As we enter the home stretch in conference play everybody is going to be looking for this year's Florida Gulf Coast. That's why we've put together "Cinderella Watch" to profile all the mid-major teams you should know before heading into March.
Atlantic Sun Conference
Overall Record: 17-5
Conference Record: 8-1
Key Wins: vs Seton Hall (110 RPI), at Ole Miss (57)
Worst Loss: at Evansville (215)
Average RPI Win: 185
Average RPI Loss: 111
NCAA Tournament History: 2 Appearances (1981,1985), 0-2 all-time
Hailing from the same conference as the 'Dunk City' Florida Gulf Coast Eagles, Mercer is looking far and beyond the best team in the Atlantic Sun. And this is the year for the Bears.
Before conference action even started, the Bears put up a slew of impressive performances. To start this season they took a now nationally ranked Texas team to the final minutes, before eventually losing 76-73. Just a week later, Langston Hall lead Mercer to a 77-74 win over Seton Hall in a double OT classic. Hall's heroics continued as the Bears went to Ole Miss in late December and took home a win courtesy of the senior guard's three point buzzer beater.
In A-Sun play, the Bears are 8-1 and winners of their last seven contests. In one of their most anticipated games of the season, they took it to FGCU, defeating the darlings of last season's March Madness, 68-55. They weren't scared to play a fast paced game, and even outscored 'Dunk City' in the fast break.
Key Player: Langston Hall
All five starters are seniors looking to make their mark felt before they leave and Mercer runs to the Southern Conference. Heading the veteran group is one of the must underrated players in mid-major basketball: Langston Hall.
Hall knocks in 40 percent of 3-pointers while averaging just under 15 points a game. When the defense is making him a focus, the Atlanta native has no trouble facilitating the ball - his 132 assists leads the A-Sun and 2.6 assists/turnover margin is 2nd. The senior posses a 'clutch gene' has no problem taking over the game for the Bears.
Why they can succeed in March
Last season, one game is what stood between Mercer replacing FGCU in March Madness. The Bears took home the A-Sun regular season crown, going 14-4, but fell to the Eagles in the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship. FGCU hosts Mercer on February 21, on ESPNU, and don't be surprised if they meet again in the postseason.
"It was definitely difficult to watch, but it kinda leaves that pit in your stomach, that chip on your shoulder, that we know we gotta come back with," Jakob Gollon said in the Macon Telegraph. "Like I said, we owe them, man. They’ve had our number the last two years in tournament time."
Hall might be the headliner for Mercer but no doubt their consistency is what makes them such a scary threat come March. Daniel Coursey is efficient down low and can hold his own against the best big men the A-Sun has offer. If Bud Thomas is firing on all cylinders, which he has been since taking off his Rip Hamilton esque mask, then it's pick your poison with the Bears.
Mercer currently sits at a No. 14 seed, up against No. 3 Iowa State, in Chris Dobbertean's latest Bracketology. With power inside, red hot shooters from beyond the arc, and most of all senior experience, don't be surprised if the Bears be this year's Florida Gulf Coast.
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