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Conference Preview: Atlantic Sun starts its post-Belmont era

Oct 29, 2012, 1:30 PM EDT

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The 2012-13 season for the Atlantic Sun will be an interesting one, with one particular reason standing out. With Belmont now in the OVC, which program (or programs) rise to the challenge and make themselves the flagship program of the Atlantic Sun? The Bruins won four regular season and five tournament titles during their ten seasons in the league, and their departure leaves an opening at the top of the conference.

So which teams are best equipped to take the wheel? One team to keep an eye on is Mercer, who is coming off of a 27-win campaign and a CIT championship. Bob Hoffman’s Bears return four starters and five of their top six scorers from last season, led by guard Langston Hall (11.4 ppg, 4.2 apg) and forward Jakob Gollon (10.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg). And with an eye towards the future just one of those top five scorers (guard Travis Smith) is a senior this season.

USC Upstate and Florida Gulf Coast are two other teams expected to factor into the A-Sun Race, with the Spartans featuring 2012 Player of the Year forward Torrey Craig. Craig, who averaged 16.4 points and 7.7 rebounds in 2011-12, is one of five returning starters for Eddie Payne’s squad (USC Upstate returns its top seven scorers).

As for Andy Enfield’s Eagles, guards Sherwood Brown (12.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and Bernard Thompson (11.5, 5.2) will lead the way for a team that fell in the title game to Belmont after upsetting Mercer on their home floor in the semis. East Tennessee State and North Florida will also be heard from this season, while teams such as Jacksonville, Kennesaw State, Lipscomb and Stetson look to rebound from disappointing 2011-12 campaigns.

Lastly there’s the arrival of Northern Kentucky, which beginning its transition to full Division I membership in addition to joining the A-Sun. Dave Bezold’s Norse return three of their top five scorers from last season’s 23-win team, most notably wing Eshaunte Jones and guard Ethan Faulkner. Both the media and the coaches have picked them to finish last, but the Norse have won at least 21 games in five of the last six seasons.

Answering the question of who takes the top spot with Belmont gone will make for an entertaining year in the Atlantic Sun.

All-Conference Team (* denotes Player of the Year)

G Langston Hall (Mercer)
G Sherwood Brown (FGCU)
F Torrey Craig (USC Upstate) *
F Jakob Gollon (Mercer)
C Adam Pegg (Stetson)

Predicted Standings

1. Mercer
2. USC Upstate
3. FGCU
4. North Florida
5. East Tennessee State
6. Stetson
7. Jacksonville
8. Northern Kentucky
9. Lipscomb
10. Kennesaw State

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.