Darius McGhee, Liberty Flames, Atlantic Sun Tournament Preview

CBB Review prepares you for every conference tournament leading up to Selection Sunday. Up first: The Atlantic Sun Tournament.

The Atlantic Sun will be a one-bid league in 2023, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a conference tournament worth paying attention to. Two schools won 23+ games in the regular season and 8 of the 10 teams in the field finished the regular season with a winning record.

*Also of note: (8) Bellarmine and (9) Queens are ineligible for the NCAA Tournament if either should win the 2023 Atlantic Sun Tournament.

2023 Atlantic Sun Conference Awards

Player of the Year: Darius McGhee, Liberty

Freshman of the Year: Jacari Lane, North Alabama

Transfer of the Year: Isaiah Thompson, FGCU

Coach of the Year: Amir Abdur-Rahim, Kennesaw State

First Team:

  • G: Darius McGhee, Liberty (22.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.8 APG, 40.4 3P%, 1.6 SPG)
  • G: Kenny Dye, Queens-NC (17.2 PPG, 4.9 APG, 4.1 RPG)
  • G: Chris Youngblood, Kennesaw State (15.0 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.9 APG)
  • F: Devontae Blanton, Eastern Kentucky (16.4 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 3.0 APG)
  • F: Jacob Ognacevic, Lipscomb (17.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 0.6 APG)

Second Team:

  • G: Terrell Burden, Kennesaw State (13.2 PPG, 4.2 APG, 3.0 RPG, 1.7 SPG)
  • G: Daniel Ortiz, North Alabama (14.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 1.0 APG)
  • G: Jose Placer, North Florida (14.1 PPG, 2.8 APG, 2.3 RPG)
  • F: Carter Hendrickson, North Florida (16.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.1 APG)
  • F: Michael Moreno, Eastern Kentucky (11.8 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 2.1 APG)

Atlantic Sun Tournament Simulation

First Round – Monday, Feb. 27

9. Queens (17-14, 7-11) vs. 10. Florida Gulf Cost (17-14, 7-11) – 7 p.m. on ESPN+

It’s a bit of an odd tournament setup with seeds 9 vs. 10 and 7 vs. 8 matching up in the play-in round. Both Queens and FGCU had more overall wins than the two teams seeded above them. The difference maker in this game is Isaiah Thompson. The Purdue transfer has kicked into full gear, scoring at least 20 points in 7 of his last 10 games.

Mat’s pick: 10. Florida Gulf Coast

7. North Florida (14-16, 9-9) vs. 8. Bellarmine (14-17, 9-9) – 7 p.m. on ESPN+

Last season, Bellarmine infamously won the Atlantic Sun Tournament, only to be not granted an automatic bid, because of the NCAA’s ridiculous Division II transition rules. The same thing applies to them this year. However, I don’t think it will matter. North Florida has three players who average at least 12 PPG. Stopping that at home will be difficult.

Mat’s pick: 7. North Florida

Quarterfinals – Tuesday, Feb. 28

1. Kennesaw State (23-8, 15-3) vs. 10. Florida Gulf Coast – 7 p.m. on ESPN+

It might surprise some people that Kennesaw State earned the 1-seed in the Atlantic Sun Tournament, despite an equally strong Liberty squad usually getting most of the praise. Don’t discount the Owls. Fourth-year head coach Amir Abdur Rahim has taken this program from 1 win in 2019-20 to the 1 seed in 2022-23. It’s as impressive a turnaround as any in college basketball history.

Mat’s pick: 1. Kennesaw State

4. Stetson (17-12, 12-6) vs. 5. Lipscomb (19-12, 11-7) – 7 p.m. on ESPN+

Stetson comes into Tuesday’s game winners of six of their last eight. However, one of those losses was to Lipscomb in overtime. Can the Hatters get redemption at home? They’ll need to shut down Jacob Ognacevic. The Bisons’ star player went off for 29 points in the win.

Mat’s pick: 5. Lipscomb

3. Eastern Kentucky (19-12, 12-6) vs. 6. North Alabama (18-13, 10-8)

Tony Pujol has done a great job with North Alabama, doubling the number of Lions’ wins from last year. They played Eastern Kentucky as well as anyone, winning by five in overtime on the road. Can that performance be replicated? I’m going to go with no. North Alabama has lost two straight, including one to Jacksonville State, who didn’t even qualify for the Atlantic Sun Tournament.

Mat’s pick: 3. Eastern Kentucky

2. Liberty (24-7, 15-3) vs. 7. North Florida – 7 p.m. on ESPN+

Liberty won the only regular-season meeting between these two, 73-62. McGhee struggled in the game, going an abysmal 4-for-20 from the field. Based on what I know about Darius McGhee, that won’t happen again.

Mat’s pick: 2. Liberty

Semifinals – Thursday, Mar. 2

1. Kennesaw State vs. 5. Lipscomb – TBD on ESPN+

Lipscomb is the one team in the Atlantic Sun Tournament that I think could surprise people and steal the automatic bid. But when it comes down to it, Kennesaw State is playing as hot as any mid-major team out there. The Owls have lost a grand total of three games since the calendar turned to 2023.

Mat’s pick: 1. Kennesaw State

2. Liberty vs. 3. Eastern Kentucky – TBD on ESPN+

Liberty has steamrolled its way to the Atlantic Sun Tournament championship game in three out of the last four years, winning the automatic bid each time they reach the finals. But Eastern Kentucky gave Liberty one of their only three conference losses of the season, splitting the season series. This may not be a matchup the flames want to see, but in the end, I’m going with the team that has the best player in the A-Sun.

Mat’s pick: 2. Liberty

Championship – Sunday, Mar. 5

1. Kennesaw State vs. 2. Liberty – 3 p.m. on ESPN2

One thing we need to remember about the Atlantic Sun Tournament – games are played at the home of the best seed. So if this is the championship game matchup, Kennesaw State would have the benefit of playing at home. That might matter a lot, because on Feb. 16, the Owls beat the Flames, 88-81. McGhee had a whopping 43 points, but can anyone else step up? I’m going to go with yes, but defensively. The Owls shot 56.1% from the field in that win. With an NCAA Tournament berth on the line, the stars will show out, and defense will be key. Give me Liberty!

Mat’s pick: 2. Liberty

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