Atlantic Sun Tournament Betting Guide: Will Dunk City Dance Again?

Atlantic Sun Tournament Betting Guide: Will Dunk City Dance Again? article feature image
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© Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Believe it or not, the first conference tournament kicks off tonight in the Atlantic Sun. Below you will find my thoughts on the overall ASun bracket, followed by ATS predictions for each of the following four quarterfinal matchups tonight:

  • USC Upstate at Florida Gulf Coast -17
  • Kennesaw State at Jacksonville -2.5
  • North Florida at NJIT -8
  • Stetson at Lipscomb -11.5

Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament

Who: All eight Atlantic Sun teams (no byes)

When: Feb. 26 – Mar. 4

Where: Higher seed hosts each game on campus

Who Should Win?

Dunk City -255

As you can see, top seeded FGCU is the heavy favorite to threepeat as ASUN champs. “Dunk City” of course became the pride and joy of midmajor basketball when Andy Enfield led the Eagles to the Sweet 16 as a 15 seed in 2013, but Joe Dooley has built the Eagles into consistent winners since those salad days in Fort Myers.

This year’s FGCU squad is still all about the rim. Dooley’s flex motion offense attempts shots at the rim at the 4th highest rate in the country, per hoop-math.com. The Eagles have plenty of options in the frontcourt, with high major castoffs like Michael Gilmore (Miami), Antravious Simmons (VCU), and Brady Ernst (Iowa State) all capable of scoring in the paint.

Dooley also has a high powered backcourt, which gives the Eagles unparalleled balance in the ASUN. Brandon Goodwin and Zach Johnson are equally adept as pick and roll ball handlers. And while the Eagles don’t look for the three often, wings Christian Terrell and Dinero Mercurius provide sharp spot shooting when needed, as both hit 40%+ from deep.

Terrell and Mercurius are also severely underrated defenders on the wing and a big reason the Eagles held ASUN opponents to .92 points per possession (ppp) this season, which was by far the best mark in the league. In fact, only the ACC and AAC have a wider gulf between the first and second most efficient defense (and those two leagues have historically dominant defenses in Virginia and Cincy).

With so much reliance on scoring at the rim, it’s no coincidence that the Eagles also excel in post defense. FGCU is also well rounded on the defensive end, allowing just .627 ppp against ball screens, per Synergy. That defense did show signs of wear and tear down the stretch, as Lipscomb and even Kennesaw State scored over 1.1 ppp. For reference, FGCU held KSU to 49 points in 69 possessions the first time they played. Perhaps that late season defensive lapse served as a wake up call for the Eagles, as it came after they clinched the ASUN regular season. FGCU ended the year on a high note with a typically dominant defensive performance, albeit against the lowly Hatters of Stetson.

FGCU will host No. 8 seed USC Upstate in the quarterfinals, where it has covered in each of the last six seasons. Just how bad was USC Upstate this year?

  • It has just three D-1 wins.
  • It has the country’s lowest rated defense, allowing 1.25 ppp. That would qualify as the worst recorded defense of the KenPom era (since 2001-02).
  • Predictably, FGCU won both meetings by 17 points (although Upstate jumped out to a 44-29 lead in Spartanburg).

If not FGCU, then who?

The Bisons (yes, BisonS) of Lipscomb +235

It’s been a strange year for No. 2 seed Lipscomb, which lost senior PG Nate Moran before the season even started. But the Bisons finally snapped an 11 game losing streak to crosstown rival Belmont. In fact, head coach Casey Alexander swept his mentor Rick Byrd and Belmont this year.

Lipscomb’s got off to a rocky 1-3 start in Atlantic Sun play, but it has since won nine of 10, including a win at FGCU on Feb. 17. Lipscomb models its offense exactly like Belmont’s constant motion and drag screen transition game. This has recently given FGCU some issues, as the Bisons avoid the strengths of the FGCU defense (rim protection, pick and roll defense) by bombing away from the outside.

Curiously, this Lipscomb team has shot the three at the lowest rate of Alexander’s tenure. (The Bisons had shot the three at a top 20 rate nationally for four consecutive years prior this season). Lipscomb also only attempts threes at a rate of just 32%, which is the lowest mark in the entire league. The loss of Moran, a 40%+ volume shooter in Moran, has certainly hurt the Bisons’ shooting but they’ve also made a more conscious effort to exploit the constant single coverage that big man Rob Marberry faces. Marberry’s shot and usage rate have increased this season, and impressively so has his efficiency.

