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Introducing Cinderella: Liberty wins the Atlantic Sun bid in first year in the league

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In its first season as a member of the Atlantic Sun, Liberty closed out Lipscomb with a 74-68 road win on Sunday to clinch the league’s autobid into the NCAA tournament. Coming off of back-to-back 20-win seasons and CIT appearances, the Flames took the next step for their program by knocking off its new conference rival in front of a packed crowd.

Junior forward Scottie James paced Liberty with 17 points and eight rebounds, also becoming Internet Famous for a preposterous flop in the game’s final minutes. Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz buried a critical three-pointer to give the Flames a four-point lead with under a minute left as the junior guard finished with 16 points.

CONFERENCE: Atlantic Sun

COACH: Ritchie McKay

RECORD: 27-6, 14-2 in the Atlantic Sun

RATINGS:

  • KENPOM: 64
  • NET: 63

PROJECTED SEED: In our latest NBC Sports bracket, Lipscomb was projected to get in as a No. 12 seed and Liberty’s numbers are only slightly worse. That means the Flames could be in the No. 13 or No. 14 seed range with the chance to potentially ascend if things go crazy during Championship Week.

NAMES YOU NEED TO KNOW: Relying heavily on six players as the core rotation, Liberty is led by three standout scorers. Junior forward Scottie James (13.0 ppg, 8.8 rpg) is the team’s leading scorer and rebounder while also shooting 67 percent from the floor this season. Junior wing Caleb Homesley (12.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and senior guard Lovell Cabbil Jr. (11.5 ppg, 43% 3PT) can also fill it up.

BIG WINS, BAD LOSSES: Liberty’s two road wins at Lipscomb (including Sunday’s victory) were both classified as Q1 victories. The Flames also earned a true road win at UCLA during non-conference season. Going 18-0 against Q4 opponents, Liberty deserves credit for not having any truly horrible losses. A road loss at North Florida (189) is the worst loss of the year for Liberty.

STATS YOU NEED TO KNOW: One of the slowest teams in the country in terms of tempo, Liberty prefers to play the game at a snail’s pace. And with a remarkable 56.1 effective field goal percentage (12th in the country), Liberty plays slow and practices good shot selection. With McKay being a former assistant at Virginia under head coach Tony Bennett before returning to Liberty, it makes sense that the Flames would try to mimic some things the Cavaliers have used so effectively.

HOW DO I KNOW YOU?: Making three NCAA tournament appearances before this (1994, 2004, 2013), Liberty has had some decent teams and players in recent times. Before transferring to Duke, Seth Curry started his career with the Flames. Veteran college basketball official Karl Hess is also a Liberty basketball alum as he’s the program’s all-time leading scorer.

FINAL THOUGHT: Liberty hasn’t received as much national attention as Lipscomb has this season, but the Flames have been right in the Atlantic Sun picture with the Bisons the entire time. Winning two out of three games (both on the road) against Lipscomb this season, Liberty is a team that shouldn’t be taken lightly heading into March.

Atlantic Sun Preview: Has North Florida overthrown #DunkCity?

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Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Atlantic Sun Conference.

For the first time in three seasons, the Atlantic Sun representative failed to make noise in the NCAA tournament. In 2013, Florida Gulf Coast famously became #DunkCity after knocking off Georgetown and San Diego State en route to becoming the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16. In 2014, Mercer followed up FGCU’s run by pulling off an opening round upset of No. 3 seed Duke and Jabari Parker.

In the first tournament appearance in program history, the North Florida Ospreys could not add to the upsets, but the good news is Matthew Driscoll should be in line for another shot at One Shining Moment again this March. His Ospreys are the favorites to repeat in the Atlantic Sun, returning four starters from last season’s first-place finish. Among the returnees are junior guard Dallas Moore (15.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.8 apg), a candidate for Conference Player of the Year, two other double-digit scorers in Beau Beech and Chris Davenport, and DeMarcus Daniels, the reigning Atlantic Sun Defensive Player of the Year.

