North Florida has emerged as the best team this season in an otherwise tightly packed Atlantic Sun. The Ospreys went 10-4 in a league where nobody else was better than 8-6 and five of the eight teams finished within one game of each other in the final regular season standings.
There are clear layers to this league: North Florida is the best, with a five-team sandwich of NJIT, Jacksonville, Florida Gulf Coast, Kennesaw State and Lipscomb right behind. Stetson and South Carolina Upstate both finished 4-10, three full games behind anybody else, and could be quick work for the top seeds in the tournament.
However, Stetson flipped the script in a big way, making it all the way to the final round. They're ineligible for the NCAA Tournament but can still participate in the A-Sun tournament. Meanwhile, Florida Gulf Coast crushed North Florida, 89-56, in the semifinals.
That set up a unique situation for Sunday's championship game. Since the Eagles won, it was pretty straightforward -- they head to the big dance, no questions asked. But, had the Hatters continued their Cinderella run and actually win this game, the conference's auto bid would have reverted to the regular season champions, in this case North Florida.
That might have seemed like a raw deal for Dunk City, which just smashed the Ospreys in the tournament, but they made this all moot by taking care of Stetson on Sunday.
Nobody gets a bye in an eight-team league, and every would-be champion needs to win exactly three games. Think of it like the Elite Eight, but for just the A-Sun. One exception to that: The higher-seeded team hosts every game.
1. North Florida
2. New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT)
4. Florida Gulf Coast
5. Kennesaw State
8. South Carolina Upstate
You can see the whole bracket here.
Schedule and Results (all times Eastern)
Tuesday, March 1 (Quarterfinals)
No. 1 North Florida 92, No. 8 South Carolina Upstate 69
No. 7 Stetson 82, No. 2 NJIT 67
No. 6 Lipscomb 92, No. 3 Jacksonville 89 (OT)
No. 4 Florida Gulf Coast 74, No. 5 Kennesaw State 64
Thursday, March 3 (Semifinals)
No. 4 Florida Gulf Coast 89, No. 1 North Florida 56
No. 7 Stetson 96, No. 6 Lipscomb 75
Sunday, March 6 (Championship)
No. 4 Florida Gulf Coast 80, No. 7 Stetson 78 (OT)