It’s the most wonderful time of the year (for college basketball fans at least): Tournament Time!
Even though Kennesaw State and Liberty duked it out for the ASUN regular season title all of February, the league finished the regular season with its highest KenPom rating since 2012. So, don’t be shocked if one of the four teams tipping off conference tournament action on Monday makes a tournament run.
All they have to do is catch fire from 3. That’s how you win games in tournament action and although it can be difficult for some teams, it’s not for those in the ASUN. The league enters the new month as the top 3-point shooting league in the country.
Let’s get this thing going!
The 2023 #ASUN Bracket. pic.twitter.com/O60Ms4ke7X— Rocco Miller (@RoccoMiller8) February 25, 2023
Note: All times listed Eastern.
First Round (Monday, Feb. 27), ESPN+
Game 1: No. 10 FGCU vs. No. 9 Queens (@ Kennesaw State), 7 p.m.
Game 2: No. 8 Bellarmine vs. No. 7 North Florida (@ Liberty), 7 p.m.
Quarterfinals (Tuesday, Feb. 28), ESPN+
Game 3: Game 1 Winner vs. No. 1 Kennesaw State, 7 p.m.
Game 4: Game 2 Winner vs. No. 2 Liberty, 7 p.m.
Game 5: No. 6 North Alabama vs. No. 3 Eastern Kentucky, 7 p.m.
Game 6: No. 5 Lipscomb vs. No.4 Stetson, 7 p.m.
Semifinals (Thursday, March 2), ESPN+
Game 7: Lowest-Remaining Seed vs. Highest-Remaining Seed, TBD
Game 8: Second-Lowest Remaining Seed vs. Second-Highest Remaining Seed, TBD
Finals (Sunday, March 5), ESPN2
Game 9: Lowest-Remaining Seed vs. Highest-Remaining Seed, 3 p.m.
Liberty (24-7, 15-3): This Liberty team has the makings of a team that can make noise in not only conference tournament but the NCAA Tournament.
They’re led by three seniors, including one of the best 3-point shooters the program has ever seen ... Darius McGhee. McGhee ranks first in the country in the percentage of shots taken, second in 3-pointers made and fifth in points per game.
Along with him, Shiloh Robinson and Blake Preston are two of the most efficient scoring big men in the country. They help lead a team who ranks 10th in the country in both effective field goal, and two-point percentage, along with being ranked 59th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency.
The Flames' defense isn’t too bad either, allowing the lowest percentage of offensive rebounds in the country and ranking 39th in defensive efficiency.
Kennesaw State (23-8, 15-3): In 2020, the Owls didn’t qualify for the ASUN tournament with a 1-28 record. Three years later, they set a school record with 23 wins and have home-court advantage throughout the conference tournament.
This is significant for the Owls because, until the final home game against Queens, they were undefeated at the Convocation Center. The games weren’t even that close either with 10 of the 11 wins being by more than two possessions.
Kennesaw State is still greatly unknown on the national landscape, but if there’s one name that you should become accustomed to this week, it’s Chris Youngblood. Youngblood scored single digits only once at home. Along with that, he can shoot the ball from deep, currently sitting at 43.4%.
The Long Shots
Stetson (17-12, 12-6): This Hatters team opened the season with road wins at Florida State and USF. They’ve shown promise but also fallen flat on their face against the good teams in the ASUN. You can thank a defense that ranks in the bottom 50 of the country for that. Its offense is strong at least, having three players ranked in the top 70 of 3-point percentage and sitting at 32nd in adjusted offensive efficiency.
Eastern Kentucky (19-12, 12-6): Eastern Kentucky touts how they play “the most exciting 40 minutes in sports” and the pace backs that up, ranking 41st in the country in tempo. Its offense and height are a downside though, ranking in the bottom 60 of the country in offensive efficiency and height.
Lipscomb (19-12, 11-7): This is a team that Liberty does not want to see again. They have size that can cause anybody fits with double-double machines Ahsan Asadullah and Jacob Ognacevic. Along with them, Will Pruitt has played like an all-league guard in the backcourt, leading one of the best offensive teams in the country
North Alabama (18-3, 10-8): North Alabama is set to be a threat in the ASUN for a long time, especially with its backcourt talent. In the last 12 games, Daniel Ortiz has made 49 3-pointers while averaging 19.6 points per game. Alongside him, Jacari Lane leads all freshmen in the league in scoring, while KJ Johnson is money from the free-throw line and can drop 30 points on any given night. The Lions struggle against the top teams in the league though and Johnson is injured.
North Florida (14-16, 9-9): Another team with a great offense but poor defense. Carter Hendricksen is a mismatch at 6-foot-7 and leads this gritty bunch. They nearly beat Duquesne and Washington in the non-conference.
Bellarmine (14-17, 9-9): Scott Davenport looks to lead Bellarmine to one last conference tournament title before he retires soon. They won it last season with their unique no-dribble offense.
Queens (17-14, 7-11): The Royals have brought their winning ways to the D-1 level and look to win a title in year one. They struggle in size but have one of the best mid-major backcourts in the country with Kenny Dye and AJ McKee.
FGCU (17-14, 7-11): After a stellar non-conference that included a win against USC, FGCU has struggled. Pat Chambers’ (yes, that Pat Chambers) bunch has brought back the Dunk City ways all while having one of the deepest mid-major teams in the country, ranking 41st in the country in D-1 experience.
Players to Watch
Chris Youngblood, Kennesaw State (15,1 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 47.8% FG%)
Terrell Burdon, Kennesaw State (13.3 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 4.1 APG, 47.9% FG%)
Demond Robinson, Kennesaw State (10.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 52.1% FG%)
Darius McGhee, Liberty (22.5 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 45% FG%)
Jalen Blackmon, Stetson (14.4 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 41.8% FG%)
Devontae Blanton, Eastern Kentucky (16.5 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 3.0 APG, 45.4% FG%)
Ahsan Asadullah, Lipscomb (7.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 3.3 APG, 47.3% FG%)
Jacob Ognacevic, Lipscomb (16.9 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 60.6% FG%)
Will Pruitt, Lipscomb (9.9 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 3.0 APG, 46.7% FG%)
Daniel Ortiz, North Alabama (14.4 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 44% FG%)
Jacari Lane, North Alabama (12.8 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 3.2 APG, 54.6% FG%)
KJ Johnson, North Alabama (12.9 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 3.3 APG, 47.7% FG%)
Garrett Tipton, Bellarmine (12.9 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 47.7% FG%)
Carter Hendricksen, North Florida (16.2 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 44.6% FG%)
Jose Placer, North Florida (14.4 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 41.9% FG%)
Kenny Dye, Queens (17.5 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 4.8 APG, 46.5% FG%)
AJ McKee, Queens (16.1 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 43.3% FG%)
Dakota Rivers, FGCU (6.2 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 55.6% FG%)
Isaiah Thompson, FGCU (14.9 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 3.2 APG, 37.9% FG%)
Chase Johnston, FGCU (12.0 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 40.1% FG%)
Zach Anderson, FGCU (11.9 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 48% FG%)
Andre Weir, FGCU (9.4 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 51.5% FG%)
Liberty makes its first trip to the big dance since 2021 but after three tough tests against Bellarmine/North Florida, Lipscomb, and Kennesaw State. McGhee comes up big in all three and begins gaining more national attention.