Seeding: The Bisons finished two games out of first place in the Atlantic Sun, and historically that likely means they’re set up for a 16th seed.
Names you need to know: Junior Garrison Matthews can absolutely fill it up. The 6-foot-5 wing averaged 21.7 points per game and had a 43-point outing against Kennesaw State in January. Roby Mayberry is no slouch offensively either, averaging 16.7 points on 61.4 percent shooting. Eli Pepper grabs eight rebounds per game.
Stats you need to know: Lipscomb wants to go fast. Overall, they rank seventh in adjusted tempo according to KenPom. Offensively, they have the 12th-shortest average possession length in the country and clock in at 14th defensively. They shoot quickly themselves and then get opponents to go fast as well. Their defensive rebounding kick-starts their transition offense.
Big wins, bad losses: The Bisons played Belmont home-and-away in the non-conference season and won both times, giving them their only two top-100 wins of the year. Losses to North Florida and Jacksonville are serious drags on the resume. They did top ASun champ Florida Gulf Coast twice, including in dramatic fashion Sunday.
How’d they get here?: The Bisons got up by 32 in the second half against the Eagles and then went into near-complete meltdown mode. FGCU pulled as close as five points, but were unable to pull off one of the biggest come-from-behind wins in NCAA history. Lipscomb has won eight-straight heading into the NCAA tournament.
Outlook: Lipscomb is going to find itself some tough sledding in the NCAA tournament. The Bisons are likely a 16-seed, a spot from which no team has ever gotten out of the first round, and their high-possession style is rarely a recipe for an upset. There isn’t a lot about their profile that screams Cinderella.
How do I know you?: You don’t. Or at least not from the NCAA tournament. This will be Lipscomb’s first-ever trip to the Big Dance. If you’re a big NAIA fan, though, you might remember the 1986 Lipscomb squad that won the national championship in that division.
Florida Gulf Coast’s Demetris Morant out 3-4 months
Florida Gulf Coast redshirt junior forward Demetris Morant is expected to miss the next 3-4 months after undergoing surgery last week to repair a stress fracture in his right shin, the school announced on Tuesday.
The 6-foot-9 forward averaged 4.5 points, 4.4 blocks and 1.3 blocks per game in 33 appearances (18 starts) for the Eagles during the 2014-15 season.
“This is obviously an unfortunate setback for Demetris, but it was a procedure that needed to be done,” Florida Gulf Coast head coach Dooley said in a statement. “We decided it would be best to have it completed now to hopefully get him back for A-Sun play. It’s an opportunity now for other guys to step up in his absence, and I have confidence they’ll get the job done.”
The Eagles have the top frontline in the Atlantic Sun, one that returns Marc-Eddy Norelia and Filip Cvjeticanin, a 3-point shooter who missed all of last season recovering from back surgery. VCU transfer Antravious Simmons becomes eligible in the second semester.
Florida Gulf Coast begins the 2015-16 season on Nov. 14 against Ohio.
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.
Behind Thompson and Comer, Dunk City looks to take flight once again this March
Bernard Thompson received an alert from his phone on a Friday afternoon.
It was March 21, and the message was from the SportsCenter app, informing him that Mercer had defeated Duke, 78-71, on the second day of the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Thompson, the all-Atlantic Sun guard from Florida-Gulf Coast, had elected not to watch the game after Mercer had dashed his team’s hopes of a return trip to the NCAA tournament by winning the A-Sun title on Florida Gulf Coast’s home floor 13 days earlier.
The roles had been reserved for the two rival A-Sun programs. In 2013, Florida Gulf Coast went on the road and topped Mercer in the conference championship game before becoming the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16. The Eagles’ high-flying offense made them overnight sensations, being labeled forever as “Dunk City” (coined by a certain college basketball website).
Chase Fieler has graduated, Eric McKnight and Dajuan Graf have both transferred and Filip Cvjeticanin is out for the season after undergoing back surgery, leaving the heralded senior back court of Thompson and Brett Comer as the only members from that 2013 Cinderella run on the FGCU roster this season. Despite a mostly new supporting cast, the original Dunk City duo is looking to put FGCU back in the national spotlight this March.
