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ASUN Tournament bracket, preview, and schedule: Jacksonville State leads the way in competitive East and West

With Liberty’s monopoly on the regular-season titles coming to an end, the ASUN is as competitive as ever and might crown a new king

NCAA Basketball: Jacksonville State at Alabama
After leading his team to a 20-9 record, Jacksonville State head coach Ray Harper was awarded the ASUN Coach of the Year.
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past couple of years, the Atlantic Sun has been heating up with the additions of several programs to the conference which has seen the competition as tight as ever heading into this year’s ASUN Conference Tournament.

Currently leading the conference’s West Division is that of Jacksonville State, earning the West Division Season Championship as well as its first ASUN Regular-Season Championship since returning to the conference in 2021. Following slightly is Liberty who is the West Division’s Season Champion but despite being crowed Regular-Season Champs three years consecutively, fell just short this season which included a loss at home to JSU.

Behind the top two Division leaders are three squads who’ve put together successful seasons of their own and could make some noise in the conference tournament. This includes Jacksonville sitting second in the East, recently reclassified Bellarmine finishing second in the West, and the memorable Florida Gulf Coast at third in the East.

With the top two seeds from each Division receiving a first-round bye, the ASUN conference tournament should provide lots of action and potential for upsets with the conference looking even more competitive than it has in seasons past.

Bracket

Schedule

Note: All matchups will be hosted at campus sites and will take place at the home arena of the higher-seeded program.

First Round (Tuesday, March 1), ESPN+

Game 1: No. 3W Central Arkansas vs No. 6E Stetson (7 PM ET)

Game 2: No. 4E Kennesaw State vs No. 5W Eastern Kentucky (7 PM ET)

Game 3: No. 3E Florida Gulf Coast vs No. 6W North Alabama (7 PM ET)

Game 4: No. 4W Lipscomb vs No. 5E North Flordia (8 PM ET)

Quarterfinals (Thursday, March 3), ESPN+

Game 5: No. 2E Jacksonville vs Winner of Game 1 (7 PM ET)

Game 6: No. 1W Jacksonville State vs Winner of Game 2 (7 PM ET)

Game 7: No. 2W Bellarmine vs Winner of Game 3 (7 PM ET)

Game 8: No. 1E Liberty vs Winner of Game 4 (7 PM ET)

Semifinals (Saturday, March 5), ESPN+

Game 9: Winner of Game 5 vs Winner of Game 6 (TBD)

Game 10: Winner of Game 7 vs Winner of Game 8 (TBD)

Finals (Tuesday, March 8), ESPN

Game 11: Winner of Game 9 vs Winner of Game 10 (6 PM ET)

The Favorite

Jacksonville State (20-9, 13-3): With just the three losses in conference play, the Gamecocks are the outright conference regular-season champions and for the first time after returning back to the conference from the OVC in 2021.

As the third-best shooting team in the nation from 3-point range at 39.9%, Jacksonville State has been a deadly offense this season outperforming almost everyone in its path behind some of the conference’s best scorers and shooters.

With its highly effective offense and ability to defensively stop the conference best teams which have included a 77-67 win over Liberty, a 64-58 win against Jacksonville, and two victories vs Bellarmine, it would be hard to see Vegas picking a program other than Jacksonville State as the ASUN favorites, especially given their recent four-game win streak.

The Darkhorses

Liberty (21-10, 12-4): It would be tough to really call Liberty “Darkhorses” in this conference but after missing out on a fourth consecutive ASUN regular-season championship, the Flames shouldn’t be favorites this time around. While they’ve been able to win against the bottom of the conference, Liberty has struggled against some of the ASUN’s top talent and earned losses this season to Jacksonville State, Jacksonville and Florida Gulf Coast. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a coach in the ASUN with as much experience as Ritchie McKay, having won the conference tournament championship the past three seasons.

Jacksonville (19-9, 11-5): After a few seasons of losing records, first-year head coach Jordan Mincy has turned the program around, taking the Dolphins to 19 wins for the first time since 2010-11. Allowing just 58.6 points per game, Jacksonville has sported the conference’s best scoring defense which is good for fourth in Division I and is led by 6-foot-7 junior forward Osayi Osifo who tops the conference in field goal shooting percentage and is seventh in rebounds. Behind its dynamic defense and all-around offense, Jacksonville has shown what it takes to compete with the ASUN’s best squads and at 14-0 on home court, are not a program you wanna face at the Swisher Gymnasium, especially in the quarterfinals.

