Thursday , Nov , 11 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

College Basketball Preview – Atlantic Sun Conference

*** College Basketball Preview – Atlantic Sun Conference ***

The Sports Network

By Ralph Lauro, College Basketball Staff Writer

OUTLOOK: The Atlantic Sun enjoyed one of its most successful seasons to date
in 2003-04, as it sent three teams to the postseason for just the second time
ever. UCF, Troy and Belmont all earned invitations to the postseason with UCF
representing the conference in the NCAA Tournament. The Atlantic Sun also had
four teams post 20 or more victories for the second straight season and only
the second time in league history. Troy, UCF, Georgia State and Belmont all
eclipsed the 20-win plateau, as the Knights finished with a league-high 25
wins. Good things are expected once again from the A-Sun this season, with the
field being wide open. Troy, which won the regular season crown last year and
the league tournament championship the year before, is always a favorite to
win the A-Sun title and this year is no exception. Georgia State, which
finished fourth in the league standings in 2003-04, also has a strong club, as
does defending champion UCF. Stetson is also expected to contend after a 10-10
finish in league play a year ago. Jacksonville, Gardner-Webb and Florida
Atlantic don’t have enough to finish in the upper half of the standings, but
they are good enough to contend for a winning season. Belmont was hit hard by
graduations, and after a third place finish last season it may find itself
near the bottom of the standings this time around. As for Mercer, Campbell and
Lipscomb, they didn’t finished with a winning record in league play this past
year and little should change in 2004-05.


PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Georgia State; 2. Stetson; 3. Troy State;
4. UCF; 5. Jacksonville; 6. Gardner-Webb; 7. Florida Atlantic; 8. Belmont;
9. Mercer; 10. Campbell; 11.Lipscomb


GEORGIA STATE – The Panthers completely turned things around last season after
posting just a 14-15 mark the previous year. The team went an impressive 20-9
overall in 2003-04, in addition to finishing in fourth place in the league
standings (14-6). With two starters and five veterans returning from last
year’s squad, Georgia State should be able to post another 20-win season. The
Panthers are led by guard Kevin Thomas, who averaged 10.0 ppg on 63 treys a
year ago. Herman Favors will accompany Thomas in the backcourt after
averaging 7.0 ppg and 3.4 apg last season. Juco transfer Travis DeGoot, ranked
by some as the top JC prospect at his position, will give Georgia State some
much needed depth along the perimeter. Up front Georgia State has a few
question marks with Marcus Brown and Sylvester Morgan being the most
experienced players. Brown averaged 7.4 ppg and 2.9 rpg a year ago, while
Morgan added 1.7 ppg and 1.8 rpg in limited action. The Panthers will count on
incoming freshmen and three juco players to help fill the void in the

STETSON – The Hatters haven’t had much to cheer about over the last few
seasons, but that may all change this year. The team returns four of its
starters from last year’s club, which went 12-15 overall and an even 10-10 in
league play. Included in the returning starters is the backcourt duo of E.J.
Gordon and Anthony Register, who accounted for 45.9 percent of the team’s
total offense last season. Gordon led the Panthers in scoring (16.8 ppg),
rebounding (7.1 rpg) and steals (66), while Register finished second in
scoring (14.4) and first in three-point percentage (.400). In the frontcourt
Stetson is paced by forward Mark Stiles and center Borislav Djordjic. Both
started over 17 games last season and combined for 14.4 ppg and 8.5 rpg. In
addition to the four returning starters, a pair of major-conference transfers
become eligible this season, giving the Panthers some much needed depth.
Transfers Will Holloman and Karl Hollingsworth were both runners-up for Mr.
Basketball in their respective states as high schools seniors, and will surely
have an impact for the Hatters this season.

TROY – The Trojans have won at least a share of the A-Sun regular season title
in each of the last four seasons, including last year’s 18-2 finish in league
play. Troy however, was denied its second straight trip the NCAA Tournament
with a 60-55 setback to second-seeded UCF in the A-Sun Tournament championship
game. Still, the club earned a NIT berth, losing out to Niagara, 87-83 in the
first round. The Trojans now must replace all five starters from last year’s
club, which posted a solid 24-7 overall mark. Troy however, returns several
players with experience which is a direct result of head coach Don Maestri’s
run-and-gun and mass substitution system. Versatile forward Eddie Baker and
sharp-shooting guard Jacob Hazouri both missed last season, but should be
starters and key players for the club this time around. Forward Ryan Heck is
also primed for a breakout season after averaging 8.0 ppg and 3.2 rpg off the
bench a year ago. Forward Corey Hornsby (5.5 ppg) and guard Zavier Mathis (5.1
ppg) will also contend for starting jobs after playing pivotal roles off the
bench last season. The Trojans will also benefit from six juco transfers.

UCF – The Golden Knights won their third A-Sun Tournament Championship (most
among current A-Sun members) last year after finishing in second place in the
league’s regular season standings at 17-3. The team finished 25-6 overall and
gave Pittsburgh all it could handle in the first round of the NCAA Tournament
before falling 53-44. UCF, which will be leaving for C-USA at the end of this
season, now must replace three starters from last year’s club. Guard Gary
Johnson is the team’s top returning starter after averaging 7.6 ppg and 4.3
apg a year ago. He will be accompanied by Kingsley Edwards, who averaging 3.4
ppg and 2.6 apg off the bench last season. Up front Marcus Avant is the only
returning starter, and he will need to do better than his 4.1 ppg average last
season. Josh Peppers (3.8 ppg) and Will Bakanowswky (2.9 rpg) both saw time
off the bench last season, but neither is much of a scoring threat in the low
post. JUCO transfers Marcus Johnson and Anthony Williams are eligible to play
this season and should have an immediate impact in the scoring department.

JACKSONVILLE – The Dolphins were the most inexperienced team in the nation
last season, relying heavily on freshmen and juco transfers. Despite the lack
of experience, Jacksonville was able to post a decent 13-15 overall mark and
an 8-12 conference ledger. With four starters back from a year ago, the
Dolphins are primed for a winning season this time around. Forward Haminn
Quaintance is arguably the league’s most versatile player, and that was
evident last season when he earned A-Sun Freshman of the Year honors after
leading the Dolphins in scoring (14.3 ppg) and rebounding (8.8 rpg). Joining
him in the frontcourt is seven-foot center Jure Lozancic, who averaged 9.3 ppg
and 5.0 rpg a year ago. Ljubisa Vrcelj also has good size (6-10) and may
contend for a starting job after averaging 3.2 ppg and 2.7 rpg off the bench
last season. The duo of David Lee and Aubrey Conerly give Jacksonville one of
the better backcourts in the A-Sun. Lee averaged 14.0 ppg and 3.7 rpg last
season, while Conerly chipped in 8.3 ppg and 3.6 apg. A crop of newcomers that
includes four juco transfers will give the Dolphins some much needed depth.

GARDNER-WEBB – The Bulldogs enter their third season of competition in the A-
Sun after an eighth place finish (6-14) last year. The 2004-05 season marks
the first time that Gardner-Webb is eligible for the conference tourney and
the chance to play in the NCAA Tournament. Two starters and several key
reserves return from last year’s team which posted a 9-20 overall mark.
Forward Brian Bender is the team’s top returning starters after leading the
Bulldogs in scoring (12.7 ppg) and rebounding (7.0 rpg) last season. He will
be joined in the post by center Simon Conn, who averaged 6.1 ppg and 3.0 rpg
off the bench last year. Josh Chiles will run the team at the perimeter after
averaging 7.6 ppg and 2.1 apg as a starter a year ago. Reserves Andre Manning
(5.8 ppg) and Chris Gash (4.6 ppg) will also seen time in the backcourt. Along
with a healthy core of returning players, Gardner-Webb has the top-ranked
recruiting class in the A-Sun. The Bulldogs’ six-person class includes local
product Tim Jennings, who is one of the top recruits in the nation.

FLORIDA ATLANTIC – The Owls are coming off a rather disappointing season in
which they finished just 6-14 in league play and 9-19 overall. FAU returns
three starters from last year’s club, led by Preseason Player of the Year Mike
Bell, who averaged 18.0 ppg and 9.7 rpg in his first season with the Owls in
2003-04. Forward Pierre Tucker (9.6 ppg and 3.9 rpg) and center Robert
Williams (8.0 ppg and 5.6 rpg) are the other two returning starters and
give the Owls perhaps the best frontline in the conference. FAU however, will
face the daunting task of replacing the most productive backcourt in school
history in Earnest Crumbley and Jeff Cowans. Kahleaf Watson, who averaged 6.7
ppg and 2.5 apg off the bench last season, is the team’s most experienced
player in the backcourt and will need to step up in a big way if the Owls hope
to compete for a winning record.

BELMONT – The Bruins are coming off a dream season in which they made their
first Division-I postseason appearance in school history. Although Belmont
lost to Austin Peay (65-59) in the first round of the NIT, its season was
deemed a success. The team finished 21-9 overall and 15-5 in league play,
which was good for third place. The Bruins must now replace of pair of all-
conference players and 1,000 point scorers in forward Adam Mark and guard
Steve Drabyn. Brian Collins is one of only two returning starters from last
year’s club, and will be counted on to lead the Bruins in 2004-05. He was
instrumental in last season’s success, averaging 10.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg and 4.1
apg. He will be joined in the backcourt by Jese Snyder, who averaged 7.0 ppg
as a starter last season. Up front the Bruins have little experience and size,
as only center Andrew Preston is over 6-6. Preston will be counted on to lead
the Belmont attack in the paint after averaging 2.3 ppg and 1.3 rpg off the
bench last season. Forwards Adrian Jones (4.9 ppg) and Dan Oliver (1.3 ppg)
will also see an increase in playing this season. Belmont was one of the most
prolific three-point shooting teams in the nation last year, and with very
little size up front, it might rely on that strategy even more this season.

MERCER – The Bears were one of the better home teams (8-2) in A-Sun play last
season, but their 1-9 road mark left a lot to be desired. Mercer finished just
9-11 in league play and 12-18 overall, but things could have been better if it
had won more than just two its 18 total road contests. Returning from last
squad is three starters in James Odoms, Wesley Duke and Adrew Brown, who
combined for 30.0 ppg and 11.5 rpg a year ago. Odoms averaged 11.7 ppg at the
forward spot, while his counterpart, Duke, added 10.5 ppg and 6.3 rpg. As for
Brown, he averaged 7.5 ppg and 2.0 apg at the point and will be paired up with
Jacob Skogen, who produced 7.1 ppg off the bench last season. Center Will
Emerson is also expected to have a bigger impact this time around after
averaging 5.5 ppg and 3.0 rpg a year ago.

CAMPBELL – The Camels won just three games (3-24) in head coach Robbie Lang’s
debut last season, but things should be better in year two with three starters
and seven letter winners returning. Campbell is led by guard Anthony Atkinson,
who earned a spot on the league’s All-Freshman team after averaging 11.0 ppg
and 4.4 apg a year ago. Forwards Dominique Klein and Colin Hunt round out the
returning starters and combined for 14.2 ppg and 8.8 rpg last season. Reserves
Diego Aguiar (7.9 ppg) and Russ Gibson (4.3 rpg) give the Camels solid depth
in the frontcourt and could move into starting roles. Campbell featured the
youngest team in the A-Sun last season and that trend will continue this year
with only one senior and two juniors on the roster.

LIPSCOMB – The Bisons’ first season in the A-Sun was a dismal one, as the team
finished next-to-last (4-16) despite having a lineup filled with experienced
player. The team finished 7-21 overall, and improving on that may be out of
the question this year, as the entire frontcourt must be replaced. Lipscomb
does return a pair of talented guards and their two leading scorers from last
in all-freshmen team member Brian Fisk and junior James Poindexter. Fish
averaged 11.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg and 2.17 apg a year ago, while Poindexter added
10.5 ppg and 2.2 rpg. Filling in for the vacant frontcourt will be the trio of
Matt Jarboe (6.1 ppg), Cameron Robinson (3.5 ppg) and Charlie Jenney (1.8
ppg), all of whom were reserves last season. The Bisons are eligible to
compete for a postseason berth for the first time, but don’t appear capable of
taking advantage of it.