“I think the dynamics had changed a little. We went from a team that was really always an underdog and now the pressure had shifted. Now we were a team that had won the league,” second-year head coach Joe Dooley told NBCSports.com. “I think the experience of us having gone through that will help us this year.
“At our level it’s hard because it’s usual a single-bid league. The guys understand that trying to prepare to win the regular season in our league gives us the best change to play at home (in the conference tournament), but you can’t take anything for granted.”
Thompson, Comer and the rest of the FGCU program were fueled in the offseason workouts by the missed opportunity, understanding that a slow first half against Mercer, in which they spotted the Bears a 16-point halftime lead, meant the difference between the NCAA tournament and the NIT. Thompson, Comer and Jamail Jones, the third returning starter, give FGCU an experienced perimeter attack, but it’s the addition of the newcomers that should continue to make it an exciting brand of basketball to watch.
“I think this is going to be the most skilled team that’s been here,” Comer said. “Talent-wise it’s amazing here.”
In a league that’s thinned out as Mercer and East Tennessee State both defected for the Southern Conference, leaving the A-Sun with only eight teams, Florida Gulf Coast has stockpiled pieces around its three returning starters. Whether it be the playing style or the fact that the team’s home court, Alico Arena, is less than a mile away from the beach, Florida Gulf Coast has been a consistent landing spot for high-major transfers. Half of the roster began their college careers elsewhere before arriving in Fort Myers.
Jones (Marquette) and Nate Hicks (Georgia Tech) made their contributions last season as transfers. This year, Julian DeBose (Rice) and Brian Greene Jr. (Auburn) add depth to the perimeter. A trio of big men — all 6-foot-8 or taller — Marc-Eddy Norelia (Tulane), Eric Moeller (Central Florida/Missouri) and Demetris Morant (UNLV) give the Eagles a versatile frontline, allowing them to keep their fast-paced, highlight-filled style of play intact.
“We’re really excited about our frontline,” Dooley said. “Marc-Eddy sat out last year and was a real energy guy in practice. Nate played a lot of minutes. Demetris we were fortunate he was given a waiver by the NCAA, and he is long and as athletic as any guy I’ve coached. Then, Eric Moeller has very good skills and I think he has a big upside. They’re all young, they’re all sophomores. We have a bright future on our frontline.”
Dooley, who took over this team in 2013 after Andy Enfield left for USC, spent 10 seasons on the bench at Kansas. Despite the decade of dominance the Jayhawks have put forth in the Big 12, Dooley isn’t sure if he’s every coached a pair of first-team all-conference players in the same back court before. It’s a luxury to have, the foundation for the future with multiple high-major transfers is set, coupled with the experience of two of the most decorated players in the program’s brief history in Thompson, the school’s all-time leading scorer and Comer, the all-time leader in assists.
“It’s vital,” Dooley added. “Their our best players, their who were building around. They’ll carry us as our frontline big guys catch up.”
Despite not watching a minute of the Mercer-Duke game, both Thompson and Comer understood what their rivals were experiencing, as both can recall the sights and sounds from the Wells Fargo Center locker room after FGCU knocked off Georgetown and San Diego State in a three-day span back in March 2013.
“I was actually happy for them,” Thompson said. “I felt the moment. I know how it feels. I know the excitement and what they were going through. You live for moments like this, to upset big teams. Just to be in that type of atmosphere, it’s a great feeling.”
Just like how the whole Dunk City phenomenon began, two of the last remaining pieces want to go out with a bang. Come March, Thompson doesn’t want to follow the NCAA tournament through his phone like he did this past spring. He’d rather have his cell on ‘Airplane Mode’ because Dunk City intends on taking flight one more time.
For the second year in a row, an Atlantic Sun program captivated the nation in March, as Mercer defeated Duke in the Round of 64. The Bears reached the NCAA tournament after knocking off Florida Gulf Coast in the A-Sun title game, avenging a conference tournament loss from the previous season. Mercer exited the Atlantic Sun on a high note, as Bob Hoffman’s program is now a member of the Southern Conference.
