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October 11, 2011
We continue with our league breakdowns for the upcoming season; we're working backward from league No. 32 to our top-ranked league.
The breakdowns will become more in-depth as the leagues get bigger.
22. Atlantic Sun
By Mike Huguenin
This is Belmont's final season in the Atlantic Sun before moving to the Ohio Valley Conference, and the Bruins look as if they will run away with the league title in their last go-round.
Belmont went 30-5 last season and won the regular-season title by three games last season. It again should cruise this season behind coach Rick Byrd and a deep, talented roster; the Bruins return four starters and 10 lettermen. The Bruins have the league's best player in G Ian Clark and, unlike most low-major teams, also have excellent size in the middle with Cs Mick Hedgepeth and Scott Saunders, who began his career at Rice. The Hedgepeth/Saunders duo combined to average 20.7 points and 11.1 rebounds.
Belmont will have the opportunity to make some national noise early in the season, with games against Duke and Memphis in November and a home-and-home set with Marshall, which should be the No. 2 team in Conference USA, in December.
The race for second should be a good one. East Tennessee, Jacksonville and fast-rising North Florida should be Belmont's main competition.
While ETSU and Jacksonville each lost key players, UNF returns the top five scorers off a team that advanced to the league tourney final. ETSU welcomes the return of rugged G Tommy Hubbard, an excellent rebounder who missed last season with an injury. JU is well-coached by Cliff Warren but is in danger of being passed in its own city by UNF.
The other six teams have serious flaws, though Kennesaw State has one of the league's best players in F Markeith Cummings. There also are three new coaches in this group: Casey Alexander at Stetson, Andy Enfield at Florida Gulf Coast and Lewis Preston at Kennesaw State.
Former league member Campbell departed for the Big South in the offseason, but Florida Gulf Coast and USC Upstate now are eligible for the postseason after completing their transition periods. That means there will be 10 teams vying for the eight spots in the league tourney.
ALL-ATLANTIC SUN FIRST TEAM
PROJECTED ORDER OF FINISH
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.