Preseason basketball publications have hit the newsstands and several Atlantic Sun hoop stars and coaches have earned special recognition
In the 2009-10 Athlon Sports College Basketball Preview Edition, the A-Sun's last two Coaches of the Year, Belmont's Rick Byrd and Jacksonville's Cliff Warren, landed on the publication's Top 10 `Under the Radar Coaches'
On Byrd: After enjoying a great run as one of the nation's elite NAIA programs in the 1990s, Belmont emerged as a top program in the Atlantic Sun in the 2000s - all under Byrd's watch. Over the past seven year, the Bruins are 96-34 in league games, with NCAA Tournament appearances in 2006, '07 and '08.
On Warren: Warren, a former assistant at Georgia Tech, has done a phenomenal rebulding job in three years with the Dolphins. His first season was a debacle (1-26, 1-19 Atlantic Sun) but he is 51-41 since with records of 11-7 (T-3rd), 12-4 (2nd) and 15-5 (1st).
The publication also listed five among the "Top 40 Non-Major" players. Campbell's Jonathan Rodriguez and Mercer's James Florence rank seventh and eighth. The A-Sun and the Big South (Radford's Artsiom Parakhouski and Coastal Carolina's Joseph Harris) are the only two conference with multiple players in the top 10. Further down the list, ETSU's Mike Smith played 25th, Mercer's Daniel Emerson landed 27th and Jacksonville's Ben Smith took 35th.
The magazine tabbed Smith and his Jacksonville Dolphins as the preseason favorite followed by Mercer, Lipscomb, ETSU and Belmont. Mike Smith, Rodriguez, Florence and the Bisons' Adnan Hodzic make up Athlon's First Team. FGCU, Stetson, UNF, USC Upstate and Kennesaw State round out their poll.
From ESPN.com's Best of the Rest ShootAround, ESPN analyst By Fran Fraschilla listed his 10 Players To Keep An Eye On:
James Florence, Mercer: This 6-1 senior from Atlanta has something in common with current NBA players Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry. As freshmen three years ago, they all led their conferences in scoring. Florence is still around and is easily on his way to 2,000 points this season. And while he has done most of his damage in the lightly regarded Atlantic Sun, he has saved some of his best performances as a Bear for wins over USC, Alabama and Auburn.
The Blue Ribbon's forecast shows some similarities to Athlon. Both place the Dolphins atop the league. Blue Ribbon flips Lipscomb and Mercer, placing the Bisons ahead of the Bears and did the same with Belmont and ETSU, putting the Bruins in front. The two agreed on Campbell, with Stetson, Kennesaw State and UNF rounding out the Blue Ribbon predictions. The magazine did not recognize FGCU and USC Upstate. Mercer's James Florence earned Blue Ribbon's nod as the preseason Player of the Year.
Rivals has unveiled its rankings from 347 to 1 and ranked the A-Sun schools in the following order:
BEST PLAYER: G Ben Smith
QUICK TAKE: Coach Cliff Warren has done a great job rebuilding the program, and JU is the conference favorite.
BUZZ: The Dolphins won the regular-season title last season but fell in the league tournament. This season, they should make it back to the NCAAs for the first time since 1986, when current Orlando Magic GM Otis Smith was a JU star. Smith is a nice fit in the fast-paced attack, and forward Lehmon Colbert is the team's best big man. Warren has done a great job in near anonymity; JU won one game in his first season (2005-06).
BEST PLAYER: G James Florence
QUICK TAKE: Florence and forward Daniel Emerson have a chance to be the most productive scoring duo in the nation this season.
BUZZ: Four starters return, including Florence (23.2 ppg in league play) and Emerson - who averaged a double-double (13.8 ppg, 10.7 rpg). Will that duo get enough help? The four returning starters are seniors, so there are no excuses.
BEST PLAYER: C Adnan Hodzic
QUICK TAKE: Four starters are back for the Bisons, led by the burly Hodzic, a Bosnian native who played high school ball with Eric Gordon in Indianapolis.
BUZZ: Hodzic (17.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg) is a beast in the lane. If George Washington transfer Johnny Lee comes through at guard, Lipscomb could win the league and go to the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history.
BEST PLAYER: F Scott Saunders
QUICK TAKE: The Bruins lost four starters, but coach Rick Byrd will coax a winning record out of an overhauled roster.
BUZZ: The Bruins are the league's steadiest program, but the loss of all those starters will be too difficult to overcome. But weep not for Byrd, a good friend of country music star Vince Gill. Belmont has some talent, most notably the 6-10 Saunders, a Rice transfer. The Bruins also add G Kerron Johnson, who was Alabama's "Mr. Basketball" last season.
BEST PLAYER: F Jonathan Rodriguez
QUICK TAKE: The Camels - great nickname, huh? - return all five starters, and they have a legit shot at the league title.
BUZZ: The Camels are as athletic as any team in the league. Campbell was second in the league in 3-point field-goal percentage (35.5) but needs to improve its overall accuracy (43.2 field-goal percentage). The Camels also need to play better defense. Rodriguez and sophomore guard Lorne Merthie should be a productive duo.
BEST PLAYER: F Mike Smith
QUICK TAKE: ETSU gave Pitt a first-round scare in the NCAAs last season, but the top two players from that team are gone.
BUZZ: The Bucs won the league tournament last season. Smith has a chance to average a double-double, but he must get some help from a solid recruiting class and some holdovers who didn't have to do much last season.
Florida Gulf Coast
BEST PLAYER: G Reed Baker
QUICK TAKE: The Fort Myers school will be counting on a Michigan transfer, sort of like that area's economy counts on Midwest transplants.
BUZZ: The Eagles still are in a transition stage to full-fledged Division I membership and are ineligible for the league tournament. But they could do some damage in the regular season. Baker, who began his career at Michigan, has good range and is a solid passer. F Kyle Marks is good on the boards and on defense.
BEST PLAYER: C Nick Schneiders
QUICK TAKE: As far as we know, this is the only Division I program that originally started as a nursing school.
BUZZ: As with Florida Gulf Coast, the Spartans won't be full-fledged Division I members until 2011-12. They play good defense but have to get better offensively. Three starters return, but no double-figure scorers are back. One returning starter is the 7-foot-3 Schneiders; while he is a good shot blocker, he still has a ways to go offensively and on the boards.
BEST PLAYER: G Eni Cuka
QUICK TAKE: New coach Matt Driscoll is a former Baylor assistant, so he knows all about tough rebuilding jobs.
BUZZ: Driscoll was hired off the staff at Baylor, where he helped oversee a massive rebuilding job. He has one of his own with the Ospreys, who are eligible for the league tourney for the first time this season. Four starters return, but UNF was awful on both ends of the floor last season. The first job for Driscoll is increasing the talent level.
BEST PLAYER: F Jon-Michael Nickerson
QUICK TAKE: The Owls finally are eligible for the NCAA tourney after a transition period in the Atlantic Sun.
BUZZ: Kennesaw is eligible for the league tourney for the first time. The Owls started 5-2 last season, then won just two of their remaining 22 games. They were a young team last season, and coaches hope the added experience helps this season, especially on offense, where Kennesaw has struggled.
BEST PLAYER: G A.J. Smith
QUICK TAKE: The Hatters were pitiful on offense last season - and they've lost their best offensive player.
BUZZ: The Hatters shot just 38.4 percent from the field last season and lost their best offensive player, forward Garfield Blair. Guard A.J. Smith has some skills, and he'd better show them off this season because he is the only proven offensive player. There is a five-man recruiting class, with two from Australia.
The A-Sun announced the coaches' and media preseason polls on Wednesday with Lipscomb and Jacksonville sharing the top spot from the coaches and the Dolphins placing first in the media poll. Jacksonville's Ben Smith earned Player of the Year honors.