2016-17 Atlantic Sun Season Preview
While Florida Gulf Coast skated to a perfect regular season record last season, Jacksonville pulled off an upset on the road to win the championship game.
Florida Gulf Coast (33-6, 14-0, WNIT runner up) had the highest offensive rating last season at 98.8, narrowly edging out Stetson’s 98.5, and the best defensive rating at 77 (Jacksonville was second in that category at 77.9). The loss of senior Whitney Knight will weaken the D – her 99 blocks easily lead the conference, and her 13.2 PPG was second on the team. FGCU also loses leading scorer Kaneisha Atwater (14.6 PPG) and top playmaker Dytiesha Dunson (4.8 APG, 5.5 PPG). Sapped on both ends, the Eagles are only returning two players who averaged double digits minutes last season – redshirt junior guard, Taylor Gradinjan, who scored 9.6 PPG while starting 39 games, and Haley Laughter, a redshirt junior forward who mainly came off the bench. Both had reasonably reliable shots and three point range, but it’s a big question if they’ll be able to pick up the slack.
Jacksonville (22-10, 11-3 conference, lost in first round of NCAA) returns leading scorer Sherranda Reddick (12.2 PPG) who also lead the team in steals. Three other players who averaged at least 8 PPG are returning, with the only starter that’s gone being Briona Brown. This team was narrowly fourth in the Atlantic Sun in offensive rating at 93.0, but their standout defense was where they really shined. Kimberly Dawkins is the returning player with the highest block percentage from last season. With their coaching staff unchanged, there’s little reason to suspect a sudden drop in this area.
South Carolina Upstate (20-11, 10-4 conference, semifinalist in WBI) had five players average over 26 minutes per game last season, and four of them graduated. The returning player, senior Raven Jefferson (9.4 PPG, 44 steals) will be tasked with growing fast. Only one other Spartan averaged more than 10 minutes per game last year: sixth woman Tamera Thorpe, who as a frosh scored 5.6 PPG. Both Jefferson and Thorpe need to improve their efficiency offensively – 35.3% and 33.7% field goal percentages won’t set the world on fire. This could be a year filled with growing pains.
Stetson (19-11, 9-5 conference, WBI quarterfinalist) was a young team last year, with no seniors on their roster. Despite this youth, they reached the semifinals of the conference championship tournament, was fourth in the regular season and even won a WBI game. Brianti Saunders was the conference’s second highest scorer last season at 17.8 PPG, and she also lead the conference in true shooting percentage. This was the team with the best field goal percentage in the league, and one can only expect them to improve with so many pieces returning.
Kennesaw State (11-19, 6-8 conference) loses lead scorer Jasmine McAllister (10.4 PPG), but returns the next four lead scorers. McAllister’s departure will hurt more on the boards – she had the best defensive rebounding percentage in the league last year at 29.2% and was fifth in offensive rebounding percentage at 12.1%. Kelly Dulkoski should be able to take the reins on offense, but will there be help on D and on the boards?
North Florida (7-23, 3-11 conference) keeps their #1 scorer, Claire Ioannidis (15.1 PPG) and could have a great offensive pairing with her and Sierra Shepherd (12.4 PPG, 109 assists). Shepherd needs to cut down on turnovers, and the team as a whole needs a significant improvement on defense to threaten the upper echelon of the league.
Lipscomb (5-25, 2-12 conference) was the worst team in the Atlantic Sun in defensive rating last year, finishing with a D that allowed 102 points per 100 possessions. Their offense was fifth best in conference, but the loss of Ashley Southern’s 18.1 PPG raises some concerns. Chandler Cooper was effective offensively, with a 56.2% true shooting percentage – the biggest question will be if she can handle a bigger piece of the offensive load. Loren Cagle should continue to be an effective point guard.
NJIT (4-26, 1-13 conference) had the third worst D and the worst offense in the Atlantic Sun last year. While there’s not a lot to love about this team, Kelly Guarino did average 8.2 PPG on a 50.8% true shooting percentage as a frosh. Maria Ruban might be a very good interior defender with more playing time. But there’s a lot more questions here then there are answers right now. I hope they can answer some during the season.
Predicted season standings:
- Florida Gulf Coast
- North Florida
- Kennesaw State
- South Carolina Upstate
Brianti Saunders, Stetson
Claire Ioannidis, North Florida
Sherranda Reddick, Jacksonville
Loren Cagle, Lipscomb
Sierra Shepherd, North Florida
Pace: Estimation of possessions per 40 minutes for a team.
Offensive rating: number of points produced per 100 points
Defensive rating: number of points allowed per 100 points
Rating difference = offensive rating – defensive rating
|Team||Pace||Offensive rating||Defensive rating||Rating difference|
|Florida Gulf Coast||64.8||98.8||77||+21.8|