(Compare to our preseason preview here)
- Gulf Coast Cruises: After a choppy start to the season (6-8 vs. Division I competition), Joe Dooley's Eagles ran through the A-Sun, starting 11-0 and only losing 2 games once they had already clinched the tournament's #1 seed. The three-headed backcourt can score in a variety of ways, with Brandon Goodwin's speed and creativity with the ball fueling the attack.
- You CAN Spell "USC Upstate" Without "D": Lost amid the hubbub over Virginia's flirtation with being the best-ever KenPom defense is the other end of the spectrum - USC Upstate has the worst defense in the history of KenPom, by a wide margin. They gave up less than 80 points just three times in 14 league games (despite playing a middle-of-the-pack tempo), and it wouldn't be a shock to see tournament favorite FGCU put up triple digits on them in Round 1.
- Down Year for the League: The A-Sun was a dismal 30th in KenPom's conference rankings this year, and 5 teams finished 287th or worse. Contrast that to last year's 25th-place finish (and only one team 287th or worse), and it becomes easy to see why FGCU ripped through its conference schedule.
The higher seed will host every game, meaning Dunk City will be playing home games until it loses.
What to Watch:
- FGCU's transition- and rebound-heavy attack creates heavy mismatches in a league mostly bereft of big men. Jacksonville's Jace Hogan and NJIT's Anthony Tarke/Abdul Lewis are the only guys who physically match up well against them, but the Eagles' depth can wear down any A-Sun opponent.
- Kennesaw State's Nick Masterson is one of the best shooters you've never heard of - he hit an astounding 53% of his threes last year, and he followed that up by somehow improving to 56% this season (first in the country). He never leaves the court, and he led the league in both percentage of minutes played and offensive rating. He's definitely the only guy in the country in the 56/56/90 shooting club.
- Lipscomb has played the whole year without presumptive starting point guard Nathan Moran, but Kenny Cooper's development into a capable distributor has been crucial in an offense that's heavily reliant on the point guard's decision-making.
- North Florida may not win the league this year, but its collection of sophomores (Ivan Gandia-Rosa, Garrett Sams, Noah Horchler, Wajid Aminu, JT Escobar) is going to be a major headache for opposing coaches over the next two years. The Ospreys bomb away from deep, but their lack of interior strength probably extinguishes hope of a run to the finals.
Who Will Win:
- Florida Gulf Coast - Dooley's ability to bring in high-major talent plus diamond-in-the-rough recruits has led to the Eagles sporting the league's most athletic roster. They have legit size in the post and a star running the show. They're the best team in the league, playing in their own gym, and them not earning the conference's auto-bid would be a shocker.
If Not Them, Then:
- Lipscomb - Casey Alexander, a former Belmont player and Rick Byrd disciple, has masterfully implemented his old coach's drag screen offense at its crosstown rival, and the Bisons even knocked off Big Brother Belmont twice this year in the Battle of the Boulevard (what an alliterative clause!!). Garrison Mathews is for real, and Lipscomb did win at FGCU once down the stretch (albeit when FGCU had already clinched the title).