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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Atlantic Sun Conference Preview


The Atlantic Sun featured one of the more exciting conference races in the country last season, with three teams finishing within one game of each other at the top of the standings. The regular-season title came down to the final day of the season, when Jacksonville went into Belmont and beat the Bruins by one, giving Jacksonville the championship and relegating Belmont to a second-place tie with East Tennessee State. Three other teams finished above .500 in league play. ETSU won the conference tournament and looked solid against Pittsburgh in the Big Dance, and the A-Sun winner this season could put a scare into a big-time program as well.

1. Jacksonville: The Dolphins finished first in the regular-season last year, and will take the next step this season behind Ben Smith.
2. Lipscomb: The Bisons have a formidable trio led by center Adnan Hodzic, one of the best mid-major centers in the country.
3. Mercer: Arguably the most underrated inside-outside combo in the country resides here, in James Florence and Daniel Emerson.
4. Campbell: All five starters return for the Camels, starting with productive forward Jonathan Rodriguez and guard Lorne Merthie.
5. East Tennessee State: Without Courtney Pigram and Kevin Tiggs, Mike Smith and Alabama transfer Justin Tubbs will have to step up.
6. Belmont: The Bruins return just one starter from a second-place team, but they have several quality role players and transfer Scott Saunders.
7. Florida Gulf Coast: Still not eligible for the A-Sun title, Reed Baker and Kyle Marks will nonetheless keep the Eagles competitive.
8. Kennesaw State: The Owls, eligible for the automatic bid for the first time, return five starters, including three double-figure scorers.
9. North Florida: Another first-time eligible club, the Ospreys have one of the league's top scorers in guard Eni Cuka.
10. Stetson: The Hatters were a disappointment last season, and return just two starters; however, A.J. Smith will be solid.
11. USC Upstate: The Spartans played surprisingly competitive last year, but 7-3 center Nick Schneiders will have to keep them that way.

Player of the Year:
 Ben Smith, G, Jacksonville

All-Conference Team:
G- James Florence, Mercer
G- Ben Smith, Jacksonville
G- Mike Smith, East Tennessee State
F- Jonathan Rodriguez, Campbell
C- Adnan Hodzic, Lipscomb

Second Team:
G- Reed Baker, Florida Gulf Coast
G- A.J. Smith, Stetson
G- Eni Cuka, North Florida 
F- Daniel Emerson, Mercer
F- Lehmon Colbert, Jacksonville


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