Sports

A-Sun tournament almost ready to tip off

There’s a new parking lot near the baseball field, and the weather report is looking pretty good.

So everything is all set for this week’s A-Sun basketball tournaments at, well, wait, not so fast.

Almost everything is set for the conference basketball tournaments at Mercer’s University Center. The women’s field is set and pairings finalized, but four men’s teams have to wait to see who they play.

Because weather postponed the Jan. 10 meeting between the women and men of Florida Gulf Coast and USC Upstate, the two will play Monday with the result of the men’s game determining the seventh and eighth seeds between Campbell and Kennesaw State.

“We had to make a decision at the time,” A-Sun commissioner Ted Gumbart said. “We have a set of tiebreaker criteria, and the important thing is to follow them and use complete standings. Any time you make a change without following your policy, there’s going to be some perception that there’s an advantage gained or lost.”

Gumbart said the decision was made with no plans to revisit it regardless of what happened.

Florida Gulf Coast, Kennesaw State, Campbell and Stetson all have six wins, but Stetson had already been eliminated from the tournament.

The oddity is that a game between two teams ineligible for the conference tournament during their reclassification from Division II is delaying the final seeding. Florida Gulf Coast and USC Upstate are in their final year of that transition and will be eligible next season.

The women’s game has no bearing on the field or seeding, which was set before the final game. Florida Gulf Coast and USC Upstate are, however, hoping to end with a win to enhance their chances for the women’s NIT. Florida Gulf Coast is 24-2 and USC Upstate is 16-12.

Gumbart said the conference is simply enforcing the integrity of the schedule by holding up the seedings even though the two teams playing won’t be in the tournament.

“When it came down to it, a late decision with the correct information was better than an early decision that could prove to be not the actual outcome,” he said. “It’s just simply that we’ve got criteria in place, and the decision was made to complete the standings before we applied the tiebreakers.”

Of course, the typically wild end of the season made things difficult. Campbell’s loss Saturday to last-place USC Upstate got things going, and then Florida Gulf Coast lost by two at home to North Florida two days after upsetting Jacksonville.

Thus, top seeds Belmont and East Tennessee State must also wait to see who they’ll play in the first round Wednesday. Belmont will play No. 8 at 2 p.m. and ETSU will face No. 7 at 9 p.m.

“Those teams all still play on Wednesday; they just don’t know who yet,” Gumbart said. “Tournament time, you’re going to have to be able to win a game and put in a game plan the next day and win a game the next day.”

Adding to the uniqueness is that Belmont just played Kennesaw State on Saturday and ETSU visited Campbell on Thursday.

“It’s an equal challenge,” Gumbart said. “But the important thing was to maintain the integrity of the standings.”

The A-Sun men had a quality year RPI-wise, but Gumbart cautions not to write 27-4 Belmont into the title game just yet.

“In a tournament setting, it’s hard,” he said. “You’ve got to play your best three days in a row. And they had some games, they played Upstate into the final few minutes, they played UNF down to the final possessions. Belmont-East Tennessee State was close. I don’t think there’s anybody who says, ‘Hey, it can’t be done.’

“I think there’s a feeling that through the regular season, Belmont has proved that they’re our strongest team. Now they’ve got to turn around and say, ‘We’ve got to be the best for three days.’”

The women’s field is more balanced with only five games separating the top four seeds and two games between the bottom four.

“We’ll have close games throughout, I think,” Gumbart said, noting top seed ETSU lost Destiny Mitchell for the season. “But they’ve still got the experience and the skills. Campbell just beat East Tennessee State last Thursday, and Stetson is there.

“Come in, get hot and get yourself to Saturday, and anything can happen.”

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