- Ky McKeon
3MW’s All Conference Team:
Player of the Year: Garrison Mathews, Sr., Lipscomb
Coach of the Year: Casey Alexander, Lipscomb
Newcomer of the Year: Schadrac Casimir, R Sr., Florida Gulf Coast
Freshman of the Year: Jamari Blackmon, Fr., North Alabama
1. Flames Come in HOT
Liberty took the A-Sun by storm in its first season after coming over from the Big South. The Flames were expected to be a conference title contender with a team chock full of upperclassmen returning from a near NCAA Tourney berth in 2017-18, but a 25-6 overall record with a win at UCLA certainly exceeded expectations. With a head coach in Ritchie McKay, who brought over UVA’s stingy pack-line defense, and the 12th best eFG% in the country, the Flames have the fuel to snatch the auto-bid in March.
2. At-Large A-Sun?
Lipscomb was the other juggernaut outside of Liberty in the A-Sun this season, notching a 14-2 conference record to go along with a 23-6 overall mark. The Bisons’ success this season have many a clamoring about the possibility of an at-large bid to the 2019 Big Dance. Lipscomb currently sits at 46th in the NET and has two Q1 wins on its resume at TCU and at Liberty. That’s not too shabby, but it’s a resume that should ultimately place the Bisons on the wrong side of the Bubble if they should lose the conference tourney. But hey, at least we’re having the conversation.
3. “Hear Me Roar”
That’s a pretty lame title, but my creativity tank was running on empty after “Flames come in hot”. This story line is about North Alabama, one of two new Division 1 programs in 2018-19. The Lions made quite a roar in their first season in D-1, notching a 7-9 conference mark and 6th place finish, far exceeding preseason expectations. Credit is due to new head coach Tony Pujol as well as a couple talented freshmen who burst onto the scene in their inaugural years. Jamari Blackmon, 3MW’s A-Sun Freshman of the Year, and Christian Agnew should keep UNA competitive for seasons to come. Also, shouts to seniors Kendall Stafford and Kendarius Smith, who each averaged in double-digit scoring after making the leap from D-2.
Only eight teams make the Tournament, which means Stetson will be watching this from their couches. The tournament will be held March 4, 7, and 10 at campus sites of the higher seeds.
Best Team and Projected NCAA Tournament Seed
This is a two team race. Lipscomb and Liberty have dominated the conference all season. Outside of losses to each other, the Flames dropped a game on the road to North Florida while the Bisons lost to Florida Gulf Coast in Fort Meyers back February 20th. Lipscomb and Liberty rank 1 and 2 in the A-Sun, respectively, in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The OE margin isn’t even comparable with the rest of the league - the gap between Liberty and 3rd-ranked North Florida is nearly the same as between North Florida and 6th-ranked North Alabama. If these two teams don’t meet in the conference finals, it’ll be a damn shame. Home court advantage throughout the tournament should help that cause.
If either Liberty or Lipscomb make the Field of 68 as the auto-bid, an 11 or 12 seed is where they will likely end up.
Dark Horse Team
NJIT had a better-than-expected season in 2018-19, winning 20 games and holding its own in non-conference play against solid competition. The Highlanders played Lipscomb tough in their most recent outing, but likely don’t have the firepower to make a serious run. FGCU and UNF each took down a giant during the regular season, but they’ll be away from the friendly confines of their home courts in the postseason. FGCU has the best shot of the two with a good coach in Michael Fly and a talented backcourt. Jacksonville beat one team in conference play not named Kennesaw State or Stetson, so no thank you on the Dolphins.
(1) Lipscomb over (8) Kennesaw State
(2) Liberty over (7) Jacksonville
(3) North Florida over (6) North Alabama
(4) Florida Gulf Coast over (5) NJIT
(1) Lipscomb over (4) Florida Gulf Coast
(2) Liberty over (3) North Florida
(1) Lipscomb over (2) Liberty
If the basketball Gods are good and just, they will give us this matchup. Any other team coming out of this league would be a damn shame. If Lipscomb wins, they are a legitimate Sweet 16 threat. If Liberty wins, they have a real shot of winning a First Round game as well, I’m just less confident in their style of play in the Tourney.