That core was part of the conference’s most efficient offense and the second-most efficient defense last season, according to kenpom. The Ospreys offense was among the nation’s leaders in field goal percentage and 3-point percentage. North Florida was top-15 in 3-pointers per game at 9.1. During a five-game winning streak to close out the regular season and clinch home-court advantage in the A-Sun Tournament, North Florida shot 43 percent from three.

Florida Gulf Coast said goodbye to Brett Comer and Bernard Thompson, the decorated back court from the 2013 Sweet 16, but that doesn’t mean the Eagles are going away.

Jamail Jones and Nate Hicks also graduated. Julian DeBose, who averaged 11.6 points per game, returns to anchor the back court. Rayvon Tucker, a Rivals150 guard, joins the FGCU perimeter. Joe Dooley will have the conference’s top frontline with UNLV transfer Demetris Morant and Marc-Eddy Norelia back. VCU transfer Antravious Simmons becomes eligible in January. Filip Cvjeticanin, the 6-foot-9 fifth-year senior who missed all last season with a back injury, provides a 3-point shooting threat.

Conference realignment has hit the league pretty hard. This offseason, Northern Kentucky became the fifth team to leave the conference sine 2011. The A-Sun added nomad NJIT, the last remaining independent in Division I basketball, as its eighth member. The Highlanders won’t be just a placeholder, they’ll be contenders. Like Driscoll, Jim Engles brings back four starters, including Damon Lynn, a diminutive scoring guard who posted 20 or more points 15 times in 2014-15. Lynn was the star in NJIT’s upset win over Michigan last season. The Highlanders also benefit from the return of Terrence Smith, the 6-foot-6 forward, who missed the season due to injury.

Lipscomb finished below .500 a season ago, but all-A-Sun wing Josh Williams should lead the Bison to their first winning season in five years. To be a contender, the focus needs to shift to the defensive end, where the Bison allowed 70 or more points in the final 14 games of the season. Jacksonville, a 10-win team, brings back 94 percent of its scoring. The Dolphins should be a darkhorse in the A-Sun.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

COACH’S TAKE

  • Favorite: “North Florida. Since they won it last year and went to the NCAA tournament. I know they have the majority of their team back, and looking at their stats they shoot the ball really well, they pass the ball really well. They’re a pretty effective, efficient team.”
  • Sleeper: “Lipscomb is poised to have a pretty good year. I’d expect [Jacksonville] to be pretty good, too.”
  • Star to watch: “There’s Josh Williams from Lipscomb, the two players from North Florida (Dallas Moore and Beau Beech). Julian DeBose had really good summer with one of the USA teams. Damon Lynn should certainly be the conversation. Until the season actually gets going it’s tough to really tell.”

REALIGNMENT MOVES 

In: NJIT
Out: Northern Kentucky

PRESEASON ATLANTIC SUN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Damon Lynn, NJIT

The 5-foot-11 guard averaged 17.5 points, 3.7 assists and 3.0 rebounds per game as a junior for the Highlanders. Lynn recorded 20 points (15 in the second half) in a win over then-No. 17 Michigan on Dec. 6. NJIT’s marathon man helped lead the Highlanders to the semifinals of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, averaging 19.5 points in 39.5 minutes per game.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ATLANTIC SUN TEAM:

  • Kori Babineaux, Jacksonville: The 6-foot-4 guard was top-five in the A-Sun in scoring, assists and steals a season ago.
  • Julian DeBose, Florida Gulf Coast: The only double-digit scorer returning for Dunk City. He played with Kansas this summer in the World University Games.
  • Dallas Moore, North Florida: The Ospreys top scorer and assist man earned all-Atlantic Sun first team honors last season after averaging 15.9 points and 3.9 assists per game. Beau Beech is also a strong candidate.
  • Josh Williams, Lipscomb: With Ty Greene graduating, Williams is the conference’s top scorer at 16.9 points per game.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @ASunMBB

PREDICTED FINISH

1. North Florida
2. NJIT
3. Florida Gulf Coast
4. Lipscomb
5. Jacksonville
6. USC Upstate
7. Stetson
8. Kennesaw State

North Florida’s first NCAA tournament trip helps boost school’s merchandise sales

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The NCAA tournament is a major moneymaker in a number of ways. Of course there’s the multibillion dollar contract paid by CBS/Turner to the NCAA for the right to televise one of America’s best sporting events, and conferences earn financial “units” based upon how many games their members play in.

