Top to bottom, the Atlantic Sun was about as evenly matched as any conference in the country last season. North Florida won the regular season title, followed by a three-way tie for second, a two-way tie for fifth, and a two-way tie for seventh.
A wave of returning talent means this season should be another barn-burner for the conference. With tip-off just 64 days away, here’s where we stand in the Atlantic Sun:
2016-17 Atlantic Sun Preseason Power Rankings
1. North Florida
Two words: Dallas Moore. After leading the A-Sun in scoring and assists last season, Moore has established himself as the most dominant player in the conference. After briefly testing the waters of the NBA Draft, Moore decided to return to North Florida for his senior year.
The Ospreys will need players to step up following the graduations of Beau Beech, Demarcus Daniels and Trent Mackey, but there appears to be enough talent on this roster to fill these roles. Forward Chris Davenport, who averaged 12.3 PPG, 7.2 RPG and 1.9 BPG last year, also returns.
With a mid-major superstar in Moore at the helm, North Florida looks poised to win its third consecutive A-Sun regular season title.
2. Florida Gulf Coast
The reigning A-Sun Tournament champions return a slew of talent from last season, including their three leading scorers in Marc Eddy Norelia, Christian Terrell, and Zach Johnson.
Coach Joe Dooley will have plenty of depth to work with as his team lost only two players from last year’s team that trailed North Carolina by just one point at halftime in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. FGCU’s returning firepower, coupled with a deep bench, will give the Eagles a golden opportunity to go dancing again next March.
A pair of seniors will lead the way for the Highlanders this year, with guard Damon Lynn and forward Tim Coleman both coming off stellar campaigns last season. This one-two punch averaged a combined 32.1 points, 10.5 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and 3.1 steals per game last season.
The Highlanders will undoubtedly miss guard Ky Howard, who provided steady production alongside Lynn in the backcourt last season. Still, NJIT’s experience will play dividends as it attempts to navigate a difficult conference schedule.
4. Kennesaw State
The Owls lost their undisputed leader in Yonel Brown, who almost never came off the court, averaging 38.8 minutes per game. Brown’s departure means that the Owls will lean heavily on senior guard Kendrick Ray to be the offensive catalyst. Ray, who led the team in scoring last season, appears to be more than capable of being coach Al Skinner’s go-to guy.
Another key to the Owls’ success will be senior forward Aubrey Williams. If this team wants to compete for an A-Sun title, it will need a consistent No. 2 behind Ray. Williams, who averaged 8.3 ppg and 6.3 rpg last season, looks primed to step into a more prominent role in his senior season.
After an atrocious 4-16 start, Lipscomb turned it around toward the end of last season, notching at least one win against every team in the A-Sun except Kennesaw State.
The Bisons return their guard trio of J.C. Hampton, Nathan Moran, and Garrison Matthews that carried them last season. Also look for sophomore forward Eli Pepper to improve on an impressive freshman year in which he ranked in the top five in the A-Sun in blocks and rebounds.
Stetson’s young core gives it the potential for a breakout season. The Hatters bring back their entire roster that made it all the way to the A-Sun tournament championship last season.
Stetson is led by sophomore forward Derick Newton, who will look to build off a phenomenal freshman year in which he averaged 16.3 ppg and shot a staggering 47 percent from beyond the arc.
Backcourt production will be a struggle for Jacksonville following the graduation of Kori Babineaux. Babineaux led the Dolphins in scoring and assists last season, and it remains to be seen if anybody will step up to carry the load following his departure.
Right now it appears that backcourt duties will be shared by seniors Darien Fernandez and Josh Adeyeye, neither of whom jump off the board as the heir apparent to fill Babineaux’s giant shoes.
8. South Carolina Upstate
The Spartans finished at the bottom of the conference last season and have not shown any indications that this year will be different. Coach Eddie Payne struggled to figure out his rotation last season as 11 players averaged double-digit minutes, and no single player averaged more than 25 mpg.
Unless someone on the Spartans’ overcrowded bench can step up and have a breakout season, don’t expect much from USC Upstate this season.