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October 6, 2010

League preview: Atlantic Sun

We continue with our league breakdowns for the upcoming season; we'll work backward from league No. 32 to our top-ranked league.

The breakdowns will become more in-depth as the leagues get bigger.

27. Atlantic Sun

By Mike Huguenin

The Atlantic Sun had a four-way tie for first last season, and it wouldn't be that big a surprise if there was a three-way tie this season.

The league's three Tennessee-based teams -- Belmont, East Tennessee State and Lipscomb -- look to be a step above the other eight teams. Belmont and Lipscomb are separated by about a mile in Nashville, while ETSU is in Johnson City, in the northeast part of the state.

ETSU finished a game out, in fifth place, last season but won the league tourney; the Bucs welcome back four starters plus add senior F Mike Smith, who missed most of last season with a knee injury. The Bucs have a senior-laden roster, and if Smith returns at 100 percent, ETSU will be difficult to beat in league play.

Lipscomb, one of the teams that tied for first, has the league's best player in senior F Adnan Hodzic, a Bosnian who is the nation's leading returning scorer. He is ably complemented by senior G Josh Slater. Lipscomb prefers a fast pace, but the Bisons' lack of defense was a big problem last season.

Belmont returns three key starters, and sophomore G Ian Clark is the standout; he was the league's freshman of the year last season and should be the league's best backcourt player this season. Belmont's best weapon might be Rick Byrd, who is the best coach in the league.

The rest of the conference appears to be playing for fourth place. Kennesaw State has a nice building block in sophomore forward Markeith Cummings; he and fellow sophomore LeDaris Green give the Owls some big bodies in the paint.

Florida Gulf Coast and USC Upstate are in their final provisional seasons since moving up to Division I, and as such, neither is eligible for the league tourney. Only eight teams make the postseason event, and North Florida, Mercer and Stetson look as if they will be battling for seventh and eighth place.

F Markeith Cummings, Kennesaw State (6-7/230, Soph.)
F Adnan Hodzic, Lipscomb (6-8/245, Sr.)
F Mike Smith, ETSU (6-6/225, Sr.)
G Ian Clark, Belmont (6-3/175, Soph.)
G Josh Slater, Lipscomb (6-3/200, Sr.)
F Anthony Banks, Fla. GC (6-6/210, Soph.)
F/C Mick Hedgepeth, Belmont (6-9/235, Jr.)
F/G Tommy Hubbard, ETSU(6-4/210, Sr.)
G Jeff Smith, Mercer (6-2/180, Sr.)
G Micah Williams, ETSU (6-4/220, Sr.)

F Adnan Hodzic, Lipscomb
G Jimmy Williams, North Florida
(6-4/215, Jr./junior college transfer)

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

New coaches: None
Regular-season winner last season: four-way tie (Belmont, Campbell, Jacksonville and Lipscomb)
Tournament winner last season: ETSU
RPI in each of past 3 years: 25th in 2009-10, 27th in 2008-09, 29th in 2007-08
Last NCAA tourney win by a league team:
2001, then-member Georgia State as a No. 11 seed in first round
2011 conference tournament: March 2-5, Macon, Ga.

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