Senior guard Mike Smith named to preseason All A-Sun team
MACON, Ga. (Oct. 7, 2009) - The ETSU men's basketball team was picked fourth by the Atlantic Sun Conference coaches and fifth by the league's media in preseason polls release Wednesday by the conference office.
The conference's two most recent tournament champions, ETSU (2009) and Belmont (2006-08) place fourth and fifth, depending on the poll. The Buccaneers edged out the Bruins for the spot from the coaches while the media gave the nod the Bruins. Both teams suffered tremendous losses due to graduation. ETSU must replace Courtney Pigram (Memphis) and Kevin Tiggs (Flint, Mich.), one of the highest scoring duos in the nation a season ago. Mike Smith (Vandalia, Mo.), a Preseason All-Atlantic Sun selection looks to build a bounce-back season in 2008-09 when he averaged more than 15 points and seven rebounds per game. Belmont graduated four starters from a 20-win season including Player of the Year Alex Renfroe.
Meanwhile, Jacksonville's three-year ascent up the Atlantic Sun basketball standings reached the pinnacle last season, winning the regular-season title. In the preseason media poll, announced Wednesday, the Dolphins ran away as the favorite. Meanwhile, the coaches voted Jacksonville a co-favorite with Lipscomb.
Last season, the Dolphins won their first ever regular-season title and made their first postseason appearance, an NIT berth, in 22 years. They return four starters from last year, anchored by Ben Smith, the conference's preseason Player of the Year. The two-time First-Team All-Atlantic Sun performer averaged 16.9 points per game to go along with 4.0 assists and 2.2 steals per contest. For the second year in a row, he led in the league in minutes per game, averaging more than 36 per game.
For 2009, the conference recognized 10 student-athletes for the preseason All-Atlantic Sun team. Led by Smith, three Dolphins received accolades as forwards Lehmon Colbert and junior Ayron Hardy made the team. Hardy, last year's Defensive Player of the Year added 10.1 points per game on 60.6 percent shooting. Colbert contributed 11.8 points per game and 6.2 rebounds per game.
The Bisons shared first in the coaches' poll and took second from the media. Hopes for the a first NCAA Tournament appearance figure to land on the broad shoulders of junior center Adnan Hodzic, a member of the preseason All-Atlantic Sun team. A year ago, the Bosnia native emerged as one the league's top post players, averaging 17.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. He connected on 58.7 percent of his field-goal attempts.
The Mercer Bears ranked third in both coaches and media polls. Year one of the Bob Hoffman era resulted in a six-win improvement from 2007-08. The Bears return four starters, headlined by a pair of seniors, guard James Florence and forward Daniel Emerson - both of whom earned spots on the Preseason All-Atlantic Sun team. For the third consecutive season, Florence averaged at least 20 points per game against A-Sun foes. He enters his final season ranking fifth on the Bears' all-time scoring list needing 250 points to pass Sam Mitchell as the school's all-time leading scorer and 13 more to reach the 2,000-point mark. With a career scoring average of 19.7 points per game, he owns the highest per game average among seniors across the nation. Emerson made a big impact in his first season with Mercer, averaging a double-double (13.8 PPG, 10.7 RPG). In addition to the anticipation of the coming season, Mercer's University Center will serve as the venue for the General Shale Brick Atlantic Sun Basketball Championships in March. Mercer, a charter member of the Atlantic Sun, has never hosted the league's premier championship.
Both parties agreed on their sixth-place team, the Campbell Camels. For the first time since the 1999-2000 season, the Camels posted a winning record in league play at 11-9. This season marks the final year for forward Jonathan Rodriguez. Linked with Florence since they joined the league together in 2006, Rodriguez begins the year ranking among the top five seniors in the country in career points, scoring average, rebounding, rebounding average and double doubles.
The coaches voted Stetson and FGCU to a tie for seventh while the Hatters finished slightly ahead of the Eagles in the media ballot. The Hatters feature senior guard A.J. Smith, a preseason All-Atlantic Sun choice. Last season he averaged 12.6 points and 3.8 assists per game. UNF, under new head coach Matt Driscoll, and Kennesaw State, eligible for the postseason for the first time as full-fledged Division-I members placed ninth and 11th, depending on the two polls with USC Upstate sandwiched in between the two schools. The Spartans' 7-3 center, Nick Schneiders rounds out the 10-man preseason All-Atlantic Sun team. Last season he averaged 9.5 points, 6.1 rebounds and a conference-leading 2.6 blocks per game, up from 4.9 PPG, 4.8 RPG and 0.8 BPG a season earlier.
With Kennesaw State and UNF gaining access to the A-Sun Championship, the tournament bracket returns to an eight-team format. The quarterfinals will take place over two days, Wednesday, March 3 and Thursday, March 4 followed by the semifinals on Friday, March 5 and title game the next day.