Top returning scorer: Markeith Cummings (Kennesaw State), 18.3 ppg
Top returning rebounder: Ladaris Green (Kennesaw State), 8.5 rpg
2012 Tournament: Feb. 29-March 3 -- Macon, Ga.
The problem with the Atlantic Sun is the best thing about it: Belmont is just nasty. The Bruins dominated the league last year, losing just once, and in fact theyíve won the Atlantic Sun four of the past six seasons. Few other programs can claim that type of consistency near the top of the standings in their league. Rick Byrd knows what heís doing in Nashville, and so long as heís running the program, it will be on the path of league-title contention.
The primary reason why Belmont was so dominant was due to its ability to make its opponents turn the ball over. This didnít materialize itself just within conference play -- the Bruins ended possessions early 27.5 percent of the time. Only Duquesne did better. Ian Clark and Mick Hedgepeth are back this year, and thatís great, because the amazing thing about Belmont was it went 30-5 with only one senior earning significant minutes.
Elsewhere around the league, East Tennessee State and Jacksonville should put up a good fight. You could make the argument ETSU has more talent than Belmont. Jacksonville is a program those around the league know is growing into a legitimate threat.
One of the great mysteries of the Atlantic Sun is how a team with the leagueís leading scorer (Markeith Cummings) and rebounder (Ladaris Green) wound up 8-23 overall with a 6-14 conference record. Thatís sure to not be repeated, and itís why weíre putting Kennesaw State fourth overall in the standings. Is it too harsh to say if a team like that canít remain competitive and threaten to take the league, then itís completely on the coach?
From Mercer on down, weíre not too confident. The A-Sun is a low-major league, and the talent disparity isnít anything enviable. Eliminating Belmont from the equation, the other 10 teams (including Campbell, which left for the Big South this year) averaged 13.4 wins last season.