By Kevin Sweeney
The Atlantic Sun may not have the reputation that many other strong mid-major conferences have, but it is certainly a conference on the rise. Last season, Florida Gulf Coast earned the conference’s automatic NCAA Tournament bid and made noise in March Madness, dismantling Fairleigh Dickinson in the First Four before standing toe-to-toe with top-seeded North Carolina, trailing by just one at halftime. This year, you can expect the league to be even deeper than last year, which saw 3 of the league’s 8 teams play in the postseason.
- Florida Gulf Coast
- North Florida
- Kennesaw State
- USC Upstate
Champions: Florida Gulf Coast- You could make a case for any of the top 3 teams in the A-Sun as the favorites for next season, but Florida Gulf Coast are my pick to take the A-Sun crown this year. Continuing to hold a heavy recruiting edge over its conference foes thanks to a prime location and the history of NCAA Tournament glory, the Eagles have the most talented roster in the league. They return star forward Marc-Eddy Norelia, who averaged close to a double-double last season, as well as Christian Terrell and Zach Johnson, who each averaged in double figures last season. They also add transfer Brandon Goodwin, a 6-2 point guard who averaged 10.2 points and 4.2 assists per game at UCF in 2014-15. If they stay healthy and play to their potential, there is a great chance that “Dunk City” will be taking their show to March Madness once again.
Dark Horse: Stetson- Despite a 12-22 season a year ago, there is plenty to be optimistic about in 2016-17 if you are a fan of the Hatters. Last year’s team threw an interesting wrinkle into last season’s A-Sun Tournament, reaching the final as the 7 seed despite being ineligible for the NCAA Tournament due to academic issues. Now, the Hatters enter this season with confidence and experience, returning their top 7 scorers from last season. Hopefully, experience will help the Hatters in close games this season, as Stetson lost 10 games by single digits last season. If they can win a few close games, the Hatters have a chance to make a big impact in the A-Sun this season.
Preseason First Team:
- F: Marc-Eddy Norelia (Florida Gulf Coast)
- F: Derrick Newton (Stetson)
- G: Kendrick Ray (Kennesaw State)
- G: Damon Lynn (NJIT)
- G: Dallas Moore (North Florida)
Player of the Year: Dallas Moore- It is incredibly rare for a player to enter a season as his team’s all-time leading scorer. Well, Dallas Moore is rare. A 6-1 point guard, Moore is one of the most dynamic players in college basketball. Last year, he was one of 4 players in college basketball to lead his conference in both points and assists per game. He’s also a tenacious rebounder despite his diminutive stature, putting up 14 rebounds in one game last season vs Hartford. Moore is truly the engine that makes UNF go, and he will need to have a massive season in order for North Florida to return to the NCAA Tournament for the 2nd time in 3 years.
Newcomer of the Year: Abdul Lewis (NJIT)- Expect Lewis to make a huge impact in his first season with his hometown school. After spending his first collegiate season at South Alabama, Lewis returns to Newark with the chance to be one of the best big men in the conference. After averaging 7 points and 6.9 rebounds per game in his freshman year in Mobile, Lewis is immediately the best big man on the Highlanders. If he can provide a dominant low-post force to compliment NJIT’s excellent stable of guards, the Highlanders have a real chance to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time in their history.