February 9, 2009 12:30 pm ET by Kyle Whelliston
Stetson at East Tennessee State (Atlantic Sun)
Memorial Center - Johnson City, TN
7:00 PM EST
The Atlantic Sun is providing many of these mid-major hot-shot conferences a clinic on how to organize its standings. You want three teams up top with gaudy records, a strong .500 midsection, and a couple of low-rent stragglers that lose to everybody. You hear that, CAA, Bizarro Valley, MAC? This is the way to put yourself in two-bid position. Except, of course, the conference in this case has no teams in the top 100 on anybody's computer, and collectively has won just as many nonconference games as its current RPI (27). But that's cool.
Currently in first is East Tennessee State, who will always have considerable shoulder chips until they win a league they were supposed to dominate upon entry. The Bucs have seven NCAA appearances and two Big Dance wins (most recently, a 14-over-3 shocker of Arizona in 1992), but had to leave the SoCon when the school dropped its American-style football program. This is the fourth season in the A-Sun, and the team's compiled a 49-17 league record, but has never broken through in March. This year's version is 11-2 in league play (17-6 overall) and is packed with seniors -- most notably backcourt buddies Kevin Tiggs and Courtney Pigram. They're combining for 39.4 ppg and helping the Bucs to a conference-leading 48.4 percent field goal percentage. But what separates this squad from every other over-caffeinated A-Sun team is its intense hunger for the ball on defense: 16.8 forced TO's a game. And then there's Mike Smith, the 6-6 junior who grabs 7.3 boards a game and comes into tonight with three straight double-doubles. The Bucs are as complete a package as the league has ever offered.
Visiting Johnson City tonight is Stetson, a team that hasn't quite met expectations after a breakthrough 11-5 A-Sun campaign a year ago. Garfield Blair was the best junior in the league last season, but he hasn't been able to lift the 2008-09 Hatters to the same level. The team is flat-even at 7-7 (10-12 overall), and has really struggled with a lot of "S" issues: shooting, sharing and stops. Stetson has the worst assist-to-turnover ratio in the conference (.75-to-1) and have not received much of any players taller than Blair's 6-5 height. The Hatters are wrapping up a two-game road swing that began with a 54-53 loss at South Carolina-Upstate, a school that began D-I play just last season; Stetson has also yielded the ultimate A-Sun rarity, a home loss to North Florida. But despite all the struggles, we bet that Gus is still dancing.
|Hickory Picket Fences||27629|
|The Hopping Cats||21526|
|Under a Blood Red Line||10379|
|Jen Folds Five||6895|