Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament Preview

When/Where: March 4-7 (Jacksonville, Fla.)


Thursday, 3/4 – Quarterfinals

(8) Kennesaw State vs (1) Liberty – 2:00 p.m. on ESPN+

(5) North Alabama vs (4) North Florida – 2:00 p.m. on ESPN+

(6) Florida Gulf Coast vs (3) Lipscomb – 7:00 p.m. on ESPN+

(7) Stetson vs (2) Bellarmine – 7:00 p.m. on ESPN+


Favorites


Liberty Flames (20-5, 11-2 Atlantic Sun)

· The two-time defending conference champions are as dangerous as usual. The Flames, who earned a 12-seed in 2019 en route to upsetting 5-seed Mississippi State, were well on their way to a similar position in 2020 after defeating Lipscomb in the ASUN Championship. Liberty’s non-conference schedule prepared them perfectly for this time of year. In November, the Flames played four Power Five opponents (Purdue, Mississippi State, South Carolina, TCU) across four days in two different cities (Melbourne, Fla. and Kansas City, Mo.). The Flames also took Missouri to the wire in mid-December. The Flames, winners of nine straight games entering the tournament, lost just two conference games (by an average of 6.5 points). Darius McGhee leads the charge with 15.5 points/game. Only Gonzaga has more victories than the Flames over the past three seasons. Liberty is made for March, and a third consecutive conference title would only further solidify that reality.


Bellarmine Knights (13-6, 10-3 Atlantic Sun)

· In a cruel twist of fate, the conference’s second-best team is better than every ASUN team not named Liberty, but they won’t see any competition after the conference tournament (with the exception of a possible CBI berth). The Knights, who are in their first season at the Division I level, are barred from NCAA Tournament and NIT competition for four years in accordance with NCAA rules. That hasn’t stopped Scott Davenport’s squad from playing lights out. Prior to a Feb. 27 loss to Liberty, Bellarmine had won 10 consecutive games and was in position to potentially win an ASUN regular-season championship. Junior Pedro Bradshaw does it all, averaging 15.6 points/game and 7.2 rebounds/game, including a season-best 24 points vs Jacksonville on Feb. 5. While Bellarmine, who appeared in every NCAA Division II Tournament between 2009 and 2019, will not participate in this year’s edition of March Madness, they can certainly play some spoiler ball during their stay in Jacksonville.


Dark-Horse


Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (9-7, 4-5 Atlantic Sun)

· Everyone remembers FGCU for their 2013 run to the Sweet 16 and their back-to-back tournament berths in 2016 and 2017, but success hasn’t come as often over the past few seasons. After head coach Joe Dooley departed for East Carolina after a 2018 NIT appearance, Michael Fly was promoted prior to the 2018-2019 campaign. In his first two seasons, Fly complied a lackluster 24-40 record. However, he’s turned it around in year three, getting his team to play better than .500 ball despite having just played 16 games. The Eagles have a trio of players (Cyrus Largie, Caleb Catto, Jalen Warren) scoring in double figures, giving them a unique blend of options. While it’s unlikely that anyone will be able to take the throne from Liberty (or even Bellarmine), FGCU has arguably been the most successful team in the conference over the past decade, and that can speak volumes come March.

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