Where and When: Wednesday through Saturday, Hawkins Arena, Mercer University, Macon, GA.
Last year: Belmont dominated their final A-Sun season, winning both the regular season (by 3 games) and the conference tourney (over a surprising Florida Gulf Coast). It was the 8th straight year that the conference tourney had been won by either Belmont or East Tennessee State.
This year: With Belmont out of the way, Mercer and Florida Gulf Coast battled for the league title. FGCU dropped a couple of late road games at Lipscomb and Stetson and finished the season 1-game back. Northern Kentucky finished 11-15 (9-9) in their first D1 season, but were not invited to the conference tournament.
The favorite: The A-Sun Tournament is hosted by the No. 1 seed, which in this case is the Mercer Bears, who won 9 of their last 10 to capture the regular season Title. The Bears play a grinding style (303rd nationally in tempo) and are led by 6-3 senior Travis Smith. Smith leads the team with 13.7 ppg, and splits his shot attempts evenly between 2s and 3s. He makes 48% of his 2s, 41% of his 3s, and 88% from the line. Mercer has lost ten games this season, and in those games Smith has averaged 9.9 ppg. In their wins he averages 15.1.
Mercer's defense is elite for a conference of this level, and they're currently 93rd in defensive efficiency. They've held 9-straight opponents below a point per possession.
The contender: Last year was Florida Gulf Coast's 5th at the Division I level, and they set a record for wins with 15. This year they had their first ever winning record (21-10) in Andy Enfield's second season at the helm. 6-4 senior Sherwood Brown and 6-3 sophomore Bernard Thompson can both fill it up for the Eagles, and their shooting numbers are remarkably similar. Both take 26% of the shots when they're on the floor, and both make 37% of their 3s. Thompson makes 53.6% of his 2s, while Brown makes 53.4%. Brown makes 66% of his FTs, while Thompson makes 65%.
The Eagles are another team whose defense is ahead of their offense. They're the 29th best team in the nation at generating steals, and Bernard Thompson is one of six players in the nation who creates a steal on at least 5.5% of opponents' possessions.
The dark horse: The quarterfinals will be hard on North Florida as they open against Florida Gulf Coast, but if they can survive that game they'll have a good path to the title game. The likely opponent in the second game would be Stetson, who they have already beaten twice this season.
Five (other) players to watch:
1. Torrey Craig, 6-6 junior, South Carolina Upstate
Craig averages 17.2 points and 7.2 rebounds for the Spartans. He was the Freshman of the Year two seasons ago, the Player of the Year last season, and likely POY again this season. High majors are calling, and so far he's humbly said no. He had six double-doubles this year in conference play. He draws almost five fouls per 40 minutes, and has made 85% of his free throws over the past nine games.
2. Parker Smith, 6-3 senior, North Florida
On a team which scores 35% of their points from beyond the arc (25th most in the nation) Smith is the designated gunner. He's made 43% of his attempts this year and he attempted 10 or more in a game 11 times. He made at least five 3s seven times this year, and had a 32-point game and a 33-point game in the span of a week.
3. Brett Comer, 6-3 sophomore, Florida Gulf Coast
Welcome to the man who has never met a pass he didn't think he could make. The good news is that his assist rate (43.1) was fifth highest in the entire nation. The bad news is that he had three or more turnovers in 81% of his games. He's not much of a shooter, but he can defend, and generates a steal on 3.3% of opponent possessions.
4. Adam Pegg, 6-9 senior, Stetson
Pegg is a big boy. Football big. Country strong. However you want to describe it. He leads the team at 15.6 points per game, and is one of the dominant inside presences in the conference. But he's not a banger who gets to the line a lot, rather, he just has a knack for scoring. He can even step out and knock down 3s, and has made 38% of his 56 attempts.
5. Chris Perez, 6-3 junior, Stetson
The other Stetson scorer is Chris Perez, who averages 15.3 per game. He's attempted 143 FTs to Pegg's 81. Between the two of them they account for 59% of the shots when they are on the floor. Their most likely road to the tournament game is through Florida Gulf Coast, and in their previous two matchups he averaged 20 points off an efficient 13.5 shots.