Atlantic Sun Liberty Lipscomb Basketball

Liberty guard Caleb Homesley drives between Lipscomb defenders Eli Pepper (22) and Kenny Cooper (21) in the first half of the Atlantic Sun NCAA college basketball tournament championship game Sunday, March 10, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

College basketball media days are beginning across the country, and the ASUN Conference is no exception.

The conference is slated to release its men's basketball preseason media/SID poll on Thursday. I submitted my ballot Monday evening, so here is how I voted:

1. Liberty (Last season: 29-7, 14-2)

Read any preview magazine and the Flames will be found as the preseason pick to win the conference. And it’s no shock to see Liberty as my preseason pick to win the ASUN. Liberty returns four starters and several key contributors from last season’s NCAA Tournament team, plus it adds talented freshmen Kyle Rode, Marten Maide and Shiloh Robinson to the mix. Caleb Homesley is hands down the best player in the conference and Scottie James isn’t far behind. The two are arguably the most talented guard-forward combination in the conference, and they will be expected to produce at a high level every night. Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz is the steady point guard needed to keep this team firing on all cylinders, plus forward Myo Baxter-Bell would start on every other team in the conference.

2. North Florida (16-17, 9-7)

The Ospreys were an easy selection at No. 2, and then it became tricky behind them. UNF emerged in the second half of last season and gave Liberty all it could handle in the ASUN tournament semifinals, and that bodes well for a team that returns a strong nucleus. Wajid Aminu, the reigning defensive player of the year, solidifies the post. He has options on the wings in 6-foot-7 Garrett Sams, point guard Ivan Gandia-Rosa and shooting guard J.T. Escobar. There is a chance the Ospreys can add some length to the rotation if 6-foot-7 junior Trip Day is able to return from injury and produce anywhere close to his freshmen campaign when he averaged more than 13 points per game in conference play.

3. Lipscomb (29-8, 14-2)

The Bisons’ run to the NIT championship game proved the ASUN deserved two teams in the NCAA Tournament. But Lipscomb’s incredible two-year stretch ended with Casey Alexander leaving to coach at crosstown rival Belmont, the graduation of three stellar starters, and the transfer of Kenny Cooper. New coach Lennie Acuff, who arrives in Nashville following 23 seasons at Division II Alabama-Huntsville (where Liberty assistant Derek Johnston came from), will likely rely on returning starter Michael Buckland and key reserve Ahsan Asadullah.

4. Florida Gulf Coast (14-18, 9-7)

The Eagles will look a whole lot different this season after two seniors graduated and five players transferred. However, FGCU has been able to attract quality players to its campus, and it appears the addition of junior college transfer Sam Gagliardi will help. Guards Zach Scott and Chrsitian Carlyle will anchor the backcourt for coach Michael Fly.

5. NJIT (22-13, 8-8)

Zach Cooks returns as one of the most dynamic guards in the conference (when he wasn’t being shut down by Liberty’s Lovell Cabbil last season — again, tell me why Cabbil wasn’t defensive POY?), and he has help on the perimeter in Shyquan Gibbs, who will have an expanded role after Diandre Wilson graduated. San Antonio Brinson needs to improve in the post to replace the production of Abdul Lewis.

6. North Alabama (10-22, 7-9)

The Lions are in their second season at Division I and feature a roster littered with underclassmen. UNA’s Jamari Blackmon has the talent to be an all-conference selection, and Christian Agnew isn’t a bad second option on the perimeter. Emanuel Littles, who averaged eight rebounds per game last season, needs to improve on the offensive end in order to give Blackmon and Agnew more room to operate outside the 3-point line.

7. Jacksonville (12-20, 5-11)

The Dolphins were hit hard by transfers leaving the program over the summer. In addition to Jace Hogan graduating, JD Notae and Jalyn Hinton transferred, which forces JU to go with a relatively new lineup this campaign. Sophomore Tyreese Davis will be the go-to scorer, and the hope is Ohio State transfer David Bell takes a step forward in his offensive production.

8. Kennesaw State (6-26, 3-13)

Amir Abdur-Rahim takes over a team that has the pieces to succeed, but never tasted success last season under Al Skinner. Tyler Hooker averaged 19 points per game and should be the go-to guy again for the Owls. Danny Lewis, who scored 11 points per game as a freshman, will be asked to duplicate his production as a sophomore.

9. Stetson (7-24, 3-13)

Another program with a new coach. Donnie Jones takes over a Hatters team that lost Abayomi Iyiola and his near 11 points per game as a late-summer transfer, but returns a significant number of players who saw the court last season. That experience, though, didn’t translate into much production. Christian Jones, who averaged 10.4 points per game, is the only returning player who averaged in double digits one year ago.

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Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics and local golf for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550.

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