The crispness of the fall air, the orange hues that overtake the treetops, and the squeak of basketball sneakers in gymnasiums across the country. These are just some of the telltale signs that basketball is back. More importantly, the annual countdown to March Madness can begin anew.
As much fun as Midnight Madness can be, the culmination of a long offseason is the tipoff of a team's first game. With the start of the 2016-17 season quickly approaching, NCAA.com is cracking the books and breaking things down in each of college basketball's 32 conferences.
Up next: the ASUN conference
The ASUN. Home of Florida Gulf Coast, AKA Dunk City. Home of the North Florida Ospreys and their dancing band members. Home of the Stetson Hatters, quite possibly the only NCAA team named after a wardrobe accessory.
Beyond the nicknames that few know but many would love lies a brand of basketball that college basketball pundits would agree is quite endearing.
Gritty, fast-paced, high-scoring, sounds like recipe for some pretty good college basketball, right?
All eight of the teams in the conference averaged at least 72 points a ball game a year ago, which might not seem like such an eye-popping figure by itself. Mind you, there were roughly 100 — out of the 351 total DI Men’s basketball programs — that didn’t average 70 points a contest in the 2015-16 season.
Offense isn’t everything, but these young men and their respective coaching staffs like to score the rock — plain and simple.
Fellow conference mate Lipscomb also made some waves from the 3-point line, creeping into the top 10 for 3-point makes, while Stetson finished at No. 25 in the land with 80.3 points per contest.
North Florida may have taken the top spot in the regular season standings, but Jacksonville fought all the way through to the last game of the season. The Dolphins nearly claimed a share of the regular-season crown too, if not for a narrow 81-80 loss in the final game of the season against the Ospreys.
Florida Gulf Coast (FGCU) would ultimately take the automatic bid via their victory in the conference tournament championship, albeit a tight overtime win over an upstart Stetson squad, which made the final despite a 10-21 regular season and being ineligible for the NCAA tournament.
Wins over NJIT and Lipscomb for the Hatters in the conference's postseason tournament set up a bout with the Eagles of FGCU. Had Stetson come out on top, North Florida as regular-season champs would have been given the automatic bid.
Nonetheless, FGCU advanced to the Big Dance to meet up with Fairleigh Dickinson (Northeast Conference, preview soon to come) in the NCAA Tournament’s First Four round. A 96-65 win for the Eagles was the largest in the six-year history of the First Four.
A date with North Carolina in the first round provided some mild thrills, especially with the Tar Heels leading by just a point at halftime, but the Eagles would ultimately bow out to the eventual NCAA Tournament runner-up.
Dallas Moore, a smooth left-handed guard for the North Florida Ospreys, helped pace things for his team with a stat line of 19.8 ppg, 6 apg, 4 rpg, 39.5 percent from the 3-point line a year ago.
And that's without mentioning the fact that Moore was voted as the ASUN Player of the Year last year.
The composition of the 2016-17 Ospreys is surely different than the squad from a year ago given some departures and some new roles for those who remain. A trio of seniors is gone in guards Beau Beech and Trent Mackey, as well as forward Demarcus Daniels, but Moore will be gunning for a repeat performance of sorts in his senior season.
There have only been two players to ever win the ASUN Player of the Year award multiple times in their collegiate careers, so Moore is hoping to make a little history. Odds are he'd like another NCAA tournament berth on his resumes as well (the program's first trip to the Dance came in 2015), but either way there will be plenty of opportunities for Moore to put his stamp on a ballgame.
Some might take gripe with listing North Florida as the best team in the conference, especially after FGCU staked its rightful claim to the conference's automatic bid. Nonetheless, the road does go through the regular-season champion to a certain degree.
In addition to boasting arguably the best player in the conference in Dallas Moore, North Florida benefits immensely from its efficiency on offense. Beyond being one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country, the Ospreys led the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.51).
In that same vein, the Ospreys have their two best assist-makers back in the fold in Moore (205) and senior forward Chris Davenport (109). The impact of the scoring gap will be felt early on for head coach Matthew Driscoll's team, but by season's end some new options on offense should be ready to assume the load. One wing player who should see increased touches is guard Aaron Bodager, who shot 47.5 percent from deep (57 of 120 on 3-point field goals) while averaging just over 20 minutes a night.
Nonetheless, anyone breaking down the ASUN would be remiss if they did not mention FGCU as a legitimate contender. It's been a few years since the shenanigans of Dunk City took over the NCAA Tournament, but there's little doubt that the Sweet Sixteen run in 2013 helped put the ASUN conference on the map. Michigan transfer Ricky Doyle, who will redshirt for a year due to NCAA transfer rules, may not be the type of player that sets the stat sheet on fire but he's a big that has logged meaninful minutes against Big Ten opponents. As such, he could be a valuable tool on the bench to help bring some extra savvy to coach Joe Dooley's lineup.
Sleeper may not be an appropriate term here, especially after the debut season that the NJIT Highlanders had in the ASUN. The New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) was the last remaining independent program in Division I college basketball, and the first year of conference play went quite swimmingly.
After joining the ASUN in the 2015-16 season, NJIT finished 20-15 overall and tied for second in the conference with a record of 8-6.
Kudos to NJIT seniors Damon Lynn & Tim Coleman, who have been named to the ASUN Preseason All-Conference Team. Read: https://t.co/Wt3COVaKNp— NJIT Basketball (@NJITHoops) October 13, 2016
This team still has members who helped pioneer an upset of a ranked Michigan squad in December 2014, including 5'11" guard Damon Lynn.
Lynn, a New Jersey native who averaged 18.3 points per a game a year ago, will operate in tandem with senior forward Tim Coleman to pace the Highlanders again this year. Lynn tied the conference's single-season record for made 3-point field goals a year ago, so the hopes could be high for a team that is still adjusting to sharing space with its newfound conference mates.
Freshman to Watch:
Making an impact as a freshman is hard enough, but it's even harder when the team you're joining prides itself on good quality offense over all. FGCU newcomer Christian Carlyle — a Jacksonville product — will look to mesh with an Eagles backcourt that has some potential openings. Only four players on FGCU's roster averaged more than 20 minutes a game a year ago. If Carlyle wants to get minutes in the lineup, he'll have to show the coaching staff that he can provide the shooting touch to help space the floor.
- North Florida's (UNF) Demarcus Daniels became the first player in conference history to earn back-to-back ASUN Defensive Player of the Year honors. He ended the season with a league-best 73 blocks to push his career total to 179; seventh in league history.
- FGCU's Marc-Eddy Norelia set the program record for double-doubles as the junior forward produced 16 trailing Stetson's Brian Pegg by only two for the league-high.
- UNF's Dallas Moore ended his junior season with 1,625 career points putting him on pace to become the eighth player in league history to reach 2,000 for their careers.
- In the ASUN Championship Final, FGCU redshirt freshman Zach Johnson blocked Stetson's last-second layup attempt to tie the contest. His effort locked up FGCU's second ASUN Championship title.
- North Florida finished the season as NCAA leader for three-pointer's made with 411, while ranking fifth in scoring at 84.3 PPG.
- UNF's Trent Mackey earned ASUN Scholar-Athlete of the Year recognition with a 3.86 cumulative GPA, while Stetson's Brian Pegg joined him on the All-Academic Team as an unanimous selection.