CANMORE, Alta. — The 2017-18 season tips off on November 10th, which means the final month without college basketball is finally upon us.
Fans all across the country are gearing up for another exciting college basketball season, and with the recent scandal involving the FBI and several power conference programs across the NCAA, the level of anticipation is through the roof.
Conference preview pieces are starting to circulate from various media outlets, and conferences are hosting their annual media days and announcing their preseason polls and award winners. It’s always interesting to see how coaches and media rank teams in their respective conferences.
With the season right around the corner, we are starting to release our Preseason Player of the Year awards for each conference, along with three All-Conference teams. Picked at random, we will release two sets of awards each day.
Coming into the season, the narrative surrounding the Atlantic Sun Conference is consistent across the board. It’s Dunk City, and then everyone else. While the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles are the top team in the conference on paper, anything can indeed happen come March.
The Atlantic Sun tournament is no different, as we have seen our fair share of upsets over the past couple of seasons in the single-elimination event. In 2017-18, the conference is chalked full of talent, including several up-and-coming stars who are ready to step in for graduating seniors.
Below, take a look at who we have selected as our Preseason Atlantic Sun Player of the Year, along with who factors in where on our Preseason All-Atlantic Sun teams!
2017-18 Player of the Year: Garrison Mathews, Lipscomb Bisons
We went against the grain with our Player of the Year selection in the Atlantic Sun. Many have gone with Brandon Goodwin, and for very good reason, but we have a strong feeling about Garrison Mathews this season that was simply too much to ignore. The idea of “too many chefs in the kitchen” comes to mind with Goodwin, as there are several scoring options on the back end who emerged last year that could limit his individual performance slightly.
As a junior, Mathews was among the nation’s top scorers, averaging 20.4 points per contest to lead the way for the Lipscomb Bisons. The 6’5” guard also pulled down 5.6 rebounds and dished out 2.3 assists per game. Mathews is the clear-cut go-to guy for the Bisons on the offensive end of the floor, which bodes well for his individual numbers.
Known as a scorer, Mathews also has the size to battle inside for rebounds, and can find open teammates for high quality looks at the basket. He had a near 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio last season, committing 74 turnovers to 73 assists.
When he gets hot, Mathews can put his team on his back and take full control of the game. Against the Morehead State Eagles back on December 10th, Mathews went 11-of-17 from the floor, including 8-of-10 from three point range, for 36 points in 34 minutes of court time. Mathews’ ability to score in bunches will keep the Bisons in the top two of the conference, and give them a real chance of knocking off Goodwin and company for the conference crown.
Call us crazy. Call us whatever you’d like. We’re rolling with Garrison Mathews as our Preseason Atlantic Sun Player of the Year.
2017-18 All-Atlantic Sun Teams
The amount of talent that Brandon Goodwin possesses on the hardwood is something to be seen. The 6’2” guard put together a rather impressive stat line last season, averaging 18.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 1.2 steals per game, all while shooting 51.2% from three point range. It was his first season at Florida Gulf Coast after transferring from the UCF Knights, and he made an immediate impact with the program. This season, it’s like splitting hairs when it comes to selecting the Player of the Year in the Atlantic Sun, and it’s a matter of personal preference and opinion. If Goodwin maintains his pace from last season, amidst the other offensive weapons on the Eagles’ roster, then chances are he will prove us wrong.
With as good as the Lipscomb Bisons need Mathews to be this season to keep pace with the Eagles atop the conference, it’s easy for us to name him Player of the Year. His 20.4 points per game last season ranked him among the nation’s leaders, and as the clear alpha dog on offense for Lipscomb this season, another big year is in store.
We caught up with Divine Myles before his freshman season with the Stetson Hattersbefore his junior season, and . Both times, he stressed that Stetson was the best fit for him, and with the way he’s performed over the last three seasons, who are we to disagree. Myles has shot above 50% from the floor, and above 38% from three point range in each of the past two seasons. He averaged a career-best 16.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per game last season as a junior. In 2017-18, the Hatters are considered big underdogs in the race for the Atlantic Sun crown. But, just two seasons ago, the Hatters advanced to the conference tournament final and lost in overtime. This season, Myles and company will look to get back to the finals once again, but this time punch a ticket to the Big Dance.
Mike Cunningham showcased solid improvement all across the board last season for the USC Upstate Spartans, and that has led to him earning a spot on our All-Atlantic Sun First Team. Cunningham improved in terms of points (13.4 ppg), assists (3.1 apg), and steals (1.3 spg), while also cutting down on his turnovers (1.5 per game). He shot better than 40% from the field, and 38.5% from three point range. Cunningham is a solid scoring guard who will look to continue his improvement in year three. He had an assist-to-turnover ratio that was greater than two, which is what you want in your point guard.