Bellarmine (17-13, 11-5): In just its second year of reclassifying from Division II to Division I, Bellarmine will be deemed ineligible for NCAA tournament qualification even if they win the ASUN championship. However, the Knights’ unique offensive scheme has made them competitive in the conference and gives the program a real chance to knock off or upset maybe some of the stronger teams. With Dylan Penn averaging 16.3 PPG and CJ Fleming averaging 15.2 PPG, Bellarmine is the only team in the ASUN to have two players in the league’s top six scorers. With this being just Bellarmine’s second DI season, the team is still in search of its first conference tournament victory. But with either FGCU or North Alabama scheduled to play Bellarmine in the quarterfinals, the Knights will take solace in their three regular-season victories over those two programs.

Florida Gulf Coast (20-10, 10-6): Featuring a lineup that consists of both the ASUN Defensive POTY and the ASUN Newcomer POTY, FGCU has had to fight some tough battles with the teams above them in the standings such as a 69-66 loss at Jacksonville, a 78-75 loss at home to Liberty, and a loss to Jacksonville State with the score 79-71. But going 8-2 in its last 10 including beating Liberty and Jacksonville to round out conference play, Florida Gulf Coast is hitting its stride at the perfect time. As the only team listed here that will play on Day 1 of the tournament, FGCU has its work cut out to make a successful run in the conference but are certainly a squad to keep your eyes on.

The Longshots

North Florida (11-19, 7-9): While its record doesn’t show it, the Ospreys have been a nuisance all season long in the ASUN, constantly competing with or upsetting the conference’s best programs. Currently, North Florida has taken wins off Jacksonville State, Liberty, FGCU and could have beaten Jacksonville if it weren’t for some last-second free throws — all despite finishing fifth in the East. They’ve beaten or played almost every team in the conference to a tight final score and are now on a 7-3 run over the last 10 games.

Players to Watch

Darian Adams, Jacksonville State (15.8 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 3.8 APG)

Jalen Gibbs, Jacksonville State (11.1 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.7 APG)

Darius McGhee. Liberty (24.7 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.6 APG)

Keegan McDowell, Liberty (10 PPG, 3.7 RPG, .9 APG)

Kevion Nolan, Jacksonville (14 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 4.1 APG)

Bryce Workman, Jacksonville (9.7 PPG, 5.4 APG, .9 RPG)

Dylan Penn, Bellarmine (16.3 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 4.9 APG)

CJ Fleming, Bellarmine (15.2 PPG, 3 RPG, 1.8 APG)

Tavian Dunn-Martin, FGCU (20.8 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 6.2 APG)

Kevin Samuel, FGCU (11.6 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 1.1 APG)

Cyrus Largie, FGCU (10.8 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.4 APG)

Camren Hunter, Central Arkansas (14.5 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 3.2 APG)

Eddy Kayouloud, Central Arkansas (11.4 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.4 APG)

Chris Youngblood, Kennesaw State (13.9 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 1 APG)

Terrell Burden, Kennesaw State (11.7 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 4.7 APG)

Ahsan Asadullah, Lipscomb (14.9 PPG, 9 RPG, 4.7 APG)

Jacob Ognacevic, Lipscomb (11.8 PPG, 4.3 RPG, .3 APG)

Jose Placer, North Florida (14.9 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 2.9 APG)

Carter Hendricksen, North Florida (12.2 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.7 APG)

Michael Moreno, Eastern Kentucky (11.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.7 APG)

Devonte Blanton, Eastern Kentucky (10.6 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 3 APG)

Chase Johnston, Stetson (15.3 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.3 APG)

Christiaan Jones, Stetson (12.7 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.4 APG)

Daniel Ortiz, North Alabama (13.9 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 1.3 APG)

Prediction

Jacksonville State will handle its portion of the bracket with no problems, continuing its dominant performances in the ASUN to move all the way into the conference finals. Here they’ll take on an extremely hot Florida Gulf Coast team which, after taking down North Alabama in the first round will upset Bellarmine in the quarterfinals before taking down Liberty in the semis to advance to the final. Jacksonville State with its home court advantage will come out on top of Florida Gulf Coast in the final and earn the automatic bid.