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Nashville’s Belmont Bruins may have benefited from a pair of upsets by North Florida, who were clearly overmatched in the 2011 Atlantic Sun Tournament championship game. Belmont likely could’ve handled anybody the conference could’ve thrown at them, but a No. 6 seed?
Belmont won 87-46, forcing 20 more turnovers than they committed, to punch their ticket to the dance. UNF battled their way to the title game by surprising ETSU and Jacksonville, but the Bruins weren’t up for any surprises.
This will make the fourth NCAA Tournament trip for Belmont, and their fourth A-Sun conference championship. In 2008 they came one score short of one of the biggest upsets ever, losing 71-70 to the No. 2-seeded Duke Blue Devils.
Successful programs don’t tend to stay in the Atlantic Sun for much longer than 10 years or so. The Bruins have been around since 2001, dominating for the latter half of their stay. With runs like this, they might need a new home shortly.
You expected to see the Belmont Bruins in the 2011 Atlantic Sun title game. They tore through the conference in the regular season, are 3-0 in A-Sun championship games, and could set the record tonight for most wins in conference history. So no surprise here. But the UNF Ospreys?
At 6:30 pm ET on ESPN2, the toast of the conference gets a challenge from North Florida, who’ve pulled off consecutive upsets just to stick around Macon. The Ospreys topped two-time defending champ ETSU 59-55 last night on the strength of a David Jeune double-double, one night after beating No. 3 seed Jacksonville 68-64.
Winner gets an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. A close loss by Belmont wouldn’t rule out tourney trips for both teams, but the Bruins won’t want to take any chances.
The second round of the 2011 Atlantic Sun Tournament kicks off (let's say something besides "tips of!") today at 6:30 pm ET, and games will arrive on CSS. Not that Asun.tv didn't do a fine job on day one, but at least one Kennesaw State fan had to try three different browsers on two different computers to get it to work.
Belmont Bruins vs. Mercer Bears, 6:30: The heavy favorite rolled through Kennesaw 72-57 in round one after a slow start, while the home team Bears topped Lipscomb 73-63. Unlike the Owls, Mercer actually came within 15 points of Belmont once this year, so maybe there's a chance this one can stay competitive past halftime.
ETSU Buccaneers vs. North Florida Ospreys, 9: UNF delivered the first, and possibly only, major upset of the tourney Thursday night to Jacksonville in a 68-64 win. ETSU nearly fell to Campbell in what would've been an even bigger stunner, but held on to win 54-53. ETSU won both matchups between these teams this year, though one was actually sort of close.
The Belmont Bruins took a few minutes to get going, but blew the doors off the Kennesaw St. Owls over the last 30 minutes of the 2011 Atlantic Sun Tournament opener. The tourney faves won 72-57 despite trailing by seven early on.
KSU got several fast break opportunities and easy layups that it failed to convert, while Ian Clark’s long-range shooting (four three-pointers to lead the Bruins in scoring) made up for an otherwise unusually low-scoring Belmont game. However, when the Bruins are clicking, as they were for the middle portion of the game, their offense is exhausting to watch.
Sophomore Markeith Cummings led KSU in scoring, boosting his seasonal average of 18 points per game. Encouraging sign for Kennesaw State: Belmont scored only 72, their eighth-lowest total of the season. You take what you can get.
Belmont will advance to play on Friday against the winner of Lipscomb and host Mercer.
The Belmont Bruins hold a 35-28 halftime lead over the Kennesaw St. Owls in the first game of the 2011 Atlantic Sun basketball tournament, which is closer to what you’d expect than the confounding score from just a few minutes ago. The Owls led by as many as seven points about 13 minutes into the first half, which is probably as close as KSU’s going to get to pulling off the upset.
Still, one of the worst teams in the nation was beating one of the country’s best mid-majors by a significant margin in a critical postseason game. When these teams last met, Belmont won by over 40 points.
Belmont went on a 10-2 run to close the half, setting up a challenge for Tony Ingle’s crew in the final 20 minutes. The oft-lamented KSU defense is on pace to hold Belmont to a season-low total despite seven Bruins three-pointers, but Owls shots are going to have to start falling.
Day one action in the 2011 Atlantic Sun basketball tournament pits the No. 8 Kennesaw State Fighting Owls against the No. 1 Belmont Bruins. KSU staggers in at 8-22 and 6-14 in conference, with not much to brag about beyond a blowout of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and sweeps of fellow laggards Stetson and Florida Gulf Coast.
KSU lines up to take their medicine at 2:30 pm on March 2.
The Bruins, meanwhile, are 19-1 in the Atlantic Sun and 27-4 overall, coming a point short of upsetting the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville at one point. Ken Pomeroy ranks them No. 20 in the nation, but they’ve only just now started appearing in the Others Receiving Votes camp of the AP top 25 poll.
In the two meetings between the Fighting Owls and Bruins this season, Belmont took home 27-point and 47-point victories. It’s a good thing KSU’s a football school, am I right?
The 2011 Atlantic Sun Basketball Championships get started March 2 at Mercer's University Center in Macon, Georgia. This is the tourney's second straight year in Macon. Belmont, the conference's best team by far, should make it to Friday without a hitch, drawing the miserable Kennesaw State Fighting Owls in round one. Host team Mercer gets Lipscomb in what should be a decent game.
Outside of Peach State teams, two-time defending champs East Tennessee State and Jacksonville have winnable round-one games.
The A-Sun tournament is unlike those of the SEC, ACC, and Southern, which all offer first-round byes to their highest-ranking teams. Everybody balls from day one in the A-Sun, except for the teams that don't make it in of course. This one is also unique among Division I conferences with Georgia teams in that every team doesn't make the tourney cut. Stetson and South Carolina Upstate are watching from home.
The complete bracket and schedule:
Wednesday, March 2
No. 8 Kennesaw State vs. No. 1 Belmont, 2:30
No. 7 Campbell vs. No. 2 ETSU, 9
Thursday, March 3
No. 6 UNF vs. No. 3 Jacksonville, 2:30
No. 5 Mercer vs. No. 4 Lipscomb, 9
Friday, March 4
Belmont (let's keep it real) vs. 4/5 winner, 6:30, CSS
2/7 winner vs. 3/6 winner, 9, CSS
Saturday, March 5
Championship, 6, ESPN2