The 2016-17 season was the first for Rob Marberry with the Lipscomb Bisons after transferring from the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers following his freshman year. In a much larger role as a sophomore, Marberry flourished, averaging 12.7 points per game. He was highly effective in the paint last season, and shot an even 61.0% from the floor over the course of the year. With Mathews commanding a lot of attention on the back end, Marberry will get his fair share of high-quality looks in the paint as a junior. He has the potential to put up some big numbers this season.
Zach Johnson is the second of three guards from Dunk City to crack an All-Atlantic Sun team, and one of four players total from the 2017-18 roster. The 6’2” guard from Miami, FL has averaged at least 11.1 points and 3.1 assists per game over his first two seasons at Florida Gulf Coast. Johnson had several games last season in which he took on a large role on the offensive end, like his 26-point outing in the second game of the season. Then, other nights, he was a non-factor, evident by a pair of performances in which he didn’t record a point. This season, expect Johnson to see a consistent role within the offense, and be a big factor moving forwards.
The best shooter in the Atlantic Sun Conference that you haven’t heard of yet is Nick Masterson. Remember the name. Last season, Masterson shot 54.1% (86-of-159) from three point range, and he averaged 12.9 points per game for the Kennesaw State Owls. With Kendrick Ray now graduated, look for Masterson to make a seamless transition into the role of leading scorer with the team. He put up 29 points, on 7-of-10 shooting from beyond the arc, in the Owls’ season opener against the Iowa Hawkeyes. Masterson put up double-digit points on 21 occasions, and had nine such performances over his final ten games of the season.
Christian Terrell is another weapon on the back end that head coach Joe Dooley will rely on in 2017-18. In terms of production, the 6’5” Terrell took a slight step backwards as a junior after averaging 12.7 points and 5.1 rebounds per game as a sophomore. He still managed to put up 10.2 points and 2.4 assists per game in 2016-17, finishing fourth on the team in scoring. The Eagles have a loaded back court in 2017-18, and opposing defenses will be faced with a ‘pick your poison’ type of scenario. Goodwin, Johnson, and Terrell can all hit their shots, and if you leave one or more of them open, it won’t be pretty.
In his first season with the NJIT Highlanders after transferring from the South Alabama Jaguars, 6’9” forward Abdul Lewis put together a strong season for his new team. Lewis averaged 9.9 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, while seeing a slight increase in minutes over the course of the season from his freshman total. Lewis showed that he has decent shooting range, stepping out beyond the arc to hit a three if need be, while also being effective around the basket. With Lewis and wing Anthony Tarke both spending some time in the front court, the Highlanders possess one of the top tandems in the conference, and fans should be excited about their potential over the next two years together.
While Cunningham is one of the best guards in the conference, USC Upstate also has one of the top rising forwards in junior Malik Moore. The 6’6” forward showed nice progression last season, despite playing under 26 minutes per night. He doubled his scoring average from the year before, averaging 10.9 points to go along with 5.2 rebounds per contest. He has the ability to stretch the floor and shoot the three ball, which he did at a 35.5% rate last season.
Following his freshman season, Garrett Sams made a reactionary decision to transfer closer to home. He had committed to the UT-Martin Skyhawks, but reversed his decision and returned to the North Florida Ospreys. With the Ospreys losing Dallas Moore, among others, from last year’s team, Sams could be in for a big year in 2017-18. He averaged 10.4 points and 4.2 rebounds last season, and will take on a much larger role as a sophomore in 2017-18.
With Lipscomb expected to contend with Florida Gulf Coast for the conference title, the Bisons will need another strong season from point guard Nathan Moran, who is entering his senior campaign. The Franklin, TN native shot a career-best 42.3% from the floor and 41.7% from three point range, while averaging 11.1 points and 4.2 assists per game. With several offensive weapons around him, another solid year from Moran looks to be in the cards.
He may stand at just 5’8”, but Angel Rivera is one of the top point guards in the country who hasn’t garnered the national attention he deserves. As a junior last season, Rivera recorded a 3-12 assist-to-turnover ratio, recording 162 assists to just 52 turnovers. Add in his 8.0 points and 3.1 rebounds per game, and it’s easy to see why Rivera should be garnering more attention than he has so far in his career.
The Jacksonville Dolphins have a budding star on the back end, in guard Tanner Rubio. Up front, they have a star forward who will be looking to go out with a bang in 2017-18. Cody Helgeland put up solid numbers in his first season with the Dolphins last year, averaging 8.0 points and 3.1 rebounds while shooting an even 40% from three point range. As a senior in 2017-18, look for Helgeland to average double-digit points as the emergence of Rubio draws more attention from opposing defenses.
After two seasons with the Michigan Wolverines, Florida native Ricky Doyle transferred to Dunk City, and now that he is finally eligible, he will give the Eagles a big boost in the front court. With opposing defenses likely to focus on the back court weapons that Florida Gulf Coast possesses, Doyle should see his fair share of looks inside. The 6’10” forward averaged 3.8 points per game and shot 64.2% from the field as a sophomore back in 2015-16.
– T. Bennett