Conference Tournament Preview/Season Review
Revised All-Conference selections:
Best call(s): This actually ended up being a relatively predictable conference – North Florida just brought back too much talent, including wire-to-wire POY Dallas Moore, to be unseated. Newcomer NJIT came on strong late in the year to challenge the Ospreys a bit, along with FGCU and Jacksonville, and all three will attempt to wrestle away the conference’s auto-bid. Nathan Moran and Kendrick Ray were way better than I expected as well.
Worst call(s): Al Skinner-led Kennesaw St was far better than I thought, finishing at an even 7-7 instead of the last place I expected. Also, similar to many other preview outlets, I foresaw a breakout year for Julian DeBose of FGCU in the all-conference department, but he underwhelmed with poor offensive performance and took a backseat to Zach Johnson and Christian Terrell on the Eagles’ perimeter. Winfield Willis missing most of the year for NJIT was a bummer.
Who I want to win: While a repeat of Dunk City would be fun, I think I’ll be rooting for the Ospreys of North Florida. I’ve gotten to see them play in person, and they’re a fun collection of athletes and shooters that can really rack up points in a hurry when they’re hot. My heart is pulling me towards NJIT though, too, as they’ve never been to the NCAA Tournament, they had some nice wins last year (the win at Michigan was particularly shocking)…and they have versatile forward Ky Howard, the namesake of my fellow 3MW writer.
Who I think will win: North Florida is the best team and will be hosting throughout, so they’re the pick here. They only lost once in their own gym, a surprising loss to lowly Stetson.
Chance to make a run in the NCAA Tournament: Could be tough. UNF has some experience in the tournament from last year, but their seed ceiling is probably a 15 (depending on other tournament results) and anyone else would almost surely be a 16. UNF and NJIT have the potential to get red hot and win a game or two, but the Ospreys defense is so pitiful that I’m not sure their offense can keep up. They showed a matchup 2-3 a lot against SLU, and with their lack of size, I’d guess they’ll go that route against a 1- or 2-seed with size. If they find an opponent without good passing and/or shooting and the offense finds a rhythm, then maaaaybe UNF could sneak a win. NJIT has a similar lack of size and relies on a zone, but they don’t have the volume shooting to beat a power team. Jacksonville is too reliant on one guy (Babineaux) to generate offense, and FGCU doesn’t have the shooting/perimeter talent around Norelia needed to pull an upset.
Other Notes: Stetson is ineligible for the NCAA Tournament due to an APR ban; however, they are playing in the A-Sun tournament as the 7-seed. If by some miracle they win the tournament, North Florida will earn the tournament bid as regular season champ. So, theoretically, UNF could play Stetson in the final with a tourney bid already clinched. That would be kinda fun!
How it plays out: Here's how I see it:
(1) North Florida defeats (8) USC Upstate
(4) FGCU defeats (5) Kennesaw St
(6) Lipscomb defeats (3) Jacksonville
(2) NJIT defeats (7) Stetson
(1) North Florida defeats (4) FGCU
(2) NJIT defeats (6) Lipscomb
(1) North Florida defeats (2) NJIT
North Florida earns a 15 seed, gets hot in the first half to scare their 2-seed opponent, but ultimately gets worn down on the glass and in the paint.