The Atlantic Sun has a knack for making headlines in March. In 2013 and 2014, the conference was home to teams that pulled off major upsets in the NCAA Tournament. Florida Gulf Coast took down Georgetown and San Diego State to become the first 15 seed to ever reach the Sweet 16. A year later, Mercer knocked off Duke in the round of 64.
The conference has seen a shakeup since then (really, what conference hasn’t?). Mercer has left the conference along with Northern Kentucky and East Tennessee State, while NJIT has stepped in to fill the void. Florida Gulf Coast has been running the show for the past couple years, and for now, it looks like the Eagles will stay on top.
Atlantic Sun Preseason Power Rankings:
1. Florida Gulf Coast Eagles:
Coming off a second-straight trip to the big dance, Florida Gulf Coast should remain the team to beat in the Atlantic Sun. But the offseason wasn’t kind to the Eagles. Big men Marc-Eddy Norelia and Demetris Morant both graduated. Forward and notorious shot-clock breaker Rayjon Tucker transferred from the university, along with point guard Reggie Reed and big man Kevin Mickle. Despite their losses, the Eagles are still No. 1, thanks to their back-to-back conference titles and, more importantly, returning stars Brandon Goodwin, Zach Johnson, and Christian Terrell.
2. Lipscomb Bison:
The Bison were the surprise team of 2017 in the A-Sun, finishing the regular season with an 11-3 conference record and a 20-win season for the first time in over a decade. Unfortunately for the Bison, last year’s senior leader Cam Miller is gone. Fortunately for the Bison, their three-point marksman Nathan Moran will return along with all but one of last year’s starting five. The team shot its way to a number of impressive victories last year, including a win over FGCU in Fort Myers, and they will be one of the top dogs in the conference coming into next season. A big component to the Bison’s potential success is filling up their often-empty 5,000-seat home gym at Allen Arena.
3. Stetson Hatters:
That’s right, this is the year that Stetson finally competes and becomes a force to be reckoned with in the A-Sun. The Hatters have been a doormat for the last few years in the league, but they made it to the conference championship game two years ago, and took that game to overtime before losing to FGCU on the last play. Then in last year’s conference opener against FGCU, they lost by one point in another wild game. That seemed to be the type of loss that derailed the rest of the season for the Hatters. Meanwhile a win could have been the start of a real run. This year, Stetson should be in great shape, but will have to deal with the loss of leading scorer Derick Newton. Nevertheless, the Hatters may be a team on the rise.
It seems that the Spartans are still trying to move past the Ty Greene era. He was a transcendent player that made his team a conference championship contender each year, and the program obviously suffered after he graduated. Nevertheless, last year was definitely a step forward. The Spartans finished with a .500 record in the conference and have plenty of returning players. However, they will no longer have their big man Michael Buchanan, so players like Mike Cunningham and Malik Moore will need to step up just for Upstate to keep pace with last year’s team.
5. NJIT Highlanders:
Two years ago, the newcomers to the A-Sun finished the regular season as the 2 seed in the conference tournament, but that ended in an upset loss to 7 seed Stetson. Last season was a poor one for NJIT, and the Highlanders have also lost their star player, Damon Lynn. That said, the Highlanders still have a couple of the core players from their 2015-16 campaign, and graduating seniors did not decimate their roster quite as much as the three teams below NJIT.
Beau Beech, Demarcus Daniels, and Trent Mackey graduated two years ago after having two straight finishes near the top of the conference standings. That hurt the Ospreys a lot, as they struggled to stay near .500 for most of last season, and didn’t display the dominance they usually did in conference play. Next year they will also lose back-to-back Atlantic Sun Player of the year Dallas Moore. Last season, UNF took a step back, and their record likely does not improve this year after losing one of the best players to have ever put on the Osprey uniform.
The Dolphins used 11 players for most of their games last season and seven of them were seniors. That presents a problem for this year. The Dolphins will rely on newcomers and young talent a lot this season. They are still one of the bottom-tier teams in the league, even if the new talent performs as well as the senior leaders from last season, which is unlikely.
8. Kennesaw State Owls:
The impact that Kendrick Ray had on the Kennesaw State basketball team during his career cannot be understated. He put the team on his back the last couple seasons, which was only good enough to get the Owls to the 5 seed in the conference tournament. Ray was a great player, but not great enough to make the Owls a competitive team. Now he’s gone, and with him goes any hope that the Owls are close to turning a new leaf and competing with the likes of Florida Gulf Coast and the better teams in the conference.