LWOS continues its conference preview series with the Atlantic Sun Basketball Preview. This is a league that has produced some good mid-majors over the last few seasons. Liberty won an NCAA Tournament game two years ago and was primed to do it again this past season. Lipscomb was the NIT runner-up in 2019. Those programs are not leaving the top of the league anytime soon. However, there are some other programs here that have improved. The league also welcomes a new Division I school in Bellarmine.
2020-21 Atlantic Sun Basketball Preview
9. Kennesaw State Owls
Key Returners: Jamie Lewis
Key Losses: Tyler Hooker, Bryson Lockley
Key Newcomers: Spencer Rodgers (JUCO), Alex Peterson (JUCO)
Kennesaw State still has a long road ahead of them. A team that won just one game last season has high roster turnover coming into this season. Two of their most experienced players come in the form of JUCO transfers Rodgers and Peterson. Their is some optimism, though, as the incoming recruiting class seems to have some promise. Still, things are going to get worse (if that is possible) before they get better for the Owls.
8. Jacksonville Dolphins
Key Returners: Mo Arnold, Diante Wood, Trey Sides
Key Losses: Destin Barnes, David Bell, Aamahne Santos
Key Newcomers: J.J. Rhymes (Grand Canyon), Dontarius James (Xavier)
Jacksonville enters into a transition of youth after losing its top five contributors from last season. Rhymes provides some experience to a trio of sophomore guards in Arnold, Wood, and Sides. However, the frontcourt is extremely young here. Freshmen twins Cameron Boozer and Zameron Boozer will have to learn quickly to help in that area. The addition of James will help take the edge off them slightly. However, a rebuilding year is likely for the Dolphins.
7. Bellarmine Knights
Key Returners: Dylan Penn, Pedro Bradshaw, C.J. Fleming
Key Newcomers: Sam DeVault (Austin Peay)
Bellarmine makes its transition to the Division I level without two of its top three scorers from last season. That loss is felt even more when they were both frontcourt players. The backcourt will certainly be carrying this team, but more games are often won that way. The Knights are a proud program and were successful as a Division II program. There will be an adjustment period to this level of basketball, but the Knights are good enough to avoid the basement in their first year in the A-Sun.
6. North Florida Ospreys
Key Returners: Carter Hendricksen
Key Losses: Garrett Sams, Ivan Gandia-Rosa, Wajid Aminu
Key Newcomers: Jose Placer (UMBC), Alonde LeGrand (Detroit), Chaz Lanier
North Florida surprised everyone last year, sharing the regular-season title with Liberty. The bad news for Osprey fans is that most of the players responsible for that title have moved on. Hendricksen becomes the leader on this team and is good enough to contend for the player of the year honor. The addition of Placer will give a boost to the backcourt. Still, North Florida will take a step back this year as the roster grows with the experience gained in 2020-21. However, the Ospreys will still be competitive.
5. Liberty Flames
Key Returners: Darius McGhee, Elijah Cuffee
Key Losses: Caleb Homesley, Scottie James, Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz
Key Newcomers: Drake Dobbs
Liberty took the Atlantic Sun by storm in its first two seasons, capturing back-to-back titles and winning a 12-5 upset over Mississippi State in the 2019 NCAA Tournament. The Flames were one of the biggest losers of the tournament cancellation in 2020, with a team that could have won another game and maybe even more. Now, the program will be looking to new leaders in McGhee and Cuffee. Ritchie McKay’s coaching will keep Liberty relevant, but the experience just is not there for the Flames to push for a third-straight title.
4. North Alabama Lions
Key Returners: Mervin James, Jamari Blackmon, Emanuel Littles
Key Losses: Christian Agnew
Key Newcomers: Isaac Chatman (JUCO)
North Alabama enters the 2020-21 season in year three of a four year transition period from Division II. The Lions continue to show improvement each year, with a solid fifth-place finish last season. The program can continue that trend this season, especially with a year of experience under the belt of a fairly young team. While UNA still cannot qualify for the NCAAs or the NIT, a finish in the top half of the A-Sun seems likely. A chance at participating in the CIT or CBI seems like a real possibility.
