When the Atlantic Sun tournament kicked off Wednesday at the ratings-driven time of 2:30 in the afternoon, the competition for the league's NCAA bid was as up for grabs as any in the nation , with the top four seeds all entering the tournament with the same 14-6 conference record. But, after one round, only one of those four teams (Jacksonville) remain in contention for an NCAA berth and the #5, 6 and 8 seeds are only two games away from going dancing.
The madness (think you’ll hear that word much?) started in the first game Monday when the eighth-seeded Kennesaw State Owls knocked off the top-seeded Lipscomb Bisons behind 9-11 three-point shooting from Kurtis Woods and Kevin McConnell. After sitting out of the Atlantic Sun tournament for three years as a part of their agreement to move up to Division I, it was a sweet reward for the Owls in Macon.
Wednesday’s night session offered a bit of a return to status quo as second-seeded Jacksonville and seventh-seeded North Florida squared off and made people wonder how Jacksonville can support two Atlantic Sun teams and struggle to support an NFL squad. Just four years removed from winning only one game, the Dolphins (that’s Jacksonville) benefited from the inside-outside combo of Ben Smith and Lehmon Colbert, who both went for 24 points in the beating of the Ospreys. It should be noted that this game matched the least intimidating mascots since former Kentucky player Donald Williams’ high school played anyone. Anyone.
On Thursday, the reigning Atlantic Sun tournament champions, East Tennessee State, got their (minor) upset on and knocked off another one of the 14-6 teams, Campbell, 72-64. The details of the game are foggier than Snoop Dogg’s tour bus, though, as the A-Sun site reports 32 points from junior guard Micah Williams sparked the comeback and ESPN says he didn’t play in the game. What is known, however, is that the Bucs are now virtually a lock to defend their title in the championship game. They’ve blown out Kennesaw State both times they’ve played this year. And there are no upsets in the Atlantic Sun.
If there is such a thing as a dominant force and a sure thing in the Atlantic Sun, the Belmont Bruins just might be it. The private Nashville school that plays on an anatomically correct basketball court won three straight conference tournaments before falling to ETSU in the semifinals last year and was one of those four teams tied for the top conference spot. But, just like their fellow first-place surnamed religious institutions, the Bruins’ NCAA hopes came crashing down in the first round of the Atlantic Sun tournament. Belmont, winners of 8 of 9 games, drew the home team, the Mercer Bears, and their formidable 14-16 record. And, on this night, just like in the English language, the Bears proved have more staying power than the Bruins.
So, what was considered to be a wide-open tournament to start because of the four-way tie at the top, now shapes up as a the most wildly unknown tournament thanks to some upsets. Jacksonville, based on seeding, remains as the favorite. ETSU, however, is now on a five-game winning streak that saw them beat the Dolphins (that’s Jacksonville) on the road last week. But, don’t count out the Mercer Bears and their home court advantage, who now hold my rooting interest for one reason only. Should they win, there is a possibility they could not accept the NCAA bid once the Baptist school finds out that it’s considered dancing.
Atlantic Sun basketball….I love this game!
What’s Up Next
#8 Kennesaw State vs. #5 East Tennessee State (6:30 pm)
#6 Mercer vs. #2 Jacksonville (9:00 pm)
Drama! (6:00 pm)