR, 2.0 ppg), John Ross Glover (TR, 3.9 ppg)

Key Returners: Khion Sankey (8.3 ppg), Malcolm Smith (11.1 ppg), Martin Smith (11.2 ppg)

Lipscomb, who were at the bottom of the A-Sun last season, were the only team to defeat FGCU twice. That is no mistake. The lights are looking brighter for the Bison, who return three starters including guard Khion Sankey. Sankey, at 6-5, is one of the best rebounding guards, averaging 7 boards a game. Martin Smith, who poured in 30 points in Lipscomb's 2nd win over FGCU, started all 30 games last season and brings back veteran influence. Along with his twin brother Malcolm, the two will provide a strong, but short, frontcourt.

9. Northern Kentucky Norse

Last Year: 11-16 (9-9), 6th in A-Sun

Departures: Ethan Faulkner (6.6 ppg), Ernest Watson (6.2 ppg), John Staley (TR, 1.2 ppg), Nate Snodgrass (TR, 3.1 ppg), Justin Rossi (TR, 1.0), Bill Pecora (TR, 0.0 ppg), Jacob Rossi (TR)

Key Returners: Jalen Billups (10.3 ppg), Chad Jackson (10.1 ppg RS)

Sophomore Jalen Billups was a man inside for Northern Kentucky last season. He averaged over 10 points and 5 rebounds in only 19 minute of playing time. With Ernest Watson gone, expect Billups to step into a bigger role after missing his last 19 games last season. Chad Jackson will be redshirted this season. It won't start easy for UNK. The Norse will start off the season with two tough road games, first in West Lafayette against Purdue and then in Rupp Arena against Kentucky.

10. Kennesaw State Owls

Last Year: 3-27 (2-16), 10th in A-Sun

Departures: Markeith Cummings (16.5 ppg), Aaron Anderson (9.6 ppg), Brandon Dawson (TR, 3.5 ppg),

Key Returners: Delbert Love (12.2 ppg), Andrew Osemhen (3.1 ppg), Myles Hamilton (5.8 ppg)

The Owls have six wins over the last two seasons. FGCU equaled that amount in the month of January last season. Two of the three Owls' leading scorers, Markeith Cummings and Aaron Anderson, are both gone. Anderson, who started all 30 games, also snagged nine rebounds a game for Kennesaw State. While junior guard Delbert Love won't be able to replace the rebounding of Anderson, he will have a chance to improve upon his 12.2 ppg average. While forward Andrew Osemhen started 25 games for the Owls last season, more front court depth will spread around the minutes. Auburn transfer Willy Kouassi was a highly touted recruit who will play a big role after sitting last season. While the Owls' aren't the best the A-Sun has to offer, it's looking brighter in Kennesaw.

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