3. Florida Gulf Coast Eagles
Key Returners: Caleb Catto, Jalen Warren, Justus Rainwater
Key Losses: Zach Scott, Tracy Hector
Key Newcomers: Eli Abaev (Austin Peay), Franco Miller (Ole Miss), Victor Rosa
Florida Gulf Coast may be the most improved team in the A-Sun heading into this season. Eagle fans had become accustomed to finishing in the top half of the league, so a sixth-place finish in 2019-20 seemed off. Catto and Warren are a formidable backcourt duo, while Rainwater can be a force in the paint. Add in the experience of Austin Peay grad transfer Abaev, and suddenly FGCU looks dangerous. The Eagles will have a say in the outcome of the league title race this year.
2. Stetson Hatters
Key Returners: Rob Perry, Mahamadou Diawara, Christiaan Jones
Key Losses: Jahlil Rawley
Key Newcomers: Chase Johnston (Purdue-Fort Wayne)
Stetson may have been the biggest surprise last season, finishing in third and getting a win over Liberty. The emergence of Perry and Diawara means that the Hatters should be key players in the league over the next few seasons. However, the biggest concern for this team is the depth behind the key guys. Freshmen minutes may be needed for breathers and foul trouble. Still, the pieces are there for the Hatters to contend for a league title.
1. Lipscomb Bisons
Key Returners: Ahsan Asadullah, K.J. Johnson
Key Losses: Michael Buckland, Andrew Fleming
Key Newcomers: Romeao Ferguson (D-II)
Lipscomb is the preseason pick in large part due to the dominance of Asadullah in this league. He had a huge sophomore season and will look to pick up where he left off at the end of 2019-20. However, after Asadullah, the frontcourt will need to develop depth behind him. Johnson will take on a bigger role in a backcourt that has a little more experience. The Bisons appear to be slightly ahead of everyone else coming into the year, but this will be a fun league race overall.
2020-21 Atlantic Sun Basketball Preview Award Projections
Player of the Year: Ahsan Asadullah, Lipscomb
Asadullah averaged 18.6 points and 10.1 rebounds per game last season. However, he also showed he could get teammates involved, with 3.9 assists per game as well. Asadullah exploded during the A-Sun Tournament, and he should carry that momentum into 2020-21. This award is his to lose entering the season.
Defensive Player of the Year: Ahsan Asadullah, Lipscomb
Oh, did you think he was only a good offensive player? Asadullah also averaged 1.2 blocks per game and finished in the top ten in the league in defensive win shares and defensive rating. Add in his ability to crash the defensive glass, and Asadullah is everything you could want on the defensive end too.
Newcomer of the Year: Jose Placer, North Florida
Placer should be in the starting backcourt for the Ospreys, a much bigger role than he had while at UMBC. Still, even with limited opportunities with the Retrievers, he flashed his potential at times. Placer should shine for North Florida.
Freshman of the Year: Zameron Boozer, Jacksonville
The Boozer twins should both be key contributors for the Dolphins this season, meaning they should both be in the running for this award. Zameron was the better scorer between the two in high school, while Cameron was the better rebounder. The bottom line is that they complement each other well. Zameron’s scoring ability puts him slightly ahead in the 2020-21 Atlantic Sun Basketball Preview.
Coach of the Year: Lennie Acuff, Lipscomb
Acuff did a tremendous job in his first year last season, guiding the Bisons to their third-straight A-Sun finals appearance. He has a team that can win him his first league title as the head man in Nashville. If he gets the job done, he should find himself taking home this honor.
Projected First-Team: Ahsan Asadullah (Lipscomb), Rob Perry (Stetson), Carter Hendricksen (North Florida), Mahamadou Diawara (Stetson), Caleb Catto (Florida Gulf Coast)