By Reid McEowen
With the Atlantic Sun Conference finishing its last regular season matchups on Feb. 27, we are now able to preview the conference tournament in all its glory on March 4. Let’s break down the big-time matchups, impact players and a prediction of the Atlantic Sun Conference champion who will take the automatic bid to the big dance in Indianapolis.
This eight-team tournament is led by the conference powerhouse, Liberty Flames. The Flames are coming into the tournament with a season record of 20-5 and a conference record of 11-2. As the number one seed, the Flames are poised to make a run after wrapping up their regular season on a nine-game winning streak.
The Bellarmine Knights, the second seed, are coming off a tough loss to the Flames on Feb. 27. However, the Knights will look to rebound from this loss with their first-round matchup against Stetson. Pedro Bradshaw, Bellarmine’s leading scorer, will look to lift the Knights over Stetson State and will likely face the Lipscomb Bison in the Atlantic Sun Conference semi-finals. This matchup will be a close one, as both regular season matchups saw Lipscomb squeak out wins. Expect both teams to keep this game close until the final minutes, where the experience of the Bison’s junior center Ahsan Asadullah and senior point guard Romeao Ferguson will give the Bison a birth into the conference finals.
The predicted matchup between the Liberty Flames and the Lipscomb Bison in the Atlantic Sun Conference finals will be the rubber match between the two teams. During the regular season, both teams split the matchups with one win apiece. However, the two teams have not played since Jan. 2, and the Flames have caught fire while Lipscomb limped into the conference tournament. While the Flames have won nine games in a row, the Lipscomb Bison struggled in their last nine with a record of 6-3 and lost their last game of the season against North Alabama.
Even though both teams split their regular season games, expect the Flames to be the clear favorites in this matchup. Junior guard Darius McGhee will be the player to watch, as he seems to be hot coming into the conference tournament. McGhee finished the 2020-2021 regular season with a career-high 34 points and looks to be peaking just at the right time. If he can continue this high volume of scoring, the Liberty Flames will be tough to beat during the Conference tournament.
With this conference win and a bid into the March Madness tournament, look for the Liberty Flames to be a 14 seed and play against a three seed like Alabama, West Virginia or Houston.
Edited by Emma Moloney