Dolphins

MACON, Ga. – 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.

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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.

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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.

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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 pe r 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.

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 and Kevin Tiggs, one of the highest scoring duos in the nation a season ago. Mike Smith, 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.

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 me mbers 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.

The Atlantic Sun Conference is an 11-member league committed to Building Winners for Life. The A-Sun stands for achievement with integrity in both the academic and athletic arenas, with a focus on the balance between the two for our student-athletes. Headquartered in Macon, Ga., the A-Sun boasts six of the top eight media markets in the Southeast. The A-Sun includes a blend of the most prestigious and dynamic private and public institutions in the region: Belmont University, Campbell University, East Tennessee State University, Florida Gulf Coast University, Jacksonville University, Kennesaw State University, Lipscomb University, Mercer University, University of North Florida, University of South Carolina Upstate and Stetson University.

2009-10 Atlantic Sun Men's Basketball - Preseason Coaches' Poll
Rank
School (First-Place Votes)
Points
T1.
Jacksonville (5)
111
T1.
Lipscomb (4)
111
3.
Mercer (1)
91
4.
ETSU (1)
89
5.
Belmont
83
6.
Campbell
72
T7.
FGCU
43
T7.
Stetson
43
9.
UNF
30
10.
USC Upstate
28
11.
Kennesaw State
25

Tournament Champion: Lipscomb (4 Votes)

2009-10 Atlantic Sun Men's Basketball - Preseason Media Poll
Rank
School (First-Place Votes)
Points
1.
Jacksonville (24)
328
2.
Lipscomb (3)
287
3.
Mercer (2)
254
4.
Belmont (1)
252
5.
ETSU (1)
247
6.
Campbell
193
7.
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Stetson
127
8.
FGCU
119
9.
Kennesaw State
87
10.
USC Upstate
81
11.
UNF
71

Tournament Champion: Lipscomb (12 Votes)

2008-09 A-Sun Preseason All-Conference Team
Position
Player (Yr.) - School
2008-09 Stats
Forward
Lehmon Colbert (Sr.) - Jacksonville
11.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 41.5 3-pt FG Pct
Forward
Daniel Emerson (Sr.) - Mercer
13.8 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 47.6 FG Pct
Guard
James Florence (Sr.) - Mercer
20.8 PPG, 3.7 APG, 2.3 SPG
Forward
Ayron Hardy (Jr.) - Jacksonville
10.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 60.6 FG Pct
Center
Adnan Hodzic (Jr.) - Lipscomb
17.1 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 58.7 FG Pct
Forward
Jonathan Rodriguez (Sr.) - Campbell
15.6 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 47.4 FG Pct
Center
Nick Schneiders (Sr.) - USC Upstate
9.5 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 2.6 BPG
Guard
A.J. Smith (Sr.) - Stetson
12.6 PPG, 3.8 APG, 81.9 FT Pct
Guard
Ben Smith (Sr.) - Jacksonville
16.9 PPG, 4.0 APG, 2.2 SPG
Guard/Forward
Mke Smith (Sr.) - ETSU
15.3 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 36.1 3 -pt FG Pct

Preseason Player of the Year: Ben Smith, Jacksonville

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