MACON, Ga. (Oct. 10, 2007) - Last season ETSU won its first Atlantic Sun Conference men's basketball title, but Belmont denied the Buccaneers the conference's automatic bid in the final of the General Shale Brick Men's Basketball Championship. Entering the 2007-08 season, both the coaches and the media predict that the Buccaneers will again be battling the Bruins for conference supremacy. Both chose ETSU as the favorite to win the conference and defend its regular-season title with Belmont second, the conference office announced on Wednesday. The Bucs were the clear choice by the media to win the tournament, however, the coaches were split four ways with ETSU and Belmont along with Mercer and tournament-host Lipscomb all receiving three votes from the coaches to win tournament, to be held March 5-8 at Lipscomb's Allen Arena.
The Buccaneers, who have gone 28-10 in A-Sun play in their two years in the league, will continue to be led by Courtney Pigram (Memphis). The junior from Memphis, Tenn. was named the preseason Player of the Year following up his Player of the Year award for the 2006-07 season. As a sophomore, Pigram averaged 18.1 points per game, second-best in the conference and also ranked in the top 10 in steals (2nd, 2.62 SPG), 3-point field goals per game (3rd, 2.62 3-pt FG per game) and assists (7th, 3.74 APG). He turned in one the league's virtuoso performances of the season when he dished out a conference-record 18 assists against Mercer on February 24 to go along with 29 points and eight rebounds. The 18 assists set an A-Sun record, were one off the school record and were the second-highest single-game total in Division I in the last two seasons.
Belmont, the two-time defending champions of the General Shale Brick Men's Basketball Championship, was the second choice of the coaches and the media. Justin Hare, two-time MVP of the tournament and member of the preseason All-Atlantic Sun team, will continue to lead the Bruins. In those two tournaments he averaged 18.7 PPG and shot 51.7 percent from 3-point range. Last season, Hare averaged 14.3 PPG and shot 37.7 percent from the 3-point arc in making the All-Atlantic Sun First Team. Belmont enters the season as one of nine teams in the country to have won its conference's tournament in each of the last two seasons joining Florida, Kansas, Memphis, Gonzaga, Winthrop, Davidson, Oral Roberts and Albany.
The coaches and media had the same third-, fourth- and fifth-place teams, but differed on the order. Mercer took third, followed by Lipscomb and Jacksonville in the coaches' poll. The media placed Lipscomb third, Jacksonville fourth and Mercer fifth. Lipscomb will be led by preseason All-Atlantic Sun team member Eddie Ard. Ard made the Second Team in 2006-07 after leading the Bisons in scoring and rebounding and leading the A-Sun in free-throw percentage at 83.6 percent. Mercer's hopes rest with preseason All-Atlantic Sun member James Florence. The 2006-07 Freshman of the Year led the conference in scoring at better than 19 PPG. He was one of three freshmen to lead his respective conference in scoring joining Texas' Kevin Durant and Davidson's Stephen Curry. Jacksonville comes off a season in which the Dolphins had the best turnaround in the country. The Dolphins, who improved from 1-26 in 2005-06 to 15-14 in 2006-07, will rely on Lehmon Colbert and Ben Smith, two members of the All-Freshman team last season and Marcus Allen, a member of that same team in 2005-06.
Campbell's Jonathan Rodriguez rounds out the preseason All-Atlantic Sun team. As a freshman, he finished third in the league in scoring at over 17 PPG and led the conference in rebounding, grabbing 8.8 RPG. He was third among freshman in the NCAA in rebounding, trailing only the number one and number two picks of the 2007 NBA draft, Greg Oden (2nd among freshman 21st overall, 9.6 RPG) and Kevin Durant (1st among freshman, 4th overall, 11.4 rpg). Rodriguez will lead the Camels who were picked sixth in the conference.
The five who made the All-Atlantic Sun team are just part of a vast core of top players returning in the A-Sun. The top eight scorers from 2006-07 are back in 2007-08 as are eight of the top nine rebounders.
Kennesaw State and Gardner-Webb claimed the seventh and eighth spots in both polls. Stetson was the ninth choice by the media; it shared that spot with UNF in the coaches' poll. UNF was 11th in the media poll, sandwiched by conference newcomers Florida Gulf Coast, picked 10th, and USC Upstate, the media's 12th choice. The Eagles were a spot lower in the coaches' poll.
The Atlantic Sun Conference is a 12-member league committed to Building Winners for Life, with a focus on academic and athletic integrity and a balance between the two for the student-athlete, and maintaining a high level of sportsmanship. Headquartered in Macon, Ga., the A-Sun encompasses six of the top eight media markets in the Southeast. The A-Sun consists of some of the most dynamic private and public institutions in the region: Belmont University, Campbell University, East Tennessee State University, Florida Gulf Coast University, Gardner-Webb University, Jacksonville University, Kennesaw State University, Lipscomb University, Mercer University, University of North Florida, University of South Carolina Upstate and Stetson University.