We are less than a month away from the tip-off of the 2022-2023 college basketball season. While the season starts with non-conference play, the projections for Liberty’s ASUN opponents are quite important. Each team will be working during the first two months of the season to prepare for a quality showing in conference play, aiming for top seeding in the postseason.
ASUN conference play was sporadic and unpredictable last season. For example, Liberty started strong in league play, then unfortunately were plagued by health and safety protocols. While Coach Ritchie McKay will never reside to making excuses for losses, it was apparent that the health restrictions threw off chemistry and rhythm. With the NCAA moving on past COVID concerns, this season should be more consistent.
While a generic preview of the ASUN would serve its purpose, my angle is to tell you how each team could affect the Flames’ road to another ASUN title and how that journey might play out for Liberty. Below is a concise list of what each opponent brings to the table and how the Flames can be victorious.
Jacksonville is well coached and has a balanced attack on offense. Under first year head coach Jordan Mincy, they finished second in the ASUN’s East Division last season, which speaks to their potential. The Dolphins were picked by both the media and coaches to finish second place behind Liberty in the preseason ASUN polls. Senior guard Kevion Nolan was named first-team all-ASUN and was a member of the All-Tournament Team a season ago. He helped guide the Dolphins to the ASUN Championship Final, and they will be looking to replicate their success this year and perhaps even taken another step forward.
Florida Gulf Coast Eagles
FGCU is known around the country for their ability to be exciting at any moment. Last season, they fancied themselves the bad boys of the ASUN East. This season marks Pat Chambers first year at the helm. Look for FGCU to compete in the East, especially given Kevin Samuel’s presence. He is a large-body big man who affects the game through rebounding and defense.
Kennesaw State Owls
I consider KSU to be one of the dark horses of the ASUN. Amir Abdur-Rahim is a knowledgeable coach who is trying to build a competitive culture for the Owls. They are one of the more experienced teams in the league and took the Flames into a dramatic finish late last season. Once the Owls start to find some consistency in their play, they will make some noise. Look for them to have streaks of success throughout the season. The Flames will need to be sharp and intentional when they face KSU this season.
North Florida Ospreys
North Florida found some late season success last year, but injuries hurt them, particularly in the season They were able to close some of their loss margins and get quality wins at the season’s end, and they return a lot of key pieces from last year’s squad including the likes of Carter Hendricksen, Jarius Hicklen, Dorian James, Jose Placer, and Jonathan Aybar. UNF has always been a tough out for the Flames, and we should expect to see the same again this year.
Stetson mirrors North Florida in many ways. They relied on Chase Johnston’s volume shooting last season to generate their offense. While Chase is a capable scorer, this one-dimensional offense made them easy to guard. Additionally, their defense didn’t carry the weight needed to make up for their offensive deficiencies. I expect the Hatters to be about the same as last season, maybe finishing a spot or two higher in the final conference standings.
This upcoming season is the inauguration for Queens in the ASUN. The Royals competed at the D2 level last season, finishing 30-4 on the season. It is safe to say most analysis is going to air on the side of Queens having a mediocre season, at best. The level of competition each night will be a shock to the Royals’ system. Look for them to get some surprise wins, but to struggle to find their footing. The Royals will look at their matchups against Liberty as a chance to prove they belong in the conference, so the Flames must be prepared when they face Queens.
Austin Peay Governors
The Governors are joining the ASUN for the first time this season. Their performance in the OVC was subpar last year, finishing 12-17. The one ASUN opponent they played last season, North Florida, beat them 91-84. The question remains, will Austin Peay be more like last year’s Jacksonville State or Eastern Kentucky in their first season of the ASUN?
That covers seven of the 14 teams in the ASUN. Keep an eye out for the second piece of this two part series when we wrap up our ASUN preview.