Marberry plays the “Evan Bradds” role in the Lipscomb offense, but 6’5 slasher Garrison Mathews drives the Bisons. Mathews draws the most contact in the league. Subsequently, he shot free throws at the highest rate in the ASUN, while canning them at 82%. Free points are never a bad thing for an offense.

Kenny Cooper has admirably filled in for Moran at the point. While he doesn’t have the same shooting prowess, he is a better defender in pick and roll situations. He also is extremely turnover prone, which No. 7 seed Stetson could potentially exploit in the quarterfinals. The Hatters run a 4 out offense with dual point guards Divine Myles and Comby Rivera, both of whom are extremely small and quick. Teams with quick overall team speed can give Lipscomb issues. Stetson actually held second half leads in both games meetings this year before Mathews or Marberry eventually wore them down. Stetson also has no answer for a stretch 4 like Matt Rose in the open court, which is troublesome since it is more than willing to play at Lipscomb’s preferred uptempo speed.

The Bisons also have a solid defense, led by one of the nation’s best glass eaters in Eli Pepper. The Bisons also don’t have to deal with North Florida in their half of the bracket, who they’ve lost four of five to (including last year’s Atlantic Sun semis).

Potential Sleeper

NJIT 20/1

NJIT offers intrigue as a deep sleeper due to its athleticism inside and perimeter shooting ability.

I like NJIT to advance at home past No. 5 seed North Florida, which can give teams trouble with its zone and outside shooting. The Ospreys shot the three at the highest rate in ASUN play. They also hit 37%, which led to the league’s top offensive efficiency rating at 1.11 ppp. Each team beat the other at home with ease during the regular season, but UNF didn’t have power forward Wajid Aminu in its loss at NJIT. Consequently, the Highlanders dominated the glass and scored 1.32 ppp. NJIT extends past the 3 point line defensively, thus it doesn’t give up a lot of threes Tarke and Abdul Lewis comprise the best passing frontcourt in the ASUN and NJIT shoots the 3 at a 40% clip, which is extremely useful against UNF’s matchup zone. Tough matchup for the Ospreys.

If NJIT does advance, it will likely face FGCU. The Highlanders can turn Dunk City over, which has been an achilles heel for the Eagles all year. Should NJIT manage to get past FGCU in the semis, keep in mind it should have swept Lipscomb this year. This is the Eagles’ tournament to lose, but NJIT is a touch more than a shot in the dark.

Final Prediction

FGCU over Lipscomb

Dunk City simply has too much balance on both sides of the ball.

Most Intriguing Monday Matchup

Kennesaw State at Jacksonville (-2.5)

No. 3 seed Jacksonville is a resilient team. Tony Jasick’s squad lost off guard and best defender JD Notae to a season ending injury three games ago, but won their last two to clinch a home game in the quarters. JU is the league’s least efficient offense, but the second best defensive team in the ASUN. particularly because it’s so disruptive in the backcourt (although the loss of Notae takes some of that away).

The Dolphins will host No. 6 seed Kennesaw State, which they struggled to defend this year. KSU’s big wings of James Scott and Nick Masterson give JU’s much smaller Dolphins headaches within Al Skinner’s infamous flex offense. KSU actually had a double digit lead in the second half at JU before Scott left with an injury. The Owls also have a massive advantage on the offensive glass, as JU runs out 6’5 frosh Jalyn Hinton or 6’6 Jace Hogan at the 5.

The one area JU can potentially exploit is at the point guard position. Senior Devin Harris, fresh off a ridiculous 14 point/12 rebound/16 assist game, has had a phenomenal season. Meanwhile, KSU has had erratic at best lead guard play with sophomore Tyler Hooker. In fact, the offense has recently been running mostly through Scott and Masterson.

The two teams ultimately ended up splitting the season series, with each holding serve at home. I think KSU can buck that trend and pick up the road victory tonight.

Quarterfinal ATS Predictions

Stetson +11.5

Kennesaw State +2.5

FGCU -17

Liked NJIT at -5, but value gone at -8

 

Florida Gulf Cost guard Brandon Goodwin pictured above

Photo via © Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports