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2018-19 ASUN Preseason Power Rankings: Lipscomb is the team to beat

With all of last year’s starting five returning, the Bisons will be the favorites to win the ASUN title again.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-North Carolina vs Lipscomb Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Last season was fun for fans of ASUN basketball.

FGCU and Lipscomb headlined the conference, and all three of their matchups were nail-biting thrillers — including the conference tournament final. Elsewhere, Jacksonville turned heads and surprised a lot of people by finishing third. Meanwhile, Kennesaw State had the upset of the season when the Owls upset the then-undefeated FGCU on the road in mid February.

This year’s ASUN promises to be just as exciting with the addition of two new teams, Liberty and North Alabama. Meaningful basketball will tip off soon, and here’s how we see the league shaking out.

ASUN Preseason Power Rankings

1. Lipscomb Bisons, 23-10 (10-4), NCAA Tournament (First Round)

Last season the Bisons went to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. They earned their way in with a thrilling victory in the conference championship game against FGCU. Lipscomb had six players average 19 minutes or more per game, and all six of those players are back for the 2018-19 season. Led by senior guard Garrison Mathews (21.7 PPG) and senior forward Rob Marberry (15.9 PPG), the Bisons will be a force to be reckoned with in the ASUN.

2. Florida Gulf Coast Eagles, 23-12 (12-2), NIT (First Round)

Since their run to the Sweet 16 in 2013, the Eagles have been the favorite to win the ASUN pretty much every year. That’s not quite the case this year after a tough end to the season and a turbulent offseason. Former head coach Joe Dooley moved on to greener pastures at East Carolina University, and four of the five leading scorers either transferred or graduated. The Eagles are not the favorites to win the ASUN this year, but will boast a strong core of young players eager to fill the roles under first-year coach Michael Fly, who spent the previous seven years as an assistant at FGCU.

3. Jacksonville Dolphins, 15-18 (8-6)

As alluded to earlier, the Dolphins’ success was the biggest surprise of last season in the ASUN. Freshman phenom JD Notae had the Dolphins clicking on all cylinders before he was sidelined for the tail end of the season with an injury. As opposed to their cross-state rivals FGCU, the Dolphins will keep three of their four top scorers from last year. Look for Notae, Jalyn Hinton, and Tanner Rubio to all take a step forward this season, and for the Dolphins to be a legitimate threat to win the ASUN.

4. Liberty Flames, 22-15 (9-9 — Big South), CIT (Semifinals)

The Flames are one of two first-year ASUN members. Redshirt junior Scottie James will be a big part of their success this season. The 6’7” forward averaged 13.5 pints and 8.9 rebounds per game last season. Alongside James, senior guard Lovell Cabbill will lead the way for a Flames team likely to debut in the middle of the pack.

5. North Florida Ospreys, 14-19 (7-7)

This year’s starting five is likely to be exactly the same as last year’s for the Ospreys, led by junior guard Ivan Gandia-Rosa. Their 2017-18 team was full of young players, so the experience they got last year while winning 14 games will be extremely valuable going forward. A North Florida team full of returning players will be more competitive this year in a tough conference.

6. NJIT Highlanders, 14-16 (7-7)

The Highlanders’ best player from last year — Anthony Tarke — transferred to UTEP in the offseason. They were able to hang on to many of their other key players, including senior forward Abdul Lewis. He averaged 12.1 points and 8.8 points per game last year, and likely will average a double-double this year. Even so, the loss of Tarke is likely enough to keep the Highlanders from really making serious noise in the ASUN this year.

7. Kennesaw State Owls, 10-20 (6-8)

The Owls struggled to compete in the league last year. The few times when they did play very well, it came as a result of Nick Masterson and James Scott. These two were far and away the best players on last year’s Kennesaw State team, and the problem is that Masterson graduated and Scott transferred to Temple. Redshirt junior guard Tyler Hooker and senior forward Kosta Jankovic need to step up their play just to get the Owls back to the level they were at a year ago.

8. Stetson Hatters, 12-20 (4-10)

Stetson’s only returning starter from a year ago is Abayomi Iyiola. For most teams, this is a really bad sign heading into a new season but some new faces could help the Hatters change the losing culture surrounding their program in the last few years. Another season in the cellar of the ASUN seems likely.

9. North Alabama Lions:

This will be the Lions first season in Division I. First-year coach, and former Wyoming, Alabama and VCU assistant Tony Pujol will the lead transition. With a new coach and impressive facilities, the future looks bright for North Alabama. However, the transition to Division I is always difficult and the Lions will likely not be too formidable of an opponent this season.