Also of note is the money schools can make in areas such as merchandising and increased enrollment, something that North Florida is experiencing on the heels of its first-ever NCAA tournament appearance. According to the Florida Times-Union, the Atlantic Sun tournament champs have seen merchandise sales increase nearly 47 percent in the last year.

UNF Business Services reported that retail sales of UNF merchandise from all sources saw a 46.8 percent jump in the past year from $1.01 million in 2014 to $1.48 million in revenue in 2015, up by $473,860. Bookstore sales of merchandise alone increased 28 percent in the past year going from $673,735 to $862,434, a 28 percent increase, and that’s still only about 20 percent of total bookstore sales.

Those revenue streams are of great importance to any school, much less one that doesn’t have the benefit of a major college football program on its campus. And for some schools, additional money provides financial flexibility when it comes to facilities that they may not have enjoyed before.

So as head coach Matthew Driscoll looks to lead the Ospreys to a second straight NCAA appearance, being successful in that mission will have an impact on the UNF campus as a whole.

Florida Gulf Coast lands transfer big man

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Florida Gulf Coast continued to reshape its roster late this week as the school announced the signing of Loyola Marymount transfer big man Patson Siame.

The 6-foot-11 Siame will have to sit out the 2015-16 season due to NCAA transfer regulations, but he’ll have two seasons remaining of eligibility after that.

“We’re excited to welcome Patson to FGCU, and we’re looking forward to getting him on campus,” head coach Joe Dooley said in the release. “He’s an extremely versatile big man. He’s long and athletic and someone who can post up, but he’s also mobile enough to step out and shoot from the perimeter. He can stay in the low blocks and make a jump hook, but he can also pick and pop and knock down a jumper. We think he’ll make a great addition to our roster and give us another valuable threat down low.”

As a sophomore at Loyola Marymount, Patson averaged 20 minutes per game and put up 5.7 points, 4 rebounds and 1 block per game. He should give the Eagles a serviceable big man who can be productive around the basket when he becomes eligible for the 2016-17 season.

Reports: NJIT to officially join Atlantic Sun Friday

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The last remaining independent in Division I college basketball has reportedly found a home.

As first reported by NJHoops.com, NJIT will join the Atlantic Sun and become that conference’s eighth member beginning with the 2015-16 academic year. According to the Asbury Park Press the school will hold a press conference Friday to make the news official, which is scheduled to begin at Noon Eastern.

For the Atlantic Sun this is an important addition, as the league lost Northern Kentucky to the Horizon League earlier this spring.

As for NJIT, this move gives their programs a conference home they’ve lacked since the Great West (which was a cumbersome grouping of schools) dissolved in 2013. Jim Engles’ work as head basketball coach has been a key component in all of this, as the Highlanders have gone from a team that lost 51 straight games to one that reached the semifinals of the CIT last season.

Last year’s 21-win campaign included a victory at Michigan, a result that made waves nationally.

NJIT also has plans for a $100 million facility that will include a new basketball arena, a project that was used as a selling point as the school attempted to find a home for its athletic programs. While travel will be interesting, given the fact that the other seven members of the A-Sun are located in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee, NJIT is in the same city as a major airport.

Even with the presence of said airport, travel is an inconvenience in this. However with NJIT needing a home and the Atlantic Sun needed an eighth member that helps ease some of the scheduling issues its programs may have encountered, this is a move both sides needed to make.

Kennesaw State lets go of head coach Jimmy Lallathin

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Kennesaw State will not retain head coach Jimmy Lallathin, after he only lasted one full season. Lallathin took over for former Owl head coach Lewis Preston in the middle of the 2014-15 season and coached this season before parting ways with the Atlantic Sun program. The news was first reported by ESPN.com.

Lallathin went 10-22 this season with a 4-10 record in the Atlantic Sun. The coach was suspended in November for one game after the school self-reported NCAA violations.

A former assistant for Kennesaw State since 2011, Lallathin was also on the staff at Miami (OH) for four seasons.