Atlantic Sun Tournament 2013: It's Mercer's tournament to lose

USA TODAY Sports

Lovers of the three-point shot, and the randomness it creates, should enjoy the Atlantic Sun.

Nothing leads to unpredictable outcomes more than three-pointers, and the Atlantic Sun tournament should feature plenty of hoisting from beyond the arc. The A-Sun was the second most frequent three-shooting conference in the nation, pulling from downtown on nearly 36 percent of attempts. That could lead to a wild and unpredictable week at Hawkins Arena in Macon, Ga.

The top eight teams from conference play get an invite to the tournament, creating a standard format where no school gets the advantage of a bye. Lipscomb is fortunate this season, as it gets to participate despite finishing ninth. Northern Kentucky was a surprising tie for fourth place in its first year of Division I, but is ineligible for postseason play.

Mercer took advantage of perennial powerhouse Belmont's departure to the OVC by grabbing its first league title since sharing it with Troy in 2003. The champions were a perfect example of the A-Sun's tendency towards the three. Mercer shot threes on 39 percent of its field goal attempts, 44th nationally.

Dates

Mar. 6, 7 (Quarterfinals), Mar. 8 (Semifinals), Mar. 9 (Finals)

Favorites

The regular-season champs are the obvious favorite, and Ken Pomeroy's log5 predictions peg Mercer with a 56 percent chance to take home the tournament championship. The Bears were the best offensive and defensive team in league play, so it is truly their automatic bid to lose.

Florida Gulf Coast should certainly provide resistance to Mercer's effort, as it finished second in offensive and defensive efficiency. In a league dominated by the three-point shot, the Eagles were the best interior force. Florida Gulf Coast hit 53 percent of its two-point shots. That would allow them to take advantage of opponents going cold from the outside.

South Carolina Upstate is a team which found itself to be unlucky during the regular season, but has the talent to win three-straight. It finished third in offensive and defensive efficiency, but could only muster a 9-9 record.

So who has the best chance to rise from the bottom and grab a surprising trip to the tournament? No. 7 North Florida has a pair of excellent offensive players, including Parker Smith. The 6'3 guard launched 258 threes and made 43 percent of them. If Smith gets hot, he could lead North Florida to a few upsets.

It would take a miracle

East Tennessee State has typically finished near the top of the conference, but the team lost plenty of talent in 2012-13. The Buccaneers finished with a surprising eight wins in league play, but they are ranked just No. 317 on kenpom.com, ahead of just Kennesaw State.

ETSU also finished with the worst defense in the league, giving up 1.09 points per possession in A-Sun games.

Players to watch

Torrey Craig, South Carolina Upstate:

Craig is a versatile player who does a little bit of everything. He rebounds well, grabbing nearly 20 percent of opportunities while on the floor. He's also South Carolina Upstate's most voluminous shooter with a 31.2 shot percentage. He's still able to stay efficient in those shots, putting up a 104.6 offensive rating despite the heavy load.

Travis Wallace, North Florida:

If Smith is able to get open for North Florida, it's likely that Wallace has something to do with it. The team's interior presence knocked down 58 percent of his twos and drew 5.6 fouls per 40 minutes. Wallace also defends the rim on defense despite his 6'6 frame.

Adam Pegg, Stetson:

Pegg is one of the conference's most efficient shooters, posting a 56.5 effective field goal percentage. He is primarily an inside threat, hitting 57 percent of twos. Pegg can knock down a three if left open, as he hit 21 of his 56 attempts. At 6'9, 260, it is a surprise that he doesn't get to the free throw line more, which makes Pegg all the more intriguing.

Stephen Hurt, Lipscomb:

It's always interesting to watch a big-bodied center go to work against a smaller-sized conference, and Hurt was a physical presence as a freshman. Not many in the league can match up with his 6'10, 285 stature, and that allowed Hurt to dominate the glass. He was the A-Sun's best defensive rebounder and second-best offensive rebounder. The latter helped him shoot 51 free throws for every 100 field goals.

Langston Hall, Mercer:

A good point guard can carry a team in a tournament setting, and Hall might be the best the A-Sun has to offer. He assisted on 34 percent of his team's baskets while on the floor, good for 48th nationally. He also has the ability to penetrate and get to free throw line. Hall is a true point guard with the ability to break down a defense, and the main reason why Mercer led the conference in offensive efficiency.

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