By Kevin Sweeney
Florida Gulf Coast and everyone else.
That’s pretty much the general consensus prediction for the Atlantic Sun this season. The Eagles have dominated the conference of late, and that trend should continue into the 2017-18 season. Still, the reason I do this style of preview is to give you a look at all 351 Division 1 teams, and the A-Sun certainly has some intriguing clubs beyond just the powerhouse at FGCU.
- Florida Gulf Coast- As I mentioned at the top, the Eagles are HEAVY favorites to win the conference going into the season. Joe Dooley’s club returns a lot of talent from last season’s 26-win campaign, including A-Sun POY favorite Brandon Goodwin.
- Lipscomb- Probably the only team that can realistically challenge FGCU in the conference, the Bisons’ dynamic offense should make them a 20-plus win team with the potential of knocking off almost anyone if they get hot.
- USC Upstate- Carried by a talented junior class that features 4 players who averaged over 8 points per game a season ago, the Spartans have some quality pieces that could help the Spartans make some noise in the A-Sun.
- North Florida- The Ospreys lose the best player in program history in Dallas Moore, but a pair of talented wings burst onto the scene as freshmen a season ago in Garrett Sams and Wajid Aminu. Those 2 could turn into household names sooner rather than later.
- NJIT- The Highlanders have one of the better frontcourts in the league with Abdul Lewis and Anthony Tarke. With a new arena ready to open, excitement about the program is very high- something that would have been unthinkable to type a few short years ago.
- Kennesaw State- Al Skinner’s club loses its best player in Kendrick Ray, but a pair of talented guards in senior Nick Masterson and sophomore James Scott will make this team interesting.
- Jacksonville- The Dolphins lose their top 3 scorers from a season ago’s 5-9 A-Sun campaign. They will need a huge year from senior guard Devin Harris if they hope to be competitive.
- Stetson- Much of this offseason, I thought Stetson could be an interesting under-the-radar team this year. However, star big man Derrick Newton is no longer listed on SU’s active roster, a huge blow for the Hatters.
Champions: Florida Gulf Coast
The Eagles profile as one of the most dangerous mid-majors in the country this season for a reason. The backcourt is loaded with talent, from one of the top mid-major point guards in the country in Brandon Goodwin to solid pieces like Zach Johnson and Christian Terrell, as well as JUCO guard Dino Mercurius, who profiles as an elite shooter. The frontcourt isn’t all that experienced, but features high-major talents in Michigan transfer Ricky Doyle, Miami transfer Michael Gilmore (midseason eligible), and former Xavier commit Brady Ernst as well as returning contributor Antravious Simmons. If those frontcourt pieces come together, this team has a chance to be top-50 good.
Dark Horse: USC Upstate
The Spartans bring back a fair amount of talent from last year’s team, which finished over .500 at 17-16. What gives them dark horse potential to me is that I see a few potential breakout candidates on the roster. After an excellent sophomore campaign in which he averaged over 10 points and 5 rebounds per contest, wing Malik Moore could be on his way to stardom. If he takes the next step that I think he will, USC Upstate will have quite the pairing in Moore and fellow junior mike Cunningham. The big question: how do the Spartans respond to head coach Eddie Payne’s sudden resignation yesterday due to health issues? Associate Head Coach Kyle Perry will take the reigns on an interim basis, presumably for the entire season.
All-Conference First Team
- G: Brandon Goodwin (Florida Gulf Coast)
- G: Divine Myles (Stetson)
- G: Garrison Matthews (Lipscomb)
- G: Nick Masterson (Kennesaw State)
- F:Rob Marberry (Lipscomb)
Player of the Year: Brandon Goodwin- Goodwin is one of the most efficient floor generals in the country, a guy capable of putting his team on his back by getting buckets late in games or getting all of his teammates involved. Look no further than his national ranks near the nation’s best in player efficiency rating and win shares from a season ago. Goodwin is the engine of an FGCU squad that will look to make its 3rd consecutive NCAA Tournament this season, this time with hopes of pulling an upset or two.
Breakout Player of the Year: Garrett Sams (North Florida)- Sams is a rare talent at the A-Sun level. At 6-6, he’s an elite shooter (42% a season ago) who can score from anywhere on the court. This year, with Dallas Moore graduating, Sams will take on a bigger role in the offense, and I expect his numbers to climb. Certainly a potential all-league candidate this season.
Newcomer of the Year: Ricky Doyle (FGCU)- For this award, I had plenty of options, mostly from the newcomers in the FGCU frontcourt. However, I chose Doyle, an experienced commodity who was a very solid rotation player for Michigan for 2 seasons before transferring to FGCU. He doesn’t do anything too special, but he’s an excellent finisher around the rim who will do the dirty work down low and rebound the ball proficiently for the Eagles.