Despite the departure of Mercer, one thing remains the same in 2014-2015: Dunk City will be the favorite once again. The conference’s two best guards — Bernard Thompson and Brett Comer — both reside in the FGCU back court. The three-year starters were part of the Original Dunk City back in 2013, the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16. Transfers Julian DeBose (Rice) and Brian Greene Jr. (Auburn) provide depth in the backcourt, and while the Eagles lose Eric McKnight to transfer and Filip Cvjeticanin to injury, Joe Dooley feels good about his frontline with returning Jamil Jones and Nate Hicks with newcomers Demetris Morant (a transfer from UNLV), Marc-Eddy Norelia and Eric Moeller.
Two teams that finished .500 last season could emerge as the biggest challenges to FGCU. Lipscomb has four starters back led by twin brothers Martin and Malcolm Smith. In Casey Alexander’s second season, his Bisons finished strong with eight wins in their last 11 games. North Florida has rookie of the year Dallas Moore in the back court and Beau Beech headlines a host of returnees on the interior who can help combat the loss of Travis Wallace, the team’s second leading scorer and top rebounder.
USC Upstate lost three of its top four scorers from a team that qualified for the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, but Ty Greene, one of two returning starters, can help keep Spartans in the top half of the league standings.
Perhaps the biggest concern for the Atlantic Sun is the number of programs that have left the league. In addition to Mercer, East Tennessee State and Belmont have also left the league in recent years. Those were three of the best programs in the conference.
Out: East Tennessee State, Mercer
PRESEASON ATLANTIC SUN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Bernard Thompson, Florida Gulf Coast
The 6-foot-3 shooting guard makes up one-half of FGCU’s star-studded back court. The team’s top scorer from a season ago posted 15.1 points to go along with his 4.1 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game. He is also has a presence on the other end of the floor being named A-Sun Defensive Player of the Year as a sophomore in 2012-2013.
THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ATLANTIC SUN TEAM:
Brett Comer, Florida Gulf Coast: The Dunk City floor general is the conference’s top returning assist man. First-team all-conference selection in 2013-2014.
Dallas Moore, North Florida: The Atlantic Sun Rookie of the Year averaged 12.5 points, 2.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game, shooting 37 percent from beyond the arc.
Martin Smith, Lipscomb: The A-Sun’s top returning scorer at 15.6 points per game. Dropped 20 on FGCU twice last season.
Ty Greene, USC Upstate: The 6-foot-3 senior posted averages of 14.3 points, 3.0 boards and 3.5 assists per game.
A quick disclaimer before I begin, because determining who qualifies as a mid-major and who doesn’t is always a touchy subject. Here is how we broke it down for these rankings: The Mountain West, the Big East, the Atlantic 10 and the American were all, by default, barred from these rankings. The WCC was eligible with the exception of Gonzaga and BYU. The Missouri Valley was eligible with the exception of Wichita State. Everyone else was fair game.
Why did we eliminate the Shockers from contention? Well, the complicated answer is that “high-major” delegation is more about financial resources, support from the university, the fan base and the community, and consistent, high-level success during the season and on the recruiting trail, but the simple answer is that the Shockers would be the clear-cut No. 1 team here and it’s more fun to do this without them involved. Our rankings, our rules. Deal with it.
1. Harvard, 27-5, 13-1 Ivy (1st): The Crimson return the core of a team that has won a game in back-to-back NCAA tournaments, notching upsets over No. 3 New Mexico and No. 5 Cincinnati. Their front court is deep, big and talented enough to matchup with just about any high-major. Their perimeter doesn’t have a ton of depth, but it does have Siyani Chambers and Wesley Saunders. Barring injuries, the Crimson look like a top 25 team.
2. Georgia State, 25-9, 17-1 Sun Belt (1st): The Panthers back court is absolutely loaded. Ryan Harrow, R.J. Hunter and Kevin Ware are as talented as any group of guards that you’ll find at the Division I level. There should be no drop-off from last season’s team, the one that went 17-1 in Sun Belt play, particularly if Ron Hunter can find someone to help Curtis Washington on the interior.
3. Louisiana Tech, 29-8, 13-3 Conference USA (t-1st): The Bulldogs lose three starters off of last year’s team, but more importantly that brought back head coach Mike White, who nearly took the Tennessee job, as well as their trio of talented guards, Alex Hamilton, Kenneth Smith and the now-healthy Raheem Appleby.
4. New Mexico State, 26-10, 12-4 WAC (2nd): The Aggies have made three straight NCAA tournaments and this season return reigning WAC Player of the Year, Daniel Mullings, as well as Tshilidzi Nephawe and DK Eldridge. NMSU hasn’t won the WAC regular season or a game in the NCAA tournament the past three seasons, and this year might change that.
5. Murray State, 23-11, 13-3 OVC West (1st): Thrust into the point guard role after Zay Jackson’s knee injury, freshman Cameron Payne quickly made Racer fans forget about Isaiah Canaan. Steve Prohm will return the top four scorers from that team, including double-double threat Jarvis Williams.
6. Saint Mary’s, 23-12, 11-7 WCC (4th): Losing Stephen Holt, Beau Levesque and James Walker III will hurt, but Brad Waldow is back and he’ll be joined by former Stanford point guard Aaron Bright, Minnesota wing Joe Coleman and Washington big man Desmond Simmons. They’ll compete with BYU for the title of second-best team in the WCC.
7. Green Bay, 24-7, 14-2 Horizon (1st): The Phoenix lose center Alec Brown, but they return four of their top five scorers — including star point guard Keifer Sykes — from a team that beat ACC champion Virginia last season.
8. Toledo, 27-7, 14-4 MAC West (1st): Fresh off a school record 27 wins and a trip to the NIT, Toledo returns six of their top seven scorers, including all-league guard ‘Juice’ Brown, who has started 98 games in his career.
9. Stephen F. Austin, 32-3, 18-0 Southland (1st): The Lumberjacks lost three key pieces from last season’s team, but they return reigning Southland Player of the Year Jacob Parker. Head coach Brad Underwood is back as well, meaning SFA will once again be a team capable of winning a game in the Big Dance.
10. Northern Iowa, 16-15, 10-8 Missouri Valley (3rd): The Panthers were a bit of a disappointment a season ago, but they return their top six scorers from last season, headlined by big man Seth Tuttle, while adding Virginia transfer Paul Jesperson.
11. Iona, 22-11, 17-3 MAAC (1st): The Gaels won 20 games for the fourth straight season a year ago. They return one of the best scorers at the mid-major level in A.J. English and should once again be the favorites to win the always-competitive MAAC.
12. Wofford, 20-13, 11-5 SoCon (t-3rd): The Terriers return everyone of significance from a team that won the SoCon tournament a season ago. Along with Chattanooga, the favorites to win the league with Davidson A-10 bound.
13. Yale, 19-14, 9-5 Ivy (2nd): Harvard is the favorite to win the Ivy League this year, but Yale, the only team to beat Harvard in Ivy play last season, brings back a loaded front line, headlined by NBCSports.com’s preseason Player of the Year Justin Sears.
14. UC Irvine, 23-12, 13-3 Big West (1st): The Anteaters rode a pair of freshmen to the Big West title last season — 7-foot-6 center Mamadou N’Diaye and 6-foot-3 guard and leading scorer Luke Nelson.
15. Florida-Gulf Coast, 22-13, 14-4 Atlantic Sun (t-1st): The Atlantic Sun may be withering with the loss of Belmont, Mercer and East Tennessee State in recent years, but FGCU’s program is as good as ever. Bernard Thompson and Brett Comer anchor the back court while another crop of high-major transfers will fill their supporting cast.
OTHERS RECEIVING VOTES: Belmont, Chattanooga, Cleveland State, Hofstra, Louisiana-Lafayette, Manhattan, Sam Houston State, Siena, Stony Brook, UC Santa Barbara, Western Michigan