Atlantic Sun Releases Preseason Men's Basketball Poll
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
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MACON, Ga. – An unprecedented three straight conference championships and nine returning letter winners earned the Belmont Bruins the nod from both the coaches and the media as the preseason pick to win their second consecutive Atlantic Sun regular-season title as well as a fourth straight conference championship.

The Eagles were selected ninth in both polls after losing 11 letterwinners and four starters from last year.  The Eagles do welcome one of the most celebrated recruiting classes in school history along with Ed Rolax, Reed Baker and Kyle Marks, all redshirts from the 2007-08 season. 

The Bruins, led by 2008 A-Sun Coach of the Year Rick Byrd, will have to find a replacement for two-time All-Atlantic Sun performer and the eighth-leader scorer in A-Sun history, Justin Hare. After two years of winning the tournament MVP, Hare saw his teammate and preseason All-Atlantic Sun pick Shane Dansby claim in the honor in 2008. Dansby, one of five seniors on the 2008-09 squad, averaged 14.0 points per game during the tournament and connected on 7-of-12 from the 3-point arc. Belmont earned first-place votes from seven of the 11 A-Sun coaches and 25 of the 33 media members. Belmont enters the year as one of only six teams in the country to have earned its league’s automatic bid in each of the last three seasons. The other five include last year’s two NCAA Tournament finalists Kansas (Big 12) and Memphis (Conference USA) as well as mid-major powers Davidson (Southern), Winthrop (Big South) and Oral Roberts (Summit).

The schools Belmont defeated in the semifinals and championship game, ETSU and Jacksonville respectively, shared the second spot from the coaches while the Dolphins edged out the Buccaneers in the media poll. Jacksonville continued its ascent under head coach Cliff Warren. After one win in 2005-06, he improved to 15-14 in 2006-07 and 18-13 last year while compiling a 23-11 mark in A-Sun play those last two years. Warren returns all five starters from last year led by the trio of preseason All-Atlantic Sun guard Ben Smith and forwards Marcus Allen and Lehmon Colbert. All three averaged better than 13.0 points per game, a feat unmatched by an A-Sun team in 2007-08.

ETSU features senior guard Courtney Pigram, the coaches’ pick for preseason Player of the Year. Last year, he led the team in scoring at 15.8 points per game and needs 555 points to join Centenary’s Willie Jackson as just the second player in conference history to accumulate 2,000 points. Pigram and Kevin Tiggs represent one of the top returning duos in the conference. The two seniors combined to average over 30 points per game. Only one other school, Campbell, features two teammates that averaged as many points per game as did the Buccaneer pair. With 19 wins in 2007-08, head coach Murry Bartow increased his career total to 198. The second win he earns will make him the seventh current A-Sun coach with 200 coaching wins.

After the Buccaneers, the coaches’ poll and the media mirror each other choosing Lipscomb fourth followed by Stetson, Mercer and Campbell. The Bisons again host the General Shale Brick Atlantic Sun Championship and look to three sophomores, Josh Slater, Adnan Hodzic and Brandon Brown, to fill the void left by last year’s leading scorer, Eddie Ard.

Stetson returns all five starters from a team that won 11 conference games for the first time since the 1986-87 season and finished at .500 (16-16) for the first time since 2000-01, when the Hatters went 17-12 in Derek Waugh’s first season as head coach. Garfield Blair earned a spot on the preseason All-Conference team after leading the Hatters in both scoring and rebounding (16.1 ppg and 5.7 rpg).

Mercer made the lone coaching change after the 2007-08 season, hiring Bob Hoffman to replace Mark Slonaker. Hoffman owns 400 coaching wins at three previous stops and features a squad returning James Florence, the 2006-07 Freshman of the Year and Calvin Henry, the 2007-08 Defensive Player of the Year in addition to transfer Daniel Emerson gaining eligibility after sitting out last year.

Campbell begins a new era with the opening of the John W. Pope Jr. Convocation Center, a 3,095 seat venue replacing the venerable Carter Gymnasium. Junior Jonathan Rodriguez, a preseason All-Conference selection enters 2008-09 as the second-highest scorer among juniors with 1,162 points. He trails only Davidson’s Stephen Curry, who has tallied 1,662 points in his first two years. He finished the 2007-08 season as one of six players to average at least 20 points per game and 10 rebounds per game. Among that group, NBA lottery picks Michael Beasley (Kansas State), Jason Thompson (Rider), Big East Player of the Year Luke Harangody (Notre Dame) and National Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough (UNC).

The two polls conclude with the league’s four re-classifying schools with Kennesaw State leading the group followed by FGCU, USC Upstate and UNF. Both the Owls and Ospreys conclude their re-classifying era this year and gain eligibility to the A-Sun Championship in 2009-10.

The Atlantic Sun Conference is an 11-member league committed to Building Winners for Life, with a focus on academic and athletic integrity and a balance between the two for the student-athlete, and maintaining a high level of sportsmanship. Headquartered in Macon, Ga., the A-Sun encompasses six of the top eight media markets in the Southeast. The A-Sun consists of some of the most dynamic private and public institutions in the region: Belmont University, Campbell University, East Tennessee State University, Florida Gulf Coast University, Jacksonville University, Kennesaw State University, Lipscomb University, Mercer University, University of North Florida, University of South Carolina Upstate and Stetson University.

2008-09 Atlantic Sun Men’s Basketball

Preseason Coaches Poll

Rank

School (First Place Votes)

Votes

1.

Belmont (7)

113

T2.

ETSU (2)

104

T2.

Jacksonville (1)

104

4.

Lipscomb

87

5.

Stetson

76

6.

Mercer (1)

74

7.

Campbell

55

8.

Kennesaw State

38

9.

FGCU

32

10.

USC Upstate

24

11.

UNF

19

Tournament Champion: Belmont (7 votes)

 

 

2008-09 Atlantic Sun Men’s Basketball

Preseason Media Poll

Rank

School (First Place Votes)

Votes

1.

Belmont (25)

348

2.

Jacksonville (5)

316

3.

ETSU (3)

305

4.

Lipscomb

245

5.

Stetson

240

6.

Mercer

183

7.

Campbell

163

8.

Kennesaw State

145

9.

FGCU

106

10.

USC Upstate

77

11.

UNF

50

Tournament Champion: Belmont (20 votes)