LWOS continues its conference preview series with the Atlantic Sun Basketball Preview. It’s a league that has produced some good mid-majors over the past few seasons. Liberty won an NCAA tournament game two years ago and was set to do it again last season. Lipscomb was the 2019 NIT finalist. Those programs won’t be leaving the top of the league anytime soon. However, there are other programs here that have improved. The league is also welcoming a new Division I school in Bellarmine.
2020-21 Atlantic Sun Basketball preview
9. Owls of Kennesaw State
Main feedback: Jamie Lewis
Key losses: Tyler Hooker, Bryson Lockley
Key Newcomers: Spencer Rodgers (JUCO), Alex Peterson (JUCO)
Kennesaw State still has a long way to go. A team that only won one game last season has a high roster turnover coming this season. Two of their most experienced players come in the form of JUCO transfers, Rodgers and Peterson. They are optimistic, however, as the new recruiting class appears to have some promise. Still, things will get worse (if at all possible) before they get better for the owls.
8. Jacksonville Dolphins
Main returns: Mo Arnold, Diante Wood, Trey Sides
Key losses: Destin Barnes, David Bell, Aamahne Santos
Key Newcomers: JJ Rhymes (Grand Canyon), Dontarius James (Xavier)
Jacksonville is entering a youthful transition after losing its top five backers last season. Rhymes offers some experience to a trio of sophomore guards in Arnold, Wood and Sides. However, the frontcourt is extremely young here. First year twins Cameron Boozer and Zameron Boozer will have to learn quickly to help in this area. Adding James will help tone them down slightly. However, a year of rebuilding is likely for the dolphins.
7. Bellarmine Knights
Main feedback: Dylan Penn, Pedro Bradshaw, CJ Fleming
Key losses: Alex Cook, Ben Weyer
Key Newcomers: Sam DeVault (Austin Peay)
Bellarmine is making his transition to Division I level without two of his top three scorers from last season. This loss is felt even more when they were both frontcourt players. The backcourt will definitely carry this team, but more games are often won that way. The Knights are a proud program and have been successful as a Division II program. There will be a period of adjustment 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
Main feedback: 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 this title have moved on. Hendricksen becomes the leader of this team and is good enough to claim the title of player of the year. Adding Placer will give the backcourt a boost. Still, North Florida will take a step back this year as the list grows with experience gained in 2020-2021. However, the Ospreys will still be competitive.
5. Flames of freedom
Main returns: 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, winning back-to-back titles and winning a 12-5 loss to Mississippi State in the 2019 NCAA tournament. The Flames were the one of the biggest losers to cancel the tournament in 2020, with a team that could have won another game and maybe even more. Now the program will be looking for new leaders in McGhee and Cuffee. Ritchie McKay’s training will keep Liberty relevant, but the experience just isn’t there for the Flames to push for a third straight title.
4. Lions of northern Alabama
Main returns: Mervin James, Jamari Blackmon, Emanuel Littles
Key losses: Christian Agnew
Key Newcomers: Isaac Chatman (JUCO)
Northern Alabama is entering the 2020-2021 season the third year of a four-year transition period from Division II. The Lions continue to improve every year, with a solid fifth place finish last season. The program can continue this trend this season, especially with a year of experience under the belt of a fairly young team. While the UNA still can’t qualify for the NCAA or NIT, an arrival in the top half of the A-Sun seems likely. A chance to participate in CIT or CBI seems like a real possibility.
3. Eagles of the Gulf Coast of Florida
Main feedback: 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’s Gulf Coast could be the A-Sun’s most improved team heading into this season. Eagle fans had grown used to finishing in the top half of the league, so a sixth place finish in 2019-20 looked like it was missed. Catto and Warren make a formidable backcourt duo, while Rainwater can be a force in the paint. Add in the transfer experience of Austin Peay’s graduate, Abaev, and suddenly the FGCU looks dangerous. The Eagles will have a say in the outcome of the league title race this year.
2. Stetson Hatters
Main returns: Rob Perry, Mahamadou Diawara, Christiaan Jones
Key losses: Jahlil Rawley
Key Newcomers: Chase Johnston (Purdue-Fort Wayne)
Stetson was perhaps the biggest surprise of the last season, finishing third and taking a victory over Liberty. The emergence of Perry and Diawara means the Hatters are expected to be key players in the league over the next few seasons. However, this team’s biggest concern is the depth behind the key players. Freshman minutes may be required for respirators and disgusting problems. However, the pieces are there for the Hatters to compete for a league title.
1. Lipscomb Bison
Key turners: Ahsan Asadullah, KJ Johnson
Key losses: Michael Buckland, Andrew Fleming
Key Newcomers: Romeao Ferguson (D-II)
Lipscomb is the preseason pick in large part due to Asadullah’s dominance in this league. He’s had a huge sophomore season and will be looking 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 play a bigger role in a backcourt that has a bit more experience. The Bisons appear to be slightly ahead of everyone else to come in the year, but it will be a fun league race overall.
2020-2021 Atlantic Sun Basketball Preview Award Screenings
Player of the Year: Ahsan Asadullah, Lipscomb
Asadullah averaged 18.6 points and 10.1 rebounds per game last season. However, he has also shown he can get his teammates involved, with 3.9 assists per game as well. Asadullah exploded during the A-Sun tournament, and he is expected to keep that momentum going until 2020-2021. This price comes down to him losing at the start of the season.
Defensive Player of the Year: Ahsan Asadullah, Lipscomb
Oh, did you think he was just a good offensive player? Asadullah also averaged 1.2 blocks per game and finished in the top ten in the league in terms of defensive win shares and defensive odds. Add to that his ability to crush defensive glass, and Asadullah is everything you could want on the defensive side too.
Newcomer of the Year: Jose Placer, North Florida
Placing should be in the starting backcourt for the Ospreys, a much bigger role than he played at UMBC. Yet even with limited opportunities with Retrievers, he has at times shown his potential. Place should shine for North Florida.
Freshman of the Year: Zameron Boozer, Jacksonville
The Boozer twins are both expected to be key contributors for the Dolphins this season, meaning they should both be up for the award. Zameron was the top scorer between the two in high school, while Cameron was the top rebounder. The main thing 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 freshman last season, guiding the Bisons to their third straight A-Sun final appearance. He has a team that can earn him his first league title as a team manager in Nashville. If he gets the job done, he should end up earning that honor.
First screened team: Ahsan Asadullah (Lipscomb), Rob Perry (Stetson), Carter Hendricksen (North Florida), Mahamadou Diawara (Stetson), Caleb Catto (Florida Gulf Coast)
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