Atlantic Sun 2013-14 Preview: Dunk City returns plenty for another run

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click hereTo see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Can Florida Gulf Coast return to postseason glory after last season’s magical Sweet 16 run? That’s the big question in the Atlantic Sun for the 2013-14 season as “Dunk City” will attempt to show that they have more staying power than past NCAA Tournament upset darlings. Thanks to four returning starters, led by the junior backcourt of Brett Comer and Bernard Thompson, and forwards Chase Fieler and Eric McKnight, the Eagles are the returning favorites in the league after last season’s 26-11 campaign that saw 15-seed Florida Gulf Coast upset Georgetown and San Diego State in the NCAA Tournament.

The main competition for Dunk City comes from Mercer. The Bears won the Atlantic Sun regular season crown last season (14-4) and finished 24-12 while beating Tennessee in the NIT. Efficient senior floor leader Langston Hall had a 2.28 assist-to-turnover ratio last season and will lead Mercer in their attempt at revenge after falling to Florida Gulf Coast in last season’s A-Sun Conference Tournament title game.

Versatile wing and A-Sun leading scorer Torrey Craig (17.2 points per game) returns to give USC Upstate a shot at the conference title. The Spartans return all five starters from a 9-9 team in the league and have multiple scoring options, including senior forward Ricardo Glenn (10.5 points, 8.1 rebounds per game).

Guards Keith McDougald (13.1 points per game) and Jarvis Haywood (11.5 points per game) give Jacksonville a formidable returning backcourt, East Tennessee State returns four starters and promising sophomore forward Lester Wilson (13 points, 5.3 rebounds per game) while North Florida, Lipscomb, Stetson and Northern Kentucky played much better during A-Sun play than the nonconference portion of their schedules last season. Kennesaw State looks to turn it around after five games behind ninth place in the league last season.

PRESEASON ATLANTIC SUN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Bernard Thompson, Florida Gulf Coast

The 6’3″ junior shooting guard is the returning leading scorer (14.3 points per game) and second leading returning rebounder (4.4 rebounds per game) for Florida Gulf Coast and was also the A-Sun’s Defensive Player of the Year as a sophomore. Thompson ranked second nationally in steals with 102, started all 37 games last season for the Eagles and also shot 38 percent from three-point range.

FOUR MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Torrey Craig, USC Upstate: Versatile wing is former conference player of the year on pace to crack 2,000 career points.
  • Brett Comer, Florida Gulf Coast: Point guard that makes Dunk City go led conference in assists (6.6 per game) and was A-Sun Tournament MVP last season.
  • Keith McDougald, Jacksonville: The 6’1″ senior plays much bigger and stepped up in A-Sun play to average 15.4 points per game while accumulating two games of 13 rebounds in conference play.
  • Langston Hall, Mercer: One of the more efficient guards in America, the 6’4″ senior averaged five assists a game and shot 84 percent from the free-throw line.

PREDICTED FINISH

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

VIDEO: Mixtape for North Carolina-bound Nassir Little

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Nassir Little is one of the most improved players in the high school basketball ranks, going from being a guy that was a borderline five-star prospect to being a potential No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and athleticism to burn, he has all the makings of being one of the switchable wing defenders that are en vogue in the modern era of the NBA.

Former UNC star Phil Ford has surgery for prostate cancer

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina says former point guard Phil Ford has had surgery for prostate cancer.

Team spokesman Steve Kirschner said Wednesday that Ford underwent the procedure Tuesday after he was diagnosed during his annual physical. Dr. Eric Wallen, the UNC physician who is treating Ford, says the cancer was caught early because Ford “has been proactive regarding his health.”

Ford played for Dean Smith in the 1970s and scored 2,290 points, a mark that stood as the school record until Tyler Hansbrough broke it in 2008. Ford also spent 12 seasons as an assistant to Smith after a seven-year NBA career in which he was the rookie of the year in 1979.

Bruce Pearl: ‘Good chance’ Auburn returns four players testing the waters

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Bruce Pearl told reporters on Monday that there is a “good chance” that his Auburn program will return all four of the players that are currently testing the waters of the NBA draft.

“I think there’s a good chance they’re all going to consider coming back,” Pearl said. “There’s a chance they’re all going to come back, but that’s been the case since the beginning.”

“I just feel as we get closer to the deadline and they gather more and more information, I think that chance improves. It would not surprise me, still, to see a couple of them stay in.”

Those four players are Mustapha Heron, Austin Wiley, Bryce Brown and Jared Harper. Brown was the leading scorer for the Tigers last season, while Heron was arguably their best player and Harper a steady floor general that is the piece that holds everything together. Wiley did not play after he was ruled ineligible as a result of the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. If he returns he will be eligible to play the 2018-19 season.

Heron will be the most interesting decision of the four. A former McDonald’s All-American, when he declared for the draft last month, he announced that he intended to sign with an agent. But he has told reporters in the last week that he never actually signed and is still “50-50” on whether or not he will return. He was not invited to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago last week. Wiley was, but he did not make enough of an impression to earn himself a first round guarantee. Brown and Harper are very unlikely to be drafted, but both juniors will get feedback from NBA teams on what they might need to do to play their way into the league.

Auburn is coming off of a year where they shared the SEC regular season title with Tennessee, but they struggled down the stretch of the season after Anfernee McLemore suffered a gruesome ankle injury. As it stands, under the assumption that Heron and Wiley are gone, we currently have the Tigers ranked as a top 15 team in the country in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

With Heron and Wiley back, however, Auburn will have the pieces to make a case as one of college basketball’s five best teams next season.

Forward Lance Thomas transferring from Louisville

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With Anas Mahmoud out of eligibility and Ray Spalding having made the decision to enter the 2018 NBA Draft, new Louisville head coach Chris Mack had some holes to fill in the front court ahead of his first season at the helm. There’s now another departure to account for, as it was announced Tuesday afternoon that 6-foot-8 forward Lance Thomas has decided to transfer.

Thomas, who will have three seasons of eligibility remaining at his next school, appeared in 12 games for the Cardinals last season and averaged 2.2 points and 1.3 rebounds in 4.2 minutes per game.

Losing Thomas may not appear to be a big deal based upon his production as a freshman. But, given the combination of player departures and misses on the recruiting trail this spring it can also be argued that Louisville is not in a position where it can afford any more personnel losses.

Louisville is now down to four scholarship players in the front court, wings V.J. King and Jordan Nwora and forwards Malik Williams and Steven Enoch, with Enoch eligible after sitting out last season after transferring in from UConn.

Williams made 12 starts as a freshman, averaging 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds in 10.6 minutes per game, with King averaging 8.6 points per game and Nwora 5.7 points per game. Enoch played in 29 games at UConn during the 2016-17 season, averaging 3.4 points and 2.3 rebounds in 12.1 minutes per appearance.

Four-star wing Romeo Weems commits to DePaul

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DePaul landed its first verbal commitment in the Class of 2019 Tuesday afternoon, as four-star small forward Romeo Weems announced that he will be a Blue Demon. Weems, who attends New Haven HS in New Haven, Michigan, picked DePaul over Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Oregon and is considered by most major scouting services to be a Top 50 prospect in the 2019 graduating class.

The 6-foot-6 Weems plays his grassroots basketball for The Family on the Nike EYBL circuit, averaging 15.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game this spring. Weems also has experience playing for USA Basketball, as he was part of the Under-16 team that won the FIBA Americas U16 title last year. Weems will also be part of the training camp from which the Under-17 team will be selected next month in preparation for this summer’s FIBA Under-17 World Championships.

DePaul managing to land a commitment from a prospect of Weems’ caliber, a versatile wing who can defend multiple positions while also being productive offensively, could be the shot in the arm that Dave Leitao’s program so desperately needs if they’re to improve their standing within the Big East.

Since making the move from Conference USA in 2005, DePaul has finished above .500 in a season just once (20-14 in 2006-07) with that also being the only time in which the Blue Demons finished above .500 in Big East play (9-7). Since Leitao, who led DePaul to its most recent NCAA tournament in 2005, returned for his second stint at the school the Blue Demons have gone 29-65.

Getting out of Allstate Arena and moving to the new Wintrust Arena ahead of last season was an important move for the DePaul program, but it’s been clear that the rebuild won’t be a “quick fix.” Bringing in a talent of Weems’ caliber should help DePaul moving forward, with the key now being to recruit well enough to ensure that the talented wing has ample help when he arrives on campus next year.

Among the players currently on the roster who will have eligibility remaining in 2019 are guards Devin Gage and Justin Roberts and wing Darious Hall, who will sit out the 2018-19 season after transferring to DePaul from Arkansas. Hall appeared in 35 games for the Razorbacks this past season, averaging 5.1 points and 3.1 rebounds in just under 15 minutes per game.