Friday, March 21, 2014

A-Sun Enjoying Record-Setting Postseason Appearances

With March Madness now underway, this year’s schedule of postseason play is particularly bright for the A-Sun as the conference celebrates yet another milestone in men’s and women’s basketball.

This season a record number of eight A-sun teams took the court in postseason tournaments, with three teams (ETSU men, Stetson women and Northern Kentucky women) already claiming wins and advancing to the second rounds of their respective tournaments.

For the first time in A-Sun history four men’s teams – Mercer, FGCU, ETSU and USC Upstate – earned opportunities to extend their seasons in postseason play. Each enjoyed a level of success throughout the season that led to the conference milestone, including advancing to the semifinals of the 2014 A-Sun Championship.

The A-Sun’s previous record for postseason teams was three, which has happened on five occasions (1988, 2004, 2009, 2011 and 2012).

In its third straight postseason appearance, No. 14 seed Mercer returned to the NCAA Tournament today for the first time since 1985 and proceeded to upset No. 3 seed Duke, 78-71. Two years ago the Bears claimed the A-Sun’s first postseason title, along with its program’s first as well, by winning the Tournament title. Last season Mercer knocked off their next opponent, Tennessee, in the NIT first round before falling to BYU in the second, and now the senior-laden Bears continue to make their mark in NCAA March Madness. Mercer now boasts a 27-8 record, which includes a share of the 2014 A-Sun Regular Season title. 

Atlantic Sun teams have combined for 14 postseason wins in the past four seasons; seven of which came from Mercer.

 After becoming the first 15-seed to ever reach the NCAA Sweet 16 a year ago, FGCU set itself up to enjoy another run in postseason by claiming a share of this year’s A-Sun regular season with Mercer. Falling to the Bears in a thrilling A-Sun Championship final, the Eagles then took their 22-12 record to Tallahassee to face top-seeded FSU in their first ever NIT action. In a tight contest throughout, the Seminoles eventually edged the Eagles 58-53.

USC Upstate and ETSU both earned home games in the Tournament as the Spartans hosted Towson on Wednesday, while the Buccaneers tangled with Chattanooga. Both teams reached the A-Sun Championship Semifinals and both have history in the CIT, as the Spartans claimed a win vs. Kent State in 2012, while ETSU reached the 2011 CIT Semifinals. After tying the game with 1.8 seconds remaining to seemingly force overtime, Towson did the unthinkable and drained a half court shot at the buzzer to top Upstate 63-60 at the Hodge Center.

The Bucs picked up their third victory in CIT competition on Wednesday, topping Chattanooga 79-66 and will continue as host as the y welcome Towson to the ETSU/MHSA Athletic Center tonight at 7 p.m. ET.

For the second year in a row Atlantic Sun Women's Basketball finds four teams playing in postseason tournaments with FGCU leading the way with a No. 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The four teams  – FGCU, Stetson, Northern Kentucky and USC Upstate – in postseason play ties for the most squads the league has landed in the postseason with Stetson, FGCU, Northern Kentucky and Mercer making tournaments in 2013.

The Eagles face No. 5 Oklahoma State in West Lafayette, Ind., on Saturday, March 22nd, at 11 a.m. The first round match-up will be available live on ESPN2. This is the Eagles’ second trip to the big dance with a repeat performance as a No. 12 seed.

For the first time in A-Sun history the league marked two teams with 25+ wins as FGCU and Stetson entered postseason with 26-7 records. The Eagles won the A-Sun Regular season title and grabbed a 72-70 overtime victory against the Hatters in the A-Sun Championship final to earn the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Stetson earned a trip to the WNIT and the Hatters took advantage, knocking off Miami 70-63 on the road. The Hatters’ season continues to be historic as they set a program record for wins in a season (now 27) and are making their fourth-consecutive appearance in postseason play with NCAA appearances in 2013 and 2011 and a WNIT game in 2012. The Hatters now await the winner of today’s match-up between USF and North Carolina A&T, with the potential of hosting their second round contest.

Northern Kentucky finished third in the A-Sun regular season and received a postseason berth for the second-straight year as the Norse hosted McNeese State in the Women's Basketball Invitational (WBI) Thursday evening. The Norse, the No.3 seed in the West Region, controlled Thursday’s game with the Cowgirls and claimed the 84-72 victory on the strength of Kayla Thacker’s game-high of 25 points. NKU now travels to Charleston to face the College of Charleston, who knocked off No. 6 seed USC Upstate 85-71 on Thursday.

The Norse were a force to be reckoned with this season as they are in their second year of transition. NKU boasts an 18-12 record and handed the A-Sun Champion Eagles their lone loss in conference play. Upstate reached the A-Sun Championship semifinal and sits with a 17-14 record.

As the A-Sun’s historic basketball postseason continues, it is easy to see why the conference’s star is on the rise. Quality regular-season wins, recent postseason success and an ever-expanding level of individual talent and coaching expertise paint an impressive picture of A-Sun basketball that will continue to earn its place among the nation’s best.

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